A disaster of incalculable description was prevented in our community last week. The fire in the early morning hours of last Friday at 908 S. Oak could have easily had a different outcome when fire companies enroute were notified that there could be anywhere from 5 – 15 people trapped in the building. As we all now know, there was only one minor injury among the 11 students who were in the building when the fire broke out.
The reason why is because the system in Champaign worked.
The system started when the building was constructed just a few years ago. The Fire Department’s Building Safety Division ensured the building was built to the fire code adopted by the City Council. The Building Safety Division did this through plan reviews and inspections during and after construction before an occupancy permit could be issued. They made certain there was working smoke detectors in the proper locations, that there were fire doors to prevent the spread of fire, plus other items required by the fire code.
The system worked because inspectors from the Neighborhood Services Division conducted periodic inspections on the property and ensured that the smoke detectors continued to work and that the building still met the standards found in the fire code.
The second floor where five students were trapped is virtually untouched by fire or smoke because the fire doors held the fire and smoke back – even though fire and heavy smoke conditions was traveling up the stairs to the second floor.
The system worked because when the calls were placed to METCAD through the 9-1-1 system, dispatchers were able to rapidly process the call and dispatch not only the initial alarm, but the second alarm, and support the operations during the fire.
The system worked because Champaign fire crews rapidly responded to the scene and under the command of Captain Dorval Norwood were able to deploy three ground ladders to different windows, deploy 1 3/4 and 2 1/2 inch fire hoses to the fire, deploy two crews to conduct search operations, plus more – all in under seven minutes. The training and the professionalism of the firefighters was key to this success.
The system worked because police officers with the Champaign Police Department worked collaboratively with the Champaign Fire Department to help create some semblance out of the chaos by assembling all the students and doing accountability checks to determine if someone was missing and reporting the results to Captain Norwood in the command car with periodic updates.
As Fire Chief, I proud of the system we have in Champaign and all the excellent people from multiple agencies and city departments that makes it work. We should all be thankful and proud that it worked last Friday morning!
Gary Ludwig serves as the Fire Chief of Champaign, Illinois. He has a total of 38 years of fire, rescue, and EMS experience including 25 years in St. Louis and 10 years in Memphis. He has also been a paramedic for over 35 years. He has a Masterâ€™s of Science in Management and Business and writes the monthly leadership column in JEMS Magazine and the EMS column in Firehouse Magazine. In 2014, he received the James O Page EMS Leadership Award and he is author of the recently released book, Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Prayers.