They say these type of fires are, sadly, quite common across the country.
Frederick, Md (KM) As officials in Oakland, California, continue their salvage operations and investigation into last Friday’s deadly warehouse fire, fire departments around the nation are watching how this incident is unfolding. Frederick County Fire and Rescue Chief Tom Owens says these types of fire are, unfortunately, not uncommon in the United States. “We have a history in our country of these kinds of tragedies occurring.” he says. “And they really relate directly to the improper use of properties that are just not designed or approved for large gatherings of people,” he says.
Chief Owens says too often property owners change the use of a building, allowing for large gatherings such as dances, art shows or wine tastings. But they don’t go through the local governmental channels to get that use approved, or put safety measures in place, such as fire exits an sprinklers. “They take a building. It is not suited in terms of the number of people they want to have gathered there, typically leads to very inadequate exit ways. And then something tragic happens inside, and when people turn and try to escape, they can’t get out,” he says.
He also says a lot of these changes in the use of a building take place, and no one knows about it. “It’s where we need the eyes and ears of citizenry, that when they see this kind of activity going on, to make a phone call, to question whether or not that the building is permitted for the type of use it’s being used for,” says Owens.
The fire erupted at the warehouse which was called the “Ghost Ship.” Officials said at first 6 people were confirmed dead from the fire, but as of Monday, the death toll increased to 36, and more victims are expected to be found as the search continues.
One former resident said it was being used as an illegal residence. Shelley Mack, who a tech sales workers and jewelry maker, told The Associated Press the building was crammed with old sofas, rugs, and garage sale items such as pianos, paintings, turntables, statues and other articles that quickly fed the flames. She called the place a “death trap.”
Chief Owens says Frederick County’s fire service has the necessary resources to handle such a fire, if it occurred locally. “We certainly have a very robust fire and rescue capability of our own in the county, and certainly the mutual aid makes us even stronger with our neighbors,”: he says. “So as far as an event of this nature, I am very confident that we would have the resources we would need to respond.”
He also says counseling services are available for fire and rescue personnel who are deeply affected by an event like this, if it ever happens in Frederick County. “We have critical incident stress management programs that are available for all of our responders on a day-to-day basis, even for what would be a rather routine type of response, a very significant car accident with loss of life,” says Chief Owens.
“We have an effort underway right now in partnership with our Career Fire Fighters Association and Frederick Memorial Hospital and their mental health professionals there to build a stronger resource where we can access highly trained mental health professionals when we need those services,” he says.,
No matter how tough they may believe they are, Chief Owens says fire and rescue personnel can still be deeply affected by tragic incidents like the one in Oakland. “The science continues to show that what our fire and rescue folks are exposed to in many cases is not unlike what our war fighters are exposed to in their PTSD that they suffer through,” he says. “What our responders can experience is very much akin to the same thing.”
By Kevin McManus