On June 30, l989, a rapidly developing fire occurred on the sixth floor of an occupied office high-rise in Atlanta, Georgia. The accidental fire killed five people, injured twenty others, and caused heavy damage on the floor of fire origin.
The building involved is a 10-story, fire-resistive structure with concrete columns, beams, and floor slabs and interior partitions constructed with gypsum wallboard on metal studs. Fire protection systems include a standpipe system equipped with occupant hose stations and a fire alarm system. The alarm system is initiated by manual pull stations throughout the building and by smoke detectors on some floors and is connected directly to the Atlanta Fire Department. The building is not equipped with an automatic sprinkler system.
The fire occurred at approximately 10:30 a.m., when an electrician, working in a sixth floor electrical room, attempted to insert a fuse into an energized circuit with a load on it. Massive arcing occurred and ignited the interior finish materials (including floor and wall coverings) in an exit access corridor. Many sixth floor occupants were not able to reach the exit stairways. Because smoke began to fill the tenant areas, several of the trapped occupants broke exterior windows and waited to be rescued. Occupants on other floors used interior stairways to escape without injury.
The Atlanta Fire Department was automatically notified when the building's alarm system was manually activated. Once on the scene, fire fighters worked to rescue occupants and to suppress the fire.
Approximately one-half of the sixth floor occupants were trapped. One woman jumped and received multiple injuries, and 14 people were rescued by aerial ladder. Two of the five fatalities were found in a suite at the east end of the floor. Another victim was found in a suite directly across the corridor from the electrical room and the last two victims were found in suites at the west end of the floor.
The NFPA's analysis of this incident points to the following major factors as having contributed to the loss of life and property:
• The rapid development of a severe fire as a result of arcing in the electrical room;
• The immediate blockage of the egress path due to:
a. the location of the room of fire origin;
b. rapid spread of fire in the corridor;
• The absence of automatic sprinkler protection to control fire growth and
spread in the exit access corridor.