Tuesday, February 23, 2016

One Meridian Plaza Fire

Twenty-five years ago, on the night of February 23, 1991, a bucketful of oily rags ignited a fire on the 22nd floor of the mostly unsprinklered 38-story One Meridian Plaza office building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The fire claimed the lives of three firefighters and injured 24 others. Nine floors of the high-rise were totally destroyed. The building was eventually demolished in 1999 after years of legal wrangling between the building’s owners, tenants, and insurers.

Fire Operations at One Meridian Plaza
(via thecompanyofficer.com)
Here is a brief summary of the incident.

  • The building’s main and backup power systems failed. Without elevators, firefighters had no choice but to climb 20 flights of stairs to reach the fire.
  • Improperly set valves in the standpipe system left firefighters with no water pressure.
  • Firefighters hauled large diameter hose up those 20 flights of stairs to supply water.
  • Glass from shattered windows fell to the street below, slicing through fire hoses. The damaged hose was replaced and covered with plywood, causing further delays in firefighting efforts.
  • Engineers corrected the problems with the standpipe, but by then incident commanders decided to let the fire burn to the 30th floor where sprinkler systems were still working.
  • The incident went to 12 alarms and the fire burned for 19 hours.
There has been much written about this fire, but suffice to say that the firefighters who were there have never forgotten. The grueling climbs up 20 flights of stairs. Blistering heat and blinding smoke. Dodging falling plate glass in the street outside the building. The ominous radio silence following the final transmission from three lost comrades. It’s the kind of life event that will change a person, and often an entire department.

Memorial to firefighters who died at One Meridian Plaza.
(via Wikimedia Commons)
Like other major fires, One Meridian Plaza became a catalyst for improved fire codes. A year after the fire, the Philadelphia City Council enacted codes requiring sprinkler systems on every floor of high-rise buildings.

To read more about the One Meridian Plaza fire, including interviews with firefighters who were there, check out the following articles. They will give you both personal and technical insights into this tragic incident.

Fire Engineering copy of original August 1991 article

The Meridian Fire 25 Years Later: ‘You Don’t Forget Defeats’

Survivors Will Never Forget Fatal Meridian Fire

One Meridian Plaza High Rise Fire: Twenty Years Ago