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Author Topic: ONE MERIDIAN PLAZA PHILADELPHIA FEB. 23, 1991  (Read 3584 times)
Posts: 37

« on: February 23, 2013, 07:51:42 AM »

On February 23, 1991 a 12 alarm fire at One Meridian Plaza took the lives of Capt. Holcombe, FF McAllister, and FF Chappell of Engine 11 in Philadelphia.
Sr. Member
Posts: 430

Brownouts.. A Good Idea???

« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2013, 09:25:01 AM »

On February 23, 1991, at about 8:23 PM, a fire began on the 22nd floor of the building. It was a Saturday night and there were only three people in the building at the time, an engineer and two security guards. Workers had been refinishing woodwork in a vacant office earlier in the day and workers left a pile of rags soaked in linseed oil on the floor. The linseed oil oxidized and generated enough heat to ignite the rags which then set fire to other solvents nearby. Smoke detectors did not cover the entire floor and by the time the fire alarm went off the fire was already well established. After the fire alarm sounded in the building the engineer went up to the 22nd floor to investigate. When the elevator reached the 22nd floor the engineer found heavy smoke and heat which prevented him from reaching the elevator controls he needed to return to the lobby. The engineer escaped after radioing to a security guard in the lobby to recall the elevator using fire safety controls there. The second security guard was on the 30th floor when the alarm went off and used the stairwell to get to the ground floor.

The lobby guard returned a call to the alarm monitoring service which had called when the alarm initially went off to confirm that there was a fire, but never called the Philadelphia Fire Department. The first call came from someone on the street who saw smoke coming from the building. During the first 911 call, at about 8:27 PM, the alarm company alerted the fire department to the fire. Engine 43 was the first firefighting unit to arrive at the scene and reported seeing heavy smoke and flames in one of the windows. As firefighters started fighting the fire it had grown with flames breaking through windows and lapping up the side of the building.


Firefighters began experiencing problems before they even reached the fire. By the time firefighters reached the 11th floor the building had lost power after the heat from the blaze damaged electrical cables. The emergency generator never began producing electricity, and despite efforts to restore power the building was without electricity for the entirety of the event. This forced firefighters to work in darkness and without the aid of elevators. In addition, the transformers that provided power to the neighboring Girard Trust Building were in the basement of One Meridian Plaza. The transformers were eventually shut down due to water accumulation in the basement and firefighters directing water streams from that building had to do so without the aid of elevators.

Firefighters were again hampered when it was discovered the pressure release valves on the standpipes were improperly adjusted when installed in the building. The Philadelphia Fire Department nozzles allowed 100 psi nozzle pressure while One Meridian Plaza's pressure release valves were giving less than 60 psi discharge pressure, which was not sufficient to fight the fire. It was several hours into the fire before a technician who could adjust the valves arrived at the scene.

The area around the building was cleared of pedestrians and firefighting personnel because of falling glass and debris. The falling debris was dangerous for firefighters because they often had to cross the perimeter around the building to enter and leave the high-rise. Hose lines stretched into the building were damaged by falling debris and one firefighter was struck by debris and seriously injured while tending to the lines.

Lost firefighters

During the second hour of the fire it spread onto the 23rd and 24th floors. Heavy smoke was building up in the stairwells and a captain and two firefighters from Engine 11 were assigned to go to the top level to ventilate the stairwell. The three firefighters went up a center staircase from the 22nd floor and soon radioed that they were disoriented by heavy smoke on the 30th floor. There were attempts to direct the firefighters through the radio, and soon after the captain requested permission to break a window for ventilation, which was followed by a message that the captain was down. Permission to break the window was given and a search and rescue effort was initiated.

Search teams were sent from the lower floors and searched the 30th floor, but did not find the missing firefighters. The teams then moved onto the upper levels where one team got lost on the 38th floor and ran out of air in their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). That team was rescued by a search team that had been placed on the roof by a helicopter. Rescue attempts continued until helicopter operations were suspended due to heavy smoke and thermal drafts caused by the blaze.

Using a searchlight the helicopter crew searched the exterior of the building and at 1:17 AM February 24, the helicopter spotted a broken window on the 28th floor located in an area that could not be seen from the street. At about 2:15 AM a rescue team was sent to the spot and found the three missing firefighters unconscious and out of air in their SCBAs. The firefighters were brought to a medical triage set up on the 20th floor. There were attempts at resuscitation, but they were unsuccessful and the firefighters were pronounced dead.

Fire's end

As the fire was going into its sixth hour it had spread up to the 26th floor. With inadequate water pressure coming from the standpipes, firefighters stretched hoses up the building's stairwells to help fight the fire. While hoses were being taken up to the fire a sprinkler technician arrived to fix the water pressure. This improved the hose streams, but the fire had engulfed several floors and could not be contained with just hoses. By 7:00 AM, almost eleven hours into the fire, firefighters were able to get control of the fire on the 22nd through 24th floors, but the fire was still out of control on the 25th and 26th floors and was spreading upwards. Structural damage observed inside the building by firefighters and consultations with a structural engineer led to fears that the damaged floors might collapse. At 7:00 AM an order to evacuate the building was issued by Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer and the building was completely evacuated by 7:30 AM. After the evacuation, the only fire suppression efforts left were water streams being directed to the building from the neighboring Girard Trust Building and One Centre Square.

The fire's spread only stopped when it reached the 30th floor which was the first fire affected floor to have automatic sprinklers. Ten sprinklers extinguished the fire on the 30th floor and prevented continued spread. Contained by the automatic sprinklers and running out of fuel, the fire was declared under control at 3:01 PM. The fire lasted over nineteen hours, destroyed eight floors, and killed three firefighters and injured twenty-four. Twelve alarms were called which brought fifty-one engine companies, fifteen ladder companies, eleven specialized units, and over three hundred firefighters. The fire caused an estimated US $100 million in direct property loss.

After the fire

By February 26 city officials had determined One Meridian Plaza was not in danger of collapse. There was structural damage to horizontal steel beams and floor sections on most of the fire damaged floors. Under extreme fire exposure the beams and girders sagged and twisted and cracks appeared in the concrete floors. However, the overall structure was stable and able to support the weight of the building. Thermal expansion of the steel frame caused some of the granite panels to be dislodged from the building's facade. The streets and buildings around One Meridian Plaza were closed and cordoned off. The 20-story Morris Building and several three-story shops behind One Meridian Plaza on Chestnut Street were damaged by falling debris and sat unused for years until they were demolished in 2000. The neighboring Girard Trust Building, then called Two Mellon Plaza, experienced extensive water damage forcing the closure of the building. A bank in the building reopened a month later but the rest of the tower remained vacant for years. The roads around the building were closed for months after the fire, including a portion of two of Philadelphia's major streets, Broad and Market.

The removal of the uninhabitable One Meridian Plaza off the real estate market and the sudden relocation of the buildings tenants to other offices in Philadelphia removed 1,500,000 square feet (139,000 m2) of real estate off the market. The city's office vacancy rate was 14.3 percent at the end of 1990 and in the two months after the fire the vacancy rate lowered to 10.7 percent.[2] On December 18 Mayor Wilson Goode signed a law requiring every nonresidential building 75 feet (23 m) tall or taller have sprinklers installed by 1997. An estimated three hundred buildings in the city were affected by the law.

Read more: http://beaconlight.proboards.com/thread/1068/meridian-plaza-feb-1991-lodd#ixzz2LjSnhDKI

Hero Member
Posts: 804

« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2013, 01:31:40 PM »

517, great post. In this day and age I don't think that a fire of that magnitude could be fought with the depleted Co's and manpower.  Jake

The Brotherhood,Always The Brotherhood               110th Class - 1958
Sr. Member
Posts: 430

Brownouts.. A Good Idea???

« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2013, 12:49:01 PM »

Fire Companies on Scene
1st/Box Alarm Assignment - Box 495 - 15th & Chestnut Streets
Squirt 43, Engine 1, Engine 20(Water Supply-LDH) Engine 11(3 Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths from this Company)
Ladder 9, Snorkel 5
Medic 7
Battalion Chief 5, Battalion Chief 4
2nd Alarm Assignment:
Squirt 8, Engine 10, Engine 24, Engine 44, Engine 13(Lobby Control)
Ladder 23, Ladder 1
Medic 13
Battalion Chief 3(Lobby Officer), Battalion Chief 11
Division(Deputy) Chief 1
Air Unit 2
3rd Alarm Assignment:
Engine 49(Water Supply-LDH), Engine 40(Water Supply-LDH), Engine 60
Battalion Chief 1
Chemical Unit 1, Chemical Unit 2
4th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 5(Water Supply-LDH), Engine 29, Engine 16, Engine 3(Water Supply-LDH), Engine 34(Water Supply-LDH)
Snorkel 2
Medic 21B, Medic 25B
Battalion Chief 8
Air Unit 1
5th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 33, Engine 27, Engine 53, Engine 25
Ladder 11
Car 1(Chief of Department)
Light Wagon 1
6th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 12, Engine 22, Engine 50(Water Supply-LDH), Engine 59
Medic 3
ES-10(Decontamination Trailer)
7th Alarm Assignment:
Squirt 57, Engine 63, Engine 14, Engine 28(Water Supply-LDH)
8th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 61(Water Supply-LDH), Squirt 9, Engine 56, Engine 41
Ladder 13
Medic 16, Medic 1
Battalion Chief 2, Battalion Chief 10
Car 6
9th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 38, Engine 66, Engine 45, Engine 68
Ladder 18, Tower Ladder 6
Battalion Chief 1102(Call-Back for Battalion Chief 2)
10th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 72, Engine 18, Engine 7, Engine 2
Ladder 25
11th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 71, Engine 35, Engine 103(Reserve), Engine 119(Reserve)
12th Alarm Assignment:
Engine 125(Reserve), Engine 181(Reserve), Engine 36, Engine 52(Water Supply-LDH), Engine 180(ARFF-Reserve-LDH), Engine 19(Water Supply-LDH)
Ladder 14
Rescue 1(Reactivated Company for Incident)
Medic 15, Medic 14
Battalion Chief 13, Battalion Chief 9
Division(Deputy) Chief 1A

Sr. Member
Posts: 430

Brownouts.. A Good Idea???

« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2013, 12:51:52 PM »

ES-10(Decontamination Trailer) should read EMS Mass Casualty Unit


Full Member
Posts: 242

« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2013, 02:14:48 PM »

Here's the run down showing the actual timeline:

Saturday, February 23, 1991, "A", "D" Platoons, F.C.C. Platoon 2, 4, 1

 8:27 P.M. - Box 495 - 15th & Chestnut Streets
                   Sq.43, Engine 1, 20(LDH), 11,  Ladder 9, Snorkel 5, B.C. 5,4

 8:29 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Medic 7

 8:34 P.M. - 2nd Alarm, b/o B.C.5
                   Sq.8, Engine 10, 24, 44, 13(LC), Ladder 23, B.C.3(LO),11

 8:37 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Medic 13, D.C.1, Air Unit 2

 8:39 P.M. - Special Call, b/o B.C. 5 - Ladder 1

 8:47 P.M. - 3rd Alarm, b/o D.C.1
                   Engine 49(LDH), 40(LDH), 60, B.C.1

 8:48 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Chemical 1, 2

 8:56 P.M. - 4th Alarm, b/o D.C.1
                   Engine 5(LDH), 29, 16, 3(LDH), 34(LDH), Air Unit 1

 8:58 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Snorkel 2

 9:00 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Medic 21B

 9:04 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - B.C.8, Medic 25B

 9:05 P.M. - 5th Alarm, b/o D.C.1
                   Engine 33, 27, 53, 25, Light Wagon 1 w/Ladder 11

 9:55 P.M. - 6th Alarm, b/o Car 1
                   Engine 12, 22, 50(LDH), 59, Medic 3

10:00 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - ES-10

10:23 P.M. - 7th Alarm, b/o Car 1
                    Sq.57, Engine 63, 14, 28(LDH)

10:37 P.M. - 8th Alarm, b/o Car 1
                    Engine 61(LDH), Sq.9, Engine 56, 41, Medic 16, Car 6

10:53 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Pennstar Helicopter from H.U.P.

11:05 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Ladder 13

11:12 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Medic 1

11:30 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - B.C. 2, 10

12:01 A.M. - 9th Alarm, b/o Car 1
                    Engine 38, 66, 45, 68, Ladder 18, Tower Ladder 6

12:30 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - B.C.1102

12:33 A.M. - 10th Alarm, b/o Car 1
                     Engine 72, 18, 7, 2

12:41 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - D.C.1A

 1:09 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Ladder 25

 1:21 A.M. - 11th Alarm, b/o Car 1
                   Engine 71, 35, 103, 119

 2:21 A.M. - 12th Alarm, b/o Car 1
                   Engine 125, 181, 36, 52(LDH)

 3:13 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - B.C. 13, 9

 3:21 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Medic 15

 4:45 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Engine 180(LDH/FTA)

 5:30 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Ladder 14, Rescue 1

 5:32 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Medic 14

 5:41 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Engine 19(LDH)

 3:01 P.M. - Fire Under Control, b/o Car 1

Note: LDH = Large Diameter (5") Hose
          Rescue 1 had not yet been reactivated as a full-duty company

That guy
Full Member
Posts: 188

« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2013, 10:26:32 PM »

is there any audio of this call?

just my two cents!

my posts are mine and do not reflect the views of any department in witch i  am affilatied with
Sr. Member
Posts: 272

« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2013, 06:04:54 AM »

Not to step on anyones toes, E.6 was there, probably with AU.2. Two of the guys brought off the roof were from 6s. Co's that were there, that aren't around anymore, E's 1, 6, 8, 14, L's 1, 11. Bn.5, One whole alarm that wouldn't be around if something like this were to happen today.
deputy 44
Posts: 15

« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2013, 08:36:06 AM »

Are there any records of who, by name, the Chief's on this job were? I see all the Chief designations by number. Thanks
Sr. Member
Posts: 297

« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2013, 08:54:46 AM »

Battalion 5 was BC George Yaeger.  Battalion 4 was BC Michael Kucowski.  Fire Commissioner ( Car 1 ) was Roger Ulshafer.  Deputy Commissioners were Harold Hairston and Christian Schweitzer.  Pretty sure Deputy 1 was James Brady. 
deputy 44
Posts: 15

« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2013, 11:03:43 AM »

Thanks Chief, does anyone know who BC 13, 9, 8, 11, 3, 2 and 10 were?
« Last Edit: February 26, 2013, 12:15:42 PM by deputy 44 » Logged
Posts: 7

« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2013, 12:17:21 AM »

is there any audio of this call?

Audio does exist somewhere but I have not been able to get my hands on it (been trying for a few years). 

Discovery Channel did a special about this incident entitled "Inferno".  I saw it when it first aired (around 1999 I believe), and there were several clips of the radio traffic between Engine 11's officer and the incident commander(s) while they were in the building. 

There were also clips of the ICs requesting the additional alarms.

I have not seen this program since it first aired.  I would be interested in the audio if anyone comes across it.   I'm also interested if anyone has a copy or knows where I can obtain the "Inferno" video.
Sr. Member
Posts: 445

« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2013, 11:28:10 PM »

Thanks Chief, does anyone know who BC 13, 9, 8, 11, 3, 2 and 10 were?
Battalion 11 was Pat Campanaro.
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