On October 8, 1995, at 1215 hours in Louisville, Kentucky, a small fire originating in discarded furniture on the exterior of a shopping center developed into a multiple-alarm fire that destroyed a karate club and heavily damaged other businesses.

The first-arriving fire companies–three engine and two truck companies–discovered burning furniture in an alcove in the rear of the complex, directly behind a thrift store. Flames already were impinging on the siding of the second floor, which was occupied by a karate club.

While the first-in engine company knocked down the fire on the exterior, the truck company checked for fire extension inside on the second floor. The truck officer reported heavy smoke and heat but no visible fire. Access to the second floor from the rear was limited, and there were no windows at the rear of the structure. Units could not locate the fire.

In the short time it took for lines to be stretched inside from the front entrance, the fire had grown such that first-alarm companies were unable to contain it.

The first occupancy on the second floor was previously occupied by a bowling alley, which closed in 1973; but the lacquer-finished, oil-soaked lanes had not been removed. Because of this and a sizable void space underneath the lanes, the fire rapidly spread horizontally throughout the structure.

Second- and third-alarm companies were requested as the fire intensified, eventually burning through the roof in the rear of the building. By this time, the interior attack in the building of origin had been terminated, and defensive operations were in place. Aggressive handlines positioned inside businesses on the north and south sides of the fire building prevented fire spread through the rest of the shopping center. Fortunately, the attached buildings in this strip shopping center were of varying heights and therefore did not have a common cockloft.

Some of the lessons learned at this incident include the following:

Awareness of building occupancies and construction is critical to effective structure fire attack. Preplan your buildings. Renovations and occupancy changeovers could have a significant effect on your operations.

An exterior fire impinging on a structure demands rapid interior access to check for extension, particularly in hidden combustible voids.

Timely transmittal of additional alarms is critical. When it became apparent that fire in the void was already well advanced and questionable whether the fire could be controlled with on-scene manpower, additional units were needed immediately.

A properly functioning ICS affords the incident commander flexibility as the incident escalates.

Plan ahead with safety in mind. For example, position apparatus so that if a collapse zone has to be established, apparatus will be outside, not inside, the zone. n

Rear of the shopping center shortly after outside fire was extinguished. The aerial sets up for possible roof operations. Inside, firefighters are searching for extension.

(Top) Just a few minutes later, smoke pours out the karate club`s front window. Firefighters had difficulty locating the fire. (Center and bottom) An interior attack was unsuccessful. Fire vents through the roof. A defensive-offensive operation, which extinguishes the fire and saves exposures, is undertaken.

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