Fire fighters from four engines and two truck companies were committed to suppression operations on the third floor and a medical sector had been established outside the building. While suppression operations were in progress, the fire suddenly increased in magnitude and spread into several areas beyond the room of origin. Two of these fire fighters were killed, and four fire fighters were injured with two sustaining critical injuries. A subsequent search of the building revealed that one patron had also died in the fire. This person was found in a stairway between the sixth and seventh stories, and he had died of smoke inhalation. Four civilians were also injured.
Indianapolis Fire Department investigators determined that the fire was accidental in nature. The fire occurred when an electrical problem caused the ignition of wood paneling in a third-story bar. The investigators also determined that the sudden increase in the fire magnitude, which killed and injured the fire fighters, occurred when combustion gases that were trapped in a concealed space entered the room and caused a flashover in the room where the fire fighters were working. The fire rapidly spread to other areas on the third and fourth stories, and smoke spread throughout the building.
The following factors contributed significantly to the loss of life at the Indianapolis Athletic Club:
• Lack of an approved automatic sprinkler system in the room of fire origin,
• Lack of automatic fire of smoke detection system in room of fire origin,
• Combustible interior finish,
• Unprotected penetrations in wall and ceiling assemblies,
• The existence of concealed spaces which were not readily observed by fire fighters during suppression operations.
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