St. Paul firefighters battled a stubborn fire in a two-story mixed use building late Sunday, Aug. 8. The building complex included four businesses and one apartment. It went to three alarms before being brought under control hours later.
At 11:48 p.m., the first alarm was dispatched for a report of smoke coming from 963 Rice St., just blocks from Station 22. The first alarm included Engines 22, 18, 8, Ladder 22, Squad 1 and Chief 2, District Chief Lance Sanetra.
Engine 22's crew found smoke from the two-story commercial building. The assignment was filled out with Ladder 18 as the rapid intervention company, Ladder 8, Medic 4 and Chief 3.
Using a 1 3/4-inch handline, Engine 22 accessed the basement in the rear of the building and encountered heavy smoke and heat, but they were unable to find the fire. As additional crews searched for fire in the basement, the fire was determined to be running the walls of the structure.
"Ventilation options for the basement were limited," Chief Sanetra said. "Eventually crews cut holes in the first floor to assist in ventilating the basement."
The fire threatened the attached two-story building that housed well known eatery "Ma Ma's Pizza" on the first floor and apartments on the second. Crews performed a primary search of the apartment and assisted in removing three occupants to safety. Ladder 22 then proceeded to ladder the roof for vertical ventilation.
At 12:04 a.m. a second alarm was called to bring Engine 17, Squad 2, Chief 1, the Deputy Chief and Medic 23. A special call for Engine 7 was also made to assist with water supply. Medic 23 set up as a rehab sector as firefighters battled the unusually hot and humid weather conditions.
About 25 minutes into the incident, crews were still not able to put water on the seat of the fire. "Initial companies were starting to deplete their air supplies and the volume and color of the smoke indicated an uncontrolled and expanding fire," Sanetra said. At this point, he pulled all companies from the building and changed to a defensive attack.
At 12:40 a.m. a third alarm was called bringing Engines 5 and 15 and Ladder 7.
By 1:30 a.m. heavy fire was showing from the rear of the two-story building.
Using ladder pipes from Ladder 22 on the A side, Ladder 8 on the B side and Ladder 7 on the C side, coupled with handlines and portable master streams on the ground, the fire was declared under control by 4 a.m. Crews remained on scene to enter several areas to knock down hot spots.
Although the initial fire building and the business attached on the D side were total losses, the defensive fire attack and an intact fire wall spared Ma Ma's Pizza as well as the apartment above to relatively minor water and smoke damage.
A total of 87 fire department personnel were used, staffing eight engines, five ladders, three squads, three medic units, five chief officers, the fire investigator and the air trailer.
The cause of the fire has been preliminarily determined as arson.