Five Die in One Room in Motel Fire

Five Die in One Room in Motel Fire

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Five persons died and 17 others were injured when fire in a motel spread from the first-floor room of origin through the ceiling to the second floor. Fire also extended across a narrow areaway to a second wing of the building.

The alarm for the Brooks Motel at 7301 Richmond Highway in Fairfax County, Va., was received by phone at 4:51 a.m. last May 9.

The Brooks Motel was a two-story, U-shaped, masonry building with the top of the U facing east. On the north side was the Flame Room, a combination bar and restaurant. The motel was occupied by 40 to 50 persons of all ages, from an infant to the elderly, including many transient guests. The latter made an accurate figure hard to establish.

Second alarm requested

The first fire unit to arrive on the scene was Wagon 11 from the Penn Daw Fire Station. Sergeant J. Stearn reported heavy smoke showing and called for a second alarm. This motel has long been a target hazard and fire fighters knew if there ever was a fire of any consequence there, lives would be lost.

It was evident to Stearn that people were trapped. A resident who had escaped from the building confirmed this. In addition it was learned that a county police officer, who arrived on the scene before the fire department, was on an awning helping people get out of the second floor of the north wing. Shortly afterward, a fire fighter fell through this awning with his breathing apparatus and was injured seriously enough to be admitted to a hospital.

The first-in Wagon 11 went to the rear where the sergeant and a fire fighter grabbed an 1 1/2-inch line and went up the rear fire escape. They put the line in operation to protect the fleeing occupants. This was a successful tactic.

Fire darkened down

In the meantime, the second-in engine, Wagon 9 came in the first floor entrance and darkened down the fire in the hallway leading to the second floor stairs. This fire was not completely extinguished as these men were trying to make the second floor and get the trapped people out. Shortly afterward, a second line was taken to both the second and first floor attack points for extinguishment. The total knockdown time (not extinguishment) was an estimated 10 minutes.

Also, a line and a ground ladder were taken to the police officer on the awning on the north side of the motel. Wagon 11 dropped a line in front of the building which was supplied by Wagon 9, the second-in engine. The second-due truck from Station 24 laddered the building on the south side to both ventilate and help evacuate occupants.

After the second-due company from Company 9 made the second floor, they found five bodies in one bathroom, three of them in the shower. One of the victims was a 19-month-old child.

The injuries included burns, smoke inhalation, cuts and sprains and broken bones from jumping. Three burn victims were flown from the nearby Mount Vernon Hospital to the Washington, D. Hospital burn unit by military helicopter from nearby Fort Belvoir. The displaced guests were put up in area motels by the Red Cross. The occupants who escaped safely, other than minor injuries, said they were alerted by screams of “fire.”

Burn-through of first-floor ceiling of motel in Fairfax County, Va., is shown in this photo. Springs of bed on second floor show at top of photo.

Fairfax County, Va., Fire and Rescue Services photos

Burned stairway is where fire was stopped.Rear view of motel shows narrow areaway between wings and fire escapes.

Investigators believe the fire started from a faulty TV set on the first floor in a room of the south wing. The fire extended both up through the ceiling and out a window and across an approximately 3-foot areaway to the north wing.

Research showed that the building was inspected at least five times in the last year and no major violations were found. Captain Peck of the fire marshal’s office stated that if the building had been constructed today, it would not meet code regulatio ns.

The total response was six engine companies, some two-p iece, two truck companies, an elevating platform, a heavy squad, seven ambulances and 65 men.

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