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Today is the 20  year anniversary of a horrific fire that claimed the life of three firefighters, injured 12 other firefighters and left a Philadelphia high-rise apartment building gutted for years.  

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Inscribed on the memorial to the three fallen firefighters:

"To sacrifice one's own safety in the service of others requires a courage that is rare. Those among us who do are true heroes."
The three deceased members of Engine Company 11 were Captain
David P. Holcombe (age 52), Firefighter Phyllis McAllister (43), and
Firefighter James A. Chappell (29).

I remember the aftermath of this fire.  It was horrific for fightfighters and their families.  My uncle (a Philadelphia Firefighter) lost a very dear friend in that fire.  The surviving member of the Platoon that perished that night said...

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The fire changed Bloomer, who was driving Engine 11 that night. With him were Capt. David Holcombe and Firefighters Phyllis McAllister and James Chappell.

Bloomer's the only one who made it home.

"I still think about it," Bloomer said. "I wonder, what if I'd been one of the guys inside? Would I have done what they did? It could have been me.

"It's not something you'll ever get over. It's always in the back of my mind."

That night, Bloomer recalls, "was a regular night at the firehouse" at 6th and South streets. Dinner was done, and he, McAllister and Chappell were shooting pool. The call came in about 8:30 p.m.

The blaze was 12 alarms and took more than 18 hours to contain.  The fire was started by oily rags left and accidently ignited on the 22nd floor.  The fire was able to rage so fast because automatic sprinklers were not available until the 30th floor.  

As firefighters attempted to make entry to the burning floors from the stairways, heavy smoke continued to build up within the stair shafts and banked down from the upper floors. An engine company was assigned to attempt to open a door or hatch to ventilate the stairways at the roof level to allow the smoke and heat to escape. A Captain and two firefighters from Engine 11 started up the center stair from the 22nd floor with this assignment. Engine 11 subsequently radioed that they had left the stairway and were disoriented in heavy smoke on the 30th floor. Attempts were made to direct the crew by radio to one of the other stairways.

Shortly thereafter a radio message was received at the Command Post from Engine 11’s Captain requesting permission to break a window for ventilation. This was followed moments later by a message from a crew member of Engine 11 reporting that “the Captain is down.” Approval was given to break the window and rescue efforts were initiated to search for the crew. Search teams were sent from below and a helicopter was requested to land a team on the roof. The search teams were able to reach the 30th floor, which was enveloped in heavy smoke, but were unable
to find the missing firefighters. They then searched the floors above without success. An eight member search team became disoriented and ran out of air in the mechanical area on the 38th floor, while trying to find an exit to the roof. They were rescued by the team that had landed on the roof and were transported back to ground level by the helicopter.

Several attempts were made to continue the search, until helicopter operations on the rooftop had to be suspended due to the poor visibility and the thermal drafts caused by the heat of the fire. The helicopter crew then attempted an exterior search, using the helicopter’s searchlight, and at 0117 located a broken window on the southeast comer of the 28th floor, in an area that could not be seen from any of the surrounding streets.  Another rescue team was assembled and finally located the three missing member just inside the broken window on the 28th floor at approximately
0215. At that time the fire was burning on the 24th and 25th floors and
extending to the 26th.

The victims were removed to the Medical Triage Area on the 20th
floor, but resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful and they were pronounced
dead at the scene. An estimated three to four hours had elapsed since
they had reported that they were in trouble and all had succumbed to
smoke inhalation.’

To read the full report, go here.  I think people underestimate how easy it is to become disoriented in a dark fire filled with smoke.  

Built only in 1972, the 38-story apartment building at diagonal to the Philadelphia City Hall.  The building was situated at a major intersection in our Center City.  The fire from the building could be seen from miles around.  The location, across from City Hall and on a circle and very narrow street, would make fighting the fire difficult.

Despite the catastrophic fire in 1991, the building was not demolished until 1999.  Within the last few years, a new luxury high-rise has constructed.  The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton opened in 2009.  

The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia combines legendary Ritz-Carlton amenities with carefree Center City living to deliver a singular, signature lifestyle unlike anything currently available in the city of Philadelphia. The 48-story contemporary masterpiece accented by a dramatic crystal spire, the new tower has transformed Philadelphia's skyline and forever redefined condominium living.  

Designed by Handel Architects (the Design Architect for the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City), The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia distinguishes itself as the most opulent and spectacular address in Philadelphia.  Close to arts and culture, world-class shopping and Philadelphia's renowned restaurant scene, The Residences stands at the cross roads of the City.

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No listing of prices, but needless to say they are Luxury Condos.  I think it is one of those...if you have to ask you can't afford it...kinda deals.  Do you think the firefighters who lost their lives could ever hope to live in this development?  It is important to note that One Meridian Plaza was empty when the firefighters went into the building.  There were only three people in the building.  Three firefighters saving property make the ultimate sacrifice.  

The Meridian fire was one of the most significant high-rise building fires before 9/11, said Jelenewicz, of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. It changed the way that fire codes were written, pointing out inefficiencies in the fire-protection design.

Some of the changes that stemmed from the tragedy were simple ones, he said: Stairwells were marked with floor numbers so that anyone inside could tell where they were. On the night of the Meridian fire, the team had become disoriented and reported that they were on the 30th when they were in fact on the 28th.

Other changes were more significant, like calling for sprinkler systems on every floor of a high-rise.

I hope you will join me in giving salute to firefighters across the US.  Many have given their lives to protect us.  It takes a certain fearlessness and courage to run into a building, let alone a high-rise as if it was just any other normal day.  Most people do not know that toll that this takes on the lives and families of firefighters.  Believe me, it does take a toll to have to remove dead children from homes where fire could be prevented, delivering babies, rushing a dying person to the hospital and seeing your fellow firefighters die during the call of duty or from the aftermath of being a public servant, it does take a toll.

In Memoriam

The three deceased members of Engine Company 11 were Captain
David P. Holcombe (age 52), Firefighter Phyllis McAllister (43), and
Firefighter James A. Chappell (29).

Updated by princss6 at Wed Feb 23, 2011, 05:40:04 PM

H/T to lexalou for the Firefighter's Prayer


The Firefighter's Prayer


When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;


Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.


Help me embrace a little child before it is too late


Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.


Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,


And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.


I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,


To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.


And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;


Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife.


Author Unknown


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