Dec. 07--After firefighters missed calls because they were trapped inside their station during a power outage last month, the Memphis Fire Department inspected bay doors at all of its stations.
A fatal fire occurred less than a mile from Station No. 23 while fire equipment was stuck behind inoperable doors on Nov. 27, but Memphis Fire Director Alvin Benson said firefighters at the northeast Memphis station wouldn't have responded to that blaze even if the doors were working.
They should already have been out on a medical call that arrived two minutes before the fire report, Benson said.
Because power was out in the area, firefighters attempting to respond to the medical call at 10:43 p.m. that night followed backup procedure and began to open the electronic door manually. The chain fell off the pulley system, blocking their exit.
"Another truck was sent (to the medical call) because the door wouldn't open due to mechanical failure," Benson said.
The malfunction led to a department review of alternative plans in such instances. Manual bay door lifts at all 56 fire stations have been inspected since the incident, Benson said.
"In terms of frequency, we'll be looking at some type of schedule to have the doors inspected and literally testing them to make sure they open."
Firefighters responded to the Nov. 27 fire at 3708 Orchi in five minutes and 10 seconds, Benson said.
Tami Rachel Cekala was taken from the burning one-story home to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, where she later died. Fire officials said the medical examiner has not determined the cause of her death, and that the cause of the fire will follow the medical examiner's report.
Station No. 23, at 3468 Jackson near National Cemetery, is less than a mile from the Orchi house, but firefighters from three surrounding stations -- No. 17 at 611 National, No. 47 at 3510 Coleman Road and No. 19 at 2248 Chelsea Avenue -- answered the call.
"Every fire call we get, we send out three fire engines and one ladder truck, and that's what we did that time," Benson said.
"Because we have so much redundancy in our system we were able to have a failure and still respond within the National Fire Protection Association (response time) guidelines of 5 minutes and 20 seconds," Benson said. "That's the beauty of redundancy."
Gale Jones-Carson, Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division spokeswoman, said the power went out at 10:01 p.m. that night and was restored at 11:10 p.m.
"A car hit a pole at Chelsea Avenue and North Holmes," Carson said. "About 3,600 people were without power."
Lt. Wayne Cooke, Fire Department spokesman, said budget constraints mean nearly half of Memphis fire stations, including No. 23, do not have backup generators.
City Councilman Lee Harris, whose district includes the station, thinks the city should consider providing generators for fire stations without them.
"That tragedy sounds like it had multiple causes, including acts of God, which the city obviously can't control," he said of the fatal fire. "But one of the lessons to be learned here is that we should take inventory of all 56 fire stations. ...
"The city has invested a lot in manpower and fire equipment. We don't want that investment to go to waste. I'm sure the investment in generators will be a lot smaller than what we've already invested."
Copyright 2013 - The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.