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87 Posts authored by: paulalevesque Employee

On September 19, 1990 an early morning fire in a board and care occupancy in Bessemer, Alabama resulted in four fatalities.  Fortunately, eleven residents were evacuated by the prompt actions of a 16-year-old occupant.  An inadequate water supply for an installed residential sprinkler system resulted in the system not operating properly illustrating important code enforcement lessons.  Had the system been properly installed and adequate water been supplied, it's likely that no loss of life would have occurred.  

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. To learn more about NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research statistical report Structure Fires in Residential Board and Care Facilities.

Lack of working smoke alarms delays detection of fatal fire, Illinois

A fire of undetermined origin that began in the first-floor living room of a single-family house killed a 38-year-old woman, her 9-year-old daughter, and her 7-year-old son.

Although the father was overcome by smoke, he survived.

The two-story, wood-frame house, which was 50 feet (15 meters) long and 25 feet (8 meters) wide, had a single battery-operated smoke alarm with no battery and no sprinklers.

A neighbor called 911 at 2:22 a.m., and firefighters arriving four minutes later found heavy fire and smoke coming from the first floor of the house. After entering with a hose line, they rescued the father near the front door and found his son several minutes later near the back door. Crews then extinguished the remaining fire and found the woman and her daughter on the first floor.

Investigators determined the fire started on a sofa bed in the living room where the woman and her daughter were sleeping. The father and son, who were asleep on the second floor, awoke and came downstairs, where they were overcome by the smoke and heat.

 Investigators could not determine the fire’s heat source.

The house, valued at $100,000, sustained $40,000 in structural damage. Its contents, which had an estimated value of $10,000, were a total loss.

Kenneth J. Tremblay, 2014," Firewatch", NFPA Journal, January/February 30-31.

For more Firewatch incidents NFPA Journal.  To learn about NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research statistical reports on Home Fires that Began with Mattresses and Bedding and Home Fires That began with Upholstered Furniture. and Smoke Alarms n U.S. Home Fires

On Monday, September 17, 1984, at approximately 4:00 p.m., an explosion occurred in a cold storage warehouse building near Shreveport, Louisiana. The explosion occurred while two members of the Shreveport Fire Department's Hazardous Material Unit were attempting to isolate an anhydrous ammonia leak in a section of the building's refrigeration system.  Employees had earlier detected the leak and workers had begun repairs earlier in the day, but were unable to complete the repair due to the effects of the ammonia.

The force of the explosion raised the building's roof/ceiling assembly in the immediate area of the leak approximately one foot and severely damaged interior wall assemblies.  The initial explosion also resulted in a severe fire from the ignition of ordinary combustibles in the adjacent areas of the building.  The two fire fighters within the room of origin were severely burned when their protective clothing became ignited.  One fire fighter died within 36 hours of the explosion; the other fire fighter was admitted to a hospital in critical condition.

Based on the investigative study, the following are considered to be major contributing factors to the loss of life in this incident:

     •     The ignition of a flammable mixture of anhydrous ammonia gas during the

             emergency scene operation,

    •     The lack of proper precautions by workers to reduce the possibility of a hazardous

             accumulation of  ammonia gas, and

    •     The lack of awareness by fire fighters that the conditions for a hazardous accumulation of

             flammable anhydrous ammonia gas were present.

For Full NFPA Fire Investigation report.  To learn more about NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research report Firefighter Fatalities in the United States

On September 9, 1989, the Seattle Fire Department responded to the report of a fire in a lumber warehouse.  On arrival, fire fighters found a large building with visible flames involving a 75 ft X 75 ft shed attached at the building's southwest corner.  The fire quickly became a multiple alarm fire.  A fire officer and a fire fighter who were in a smoky section of the main building became disoriented while looking for an area from which to attack the fire.  Several circumstances caused the fire fighters to separate as they attempted to leave the area.  The fire fighter was found and rescued by a fire fighter from another engine company, the officer was not able to escape; he died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The building, which was scheduled for demolition, was a heavy timber structure approximately 295 ft X 180 ft and had been abandoned for about two years.  The primary fuel was the structure; however, small amounts of combustible trash were scattered throughout the building.  The piping for several dry sprinkler systems was still in place.  Before this incident occurred, the main control valve for the water supply to all sprinkler systems had been shut off because one of the systems had been damaged.

The following factors appear to have contributed directly to the death of the fire officer:

    •     The inability of fire ground officers to account at all times for the location

            of all personnel;

    •     The actions of fire fighters that failed to conform to safe fire ground

            practices as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association and

            the International Fire Service Training Association, and as required by the

            Seattle Fire Department;

   •     The inadvertent use of the wrong radio channel by two disoriented fire

          fighters while attempting to let others on the scene know that they were in

          need of help.

For Full NFPA Fire Investigation report  To learn more about NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research report on  Firefighter Fatalities in the United States

Fire during the night, caused by a 1/4-inch separation in a furnace chimney connector, destroyed the 30-room, three-story, wood-frame Sedgwick Hotel in Bath Maine, on September 9, 1973. Three men and a woman lost their lives; 18 others were injured, some seriously. Four of those with minor injuries were fire fighters. The 100-year-old hotel had no fire detection or alarm system and no sprinklers. The fire burned in concealed spaces an estimated 1 1/2 to 2 hours before breaking out into the lobby, where it was discovered by an occupant. The occupant saw a lobby couch on fire and, assuming that only the couch was burning, tried to smother the fire with his coat. Failing to put the fire out, he ran to a phone booth across the street and called the Fire Department at 4:13 a.m.

The fire occurred when carbonized wood in the tongue-and-groove wood ceiling for a boiler room ignited. The fire burned through the ceiling and entered the area between the wood joists. It then spread horizontally through joist channels and vertically through the hollow spaces of the non-firestopped walls. The fire burned into the lobby where it ignited the couch and was discovered.


Download this March 1974 Fire Journal article.  To learn more about Fire Analysis and Research statiscal report on Hotel and Motel Structure Fires

At approximately 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 8, 1990, a fire occurred at the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity house at the University of California, Berkeley.  The fire killed three students and resulted in the injury to two others.  In addition, the building was heavily damaged.

The 33-year-old, wood-frame, multistory fraternity house was "L"-shaped with a large living room forming the smallest part, and the sleeping room area forming the largest part.  All interior wall surfaces, including the exit stairways, were covered with wood paneling.  Except for two, the sleeping rooms had hollow core wood doors.  The two exceptions had solid-core wood doors.  The doors separating the sleeping area from the assembly area were normally kept open.  In addition, closing devices on some exit stairway doors had been removed.

Fire protection equipment included fire extinguishers, fire hose cabinets, local fire alarm with bells and manual pull stations, and single-station, battery-operated smoke detectors in a few sleeping rooms.

Local fire investigators have determined that the fire started when a couch in the assembly room was ignited with a butane lighter.  The burning couch, in turn, ignited the room's combustible interior finish, and the fire quickly spread to other areas of the building.  First arriving fire fighters found the assembly room, an adjacent lobby area, and the two top stories in the sleeping room area fully involved with fire.

The following factors significantly contributed to the loss of life and property:

    •     Open stairways,

    •     Combustible interior finishes throughout the building,

    •     Lack of compartmentation and occupancy separation with fire-rated construction,

    •     The lack of firesafety training and fire exit drills.

For the full Fire Investigation report.  To learn more about the Fire Analysis and Research statistical report Dormitories, Fraternities, Sororities, and Barracks

A fire in a ninth-floor room of this 11-story high-rise hotel on September 8, 1974 destroyed the room and eventually involved the nearby elevator lobby on that floor.  A motel employee who attempted to extinguish the fire was killed.  Of significance in this fire was the delayed alarm and the failure of certain fire protection devices.  The equipment that did not perform properly were doors for the exit stairway, doors to guest rooms, standpipe system, and dampers in bathroom exhaust ducts.

For more information on this hotel fire download this January 1975 Fire Journal article To read Fire Analysis and Research statistical information on High-Rise Building Fires


On Tuesday, September 3, 1991, at approximately 8:15 a.m., a fire occurred at the Imperial Foods Processing Plant in Hamlet, North Carolina resulting in 25 fatalities and 54 injuries. The intense fire quickly spread products of combustion throughout the plant causing employees to search for available exits. Although many of the estimated 90 occupants escaped without incident, others found exterior doors unavailable and sought alternative means of escape. Not all of those who remained were able to be rescued, and many perished.

The National Fire Protection Association is cooperating with the Hamlet Fire Department and the North Carolina Department of Insurance - Fire and Rescue Services Division in documenting this incident. The purpose of this life safety evaluation was to determine significant factors and lessons learned that will assist the fire service, building and fire code officials, and other concerned parties in reducing the potential for such tragic losses of life.

For more information on this fire NFPA Fire Investigations. To learn more about Fire Analysis and Research statistical data on Fire in U.S. Industrial and Manufacturing Facilities

On August 30, 1989 at approximately 5:15 a.m., a fire occurred in a guest room at the Sheraton Boston Hotel.  The entire building is equipped with smoke detectors in corridors and guest rooms and with occupant evacuation alarms.  The hotel has two high-rise towers that contain guest rooms. One tower is fully sprinklered, and the other tower, where the fire occurred, was scheduled for the installation of sprinklers.

Boston fire investigators have determined that the fire was suspicious in nature, and the ignition likely involved a king-size bed.  After ignition, the smoke detector in the room activated, and guests in adjacent rooms notified the hotel operator.  The hotel operator immediately called the Boston Fire Department and initiated the hotel's fire emergency plan.

Several employees who were members of the hotel's incipient fire brigade responded to the floor of fire origin, found smoke coming from the guest room, and called the operator to confirm the fire.  Shortly after the fire brigade reached the room, Boston fire fighters also arrived and began their fire attack with their hose which was connected to a standpipe.  The fire was extinguished while it still involved the king-size bed.  Though the room of fire origin was heavily damaged by flames, heat, and smoke, very little damage occurred outside this room.  

To Learn more about this fire NFPA Fire Investigations. For more information on NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research Hotel and Motel Structure Fires

At approximately 4:30 a.m. on August 23, 1986, a fire occurred in a rooming house located in the village of Massapequa on Long Island, New York.  This fire claimed the lives of five residents and resulted in heavy damage to the wood frame structure.

The Nassau County Fire Marshal's Office has determined the fire to be incendiary in nature.  Although the facility had operated over 10 years, its existence was not known by code enforcement officials, it was not licensed, and, consequently, no inspections had been conducted.

The significant factors contributing to the loss of life in this incident are considered to be:

  •     The ignition scenario;

  •     Delay Delayed detection of the fire due to an inadequate fire detection system;

  •     The spread of products of combustion throughout the building by means of

         the open stairway;

  •     The combustibility of interior finish;

  •     A delay in notifying the fire department.

For more information on this fire NFPA Fire Investigations. To learn about NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research statistics on Intentional Fires.

On August 20, 1984, a fire onboard the Cruise ship M/V SCANDINAVIAN SUN, while docking at the Port of Miami, resulted in two fatalities and fifty-seven injuries among passengers, crew and City of Miami fire fighters.  The rapidly spreading fire forced many of the passengers, who were in the process of disembarking, to remain on board until the fire was extinguished.  The fatalities, one passenger and one crew member, were eventually found in their cabins during the search of the ship.

The fire was discovered just after the ship had completed docking.  The fire, which originated in the auxiliary engine room, was caused by the ignition of atomized lubricating oil leaking from a diesel engine driving one of the ship's generators.

Products of combustion were able to extend vertically six decks above the main engine and auxiliary machine rooms by way of a ladder access way and through an open passageway and watertight doors.  Doors leading to passageways on several of the upper decks were also open during the initial stages of the fire which allowed dense smoke and heat to extend horizontally into crew and passenger cabin areas.

The spread of fire and heavy smoke conditions were mainly confined to the port side of the ship, although starboard side portions of the cruise ship were also affected.

The following are considered to major factors contributing to the loss of life in this fire:

  •     The failure to extinguish the fire in its incipient stage by either automatic

            of manual means.

   •     The rapid and intense flash fire resulting from the ignition of a combustible

            lubricating oil.

   •     The rapid horizontal and vertical spread of products of combustion throughout

            the ship caused mainly  by  open fire doors.

    •     The presence of combustible interior finish materials in passageways and

            in the stair tower.   

For more information on this fire NFPA Fire Investigations

On Friday, August 18, 1995 a fire at a chemical manufacturing facility in Tonawanda, New York killed one plant employee and injured five others.  In addition, the fire destroyed a 12,000 square-foot warehouse and several adjacent offices.  Local and state fire investigators considered the cause to be the decomposition of product stored in the warehouse. 

The chemical plant involved in this incident produced ammonium, potassium and sodium persulfate, and all of these materials were stored in warehouse that was destroyed.  The warehouse, which was of ordinary construction, was protected by a dry sprinkler system.  Fire extinguishers and manual hose stations were also provided for use by plant employees. 

Once ignited, the fire ignited combustible materials, such as packaging materials and wood pallets, that were close to the decomposing commodity.  The fire grew large enough to ignite the combustible materials in the roof assembly and to cause a roof collapse before the arrival of the fire department.  Due to the size of the fire upon arrival, fire fighters did not enter the building to attack the fire. 

The employee who died sustained a fatal injury when he jumped from a second-story window in a control room that was near the burning warehouse.  An open fire door allowed smoke to fill a corridor which provided access from the control room to an enclosed exit stairway that was approximately 25 feet away.  Investigators could not determine if the victim attempted to reach the enclosed stairway before breaking and jumping out of the control room window.


For more information on this fire NFPA Fire Investigations 

On August 12, 1984, a fire originating in a high voltage electrical feeder busway forced the evacuation and relocation of approximately 200 patients at the Forsyth Memorial Hospital located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  While the fire was confined to the busway and to exposed storage areas in the vicinity of a basement loading dock, smoke spread to several upper floors of the hospital.  Portions directly exposed to smoke conditions included operating suites, post-operative and critical care areas, and pediatric units of the hospital.  The exposure of these areas to smoke and the potential for exposure of oxygen and gas lines, along with loss of normal and emergency power and communications, precipitated the relocation and evacuation of patients and staff.  The smoke spread was also limited by construction features and the successful operation of smoke barrier and fire doors.

A short in the main electrical feeder busway also resulted in the loss of primary and emergency power to critical care units.  The loss of emergency power was due to fire damage to emergency generator control wiring which was located near the busway.

The successful relocation and evacuation of patients were due to the prompt actions of the hospital trained in fire emergency procedures and the support of the fire department and emergency medical services.  Effective fire and rescue operations were managed from fire and EMS command posts according to fire ground tactical and EMS disaster plans.

For more information on this hospital fire NFPA Fire Investigations 

To read about fire statistics   NFPA's Fires in Health Care Facilities

On August 2, 2000 a fire was discovered in a multi-tenanted warehouse in Phoenix, AZ at approximately 4:58 p.m. By the time the fire was extinguished the next day, it had completely destroyed the 85,000 sq ft warehouse. The damage to property and the commodities stored inside from the fire has been estimated at over $100 million.

Two tenants occupied the warehouse: a home and garden supply company and a pharmaceuticals distribution operation. The fire began in the home and garden supply portion of the building.

A first alarm structural response was assigned to the vicinity of 38th Place and Broadway as reports of the fire continued to pour into the 911 center. The Tempe Battalion Chief arrived shortly before the first Phoenix Fire Department units at 5:01 p.m. and reported a working fire in a warehouse building. The Tempe Battalion Chief established command and set up a temporary command post on 38th Place opposite the east side of the building. Phoenix Engine 23 was the next to arrive at 5:02 p.m. E23 established a water supply and proceeded to a position at the southeast corner of the building and began to apply water on the fire with the deluge gun on the engine. Engine 272 arrived at 5:05 p.m. and then supplied the automatic sprinkler system within the building through the fire department connection on 38th Place. E23 was confronted with a rapidly spreading fire within the building and numerous exposure fires comprised of stored materials outside the southeast corner of the building. At 5:07 p.m., Engine, Rescue and Ladder 22 arrived on the west side of the building and at 5:11 pm. reported that a portion of the west tilt-panel concrete wall was leaning outward and a collapse hazard existed. By 5:17 p.m. most of the south wall had collapsed. Fire had now begun to spread throughout the home and garden portion of the warehouse. A solid concrete wall separated the two sections of the building. However, as large section of the outer concrete panel walls began to collapse, the integrity of the wall between the two sections of the building became a concern.

Four alarms and numerous special requests for apparatus were dispatched to the scene throughout the next several hours and into the next day. By morning, on August 3, the entire building and all contents were destroyed. The fire department maintained a fire watch for several days extinguishing hot spots and monitoring the hazardous contents. Five fire fighters (including the crew from E23) were treated for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Several police officers that were handling site access and traffic control were also treated for breathing related problems. At the height of the fire over 80 civilians from the surrounding neighborhoods were evacuated from their homes. All were allowed to return the next day.

Investigation into the cause of the fire continues as of this report. For their initial entry into the building, fire investigators had to don protective hazardous materials suits and were limited to only several minutes in the rubble due to the presence of hazardous materials and air temperatures above 100°F. Based on this investigation and analysis of other incidents involving oxidizers, the NFPA has determined that the following significant factors may contribute to large losses in similar facilities:

 - Lack of segregation between incompatible materials

(i.e., oxidizers and hydrocarbon-based materials and other materials)

- Lack of proper storage configuration for oxidizers

- Inadequate sprinkler protection for commodities stored in the warehouse.

To see the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. For information on NFPA's Structure Fires in U.S. Warehouses  Research information on oxidizers can be found on the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation

Shortly after 7:00 p.m. on July 30, 1985, a fire erupted from beneath a steam table located inside the main dining room of the Bayview Restaurant in Seaside Park, New Jersey.  At the time the fire broke out, between 75 and 80 patrons were in the room of fire origin, and all of them, including employees, and two occupants of the second floor narrowly escaped.  Upon fire department arrival, flames were coming out of the window openings, and an adjacent two-story residential unit was beginning to burn.  Fire fighters successfully provided exposure protection and extinguished fires in the adjacent residence.  A large part of the restaurant, however, received heavy fire damage before final extinguishment.

The Ocean County Fire Marshal has determined that the fire was caused when a flexible metal hose, connecting a 20-pound LP-Gas cylinder to a steam table, failed allowing LP-Gas to escape.  Ignition quickly followed, producing intense flame which spread rapidly to adjacent combustible interior finish within the dining room.

NFPA 58, Standard for the Storage and Handling of Liquefied Petroleum Gases, with minor exceptions, prohibits the use of LP-Gas cylinder inside buildings.  This incident clearly demonstrates the extreme hazard that improper use of LP-Gas can pose to life and property, and the importance of complying with the provisions of NFPA 58.   

For more information on this fire NFPA Fire Investigations.  To learn more about NFPAs Fire Analysis and Research statistical report on Eating and Drinking Establishments. For Free access to the 2014 edition of NFPA 58.

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