The Montgomery County Department of Public Safety issued an After Action Report on the Millennium Fire that occurred on August 13, 2008. This report on the “Stables At Millennium and Riverwalk At Millennium Fire” included segments reviewing how the fire started, the construction of the buildings, the actions of firefighters and others on the scene, and ways to minimize the risk of similar fires in the future.
According to Montgomery County, this report included lessons learned that focused “on building codes, building construction, incident management, strategy and tactics, and recovery efforts of a major fire.”
This news column includes select highlights from this After Action Report.
Fire Call and Dispatch:
“Dispatch to On-Scene (Water Carrying Apparatus): 4 minutes, 24 seconds”
“Total Time in Service (Conshohocken Fire Department): 25 hours, 42 minutes, 35 seconds”
Extinguishing the Fire:
“Extinguishment would require the combined efforts of 1,013 fire personnel operating 153 [pieces of] apparatus. There would be fourteen minor injuries. Remarkably, there would be no human loss of life.”
“Conshohocken Borough Officials, under the direction of Mayor Joseph P. Collins, would execute a ‘Declaration of Disaster Emergency’ on August 15, 2008. The damage would be so significant and with the financial loss in the millions, local officials requested Governor Edward G. Rendell to ask for federal assistance through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA made low-interest disaster loans for ‘up to $200,000 available for homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate’ and ‘up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.’”
Stables At Millennium Building – Site of Initial Fire:
“The building is described … as a ‘standing lumberyard’ due to the fact that the structure was framed and ready for drywall, which had yet to be accomplished. The high surface-to-mass ratio of the framing, resulting in an exceedingly high heat release rate, was the single best contributor to the spread of fire in the original fire building and its resulting radiant flux on exposures.”
Millennium III Office Building:
“The fire spread to the office building [Millennium III Office Building] to the west of the original fire building [Stables At Millennium], and reportedly was controlled by seven sprinkler heads. It should be noted as this building was of non-combustible construction and completely protected with a sprinkler system designed in accordance with [the] National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) [Standard] 13, which prohibited exclusion of sprinkler from any part of the office building.”
Riverwalk At Millennium Buildings:
“…Sprinklers were not required in the attic spaces of these residential exposures. …The fire appears to have spread to the attics of these residential exposures through radiant heat exposure from the original fire building [Stables At Millennium]. Without sprinkler protection, there was nothing to impede the progress of the fire [in the buildings of Riverwalk At Millennium] except draft stopping.”
“The original fire building [Stables At Millennium] was in an extremely vulnerable state just prior to ignition [of the Millennium Fire]. The high surface-to-mass ratio of the combustible wood framing resulted in an exceedingly high heat release rate once ignition was successful. Complete destruction of the original fire building is pre-destined under these conditions. Framed construction, prior to the installation of drywall is, as previously [mentioned], a ‘standing lumberyard.’ Builders cannot, however, install drywall until the exterior envelope is finished. The exterior envelope is defined as the outside walls and roof, which are needed to protect the drywall from exposure to the weather which would destroy it if not properly protected. It is during this exceedingly vulnerable time, when the building is framed and not dry walled, that adherence to best practices in fire prevention during construction is critical. The fire code provides specific instructions concerning hot work and fire watches. It is not known if adherence to these best practices was accomplished in this case.”
“Water supply was interrupted at times by vehicles driving over the supply lines in an attempt to egress [leave] the area.”
“Additional sprinklers installed in the residential exposures [at Riverwalk At Millennium], if required by a change to NFPA 13-R, would have been of limited value, as such systems are not designed to protect against exposure fires.”
“Requiring the draft stopping to be of fire-resistive construction could have delayed fire spread but may not have had significant impact on the fire due to the orientation of the exposures [at Riverwalk At Millennium] to the original fire building [Stables At Millennium].”
The first photograph is courtesy of Mr. Dan Berger, August 13, 2008.
The second and third photographs are courtesy of the Keystone Valley Fire Department, August 14, 2008.
The fourth photograph is courtesy of the Honey Brook Fire Company, August 14, 2008
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