Six firefighters injured while battling skyscraper fire

August 31, 2010 9:37:07 AM PDT
Firefighters spent Monday night battling a four-alarm fire at the JPMorgan Chase Bank building in downtown Houston. Today's focus is on the huge clean-up from the water damage inside and underneath the 35-story high-rise. The fire broke out around 8pm on the 27th floor of the JPMorgan Chase building in the 700 block of Main Street. It took firefighters about three and half hours to completely contain the blaze.

As the 175 firefighters worked to put out the 4-alarm fire, but the efforts didn't go smoothly. There were problems with the water supply and six firefighters ended up in the hospital.

Firefighters say they had trouble getting water up that high, and the fire quickly grew to four alarms. Firefighters had to take an offensive attack mode against the building.

Fire officials used a standpipe system as well as aerial ladders to get some of the water up to the 27th floor and had to break some windows for ventilation.

A total of six firefighters were transported to Memorial Hermann Hospital, including at least two who needed to be treated for smoke inhalation. According to the fire department, between 25 and 30 custodians were in the building at the time of the fire, but everyone was accounted for last night, and no civilians were injured.

"Imagine that you come in with your jogging shorts on up 27 floors, but then you have to have all of your fire gear on," said Asst. Chief Jack Williams with the Houston Fire Department. "You got to take your hose with. You have to take everything for emergency access, stuff to get in and out of there. It's a job just getting up there."

HFD originally thought people were trapped inside an elevator, but a crew that was assigned to go rescue them determined it was a false report.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker worked in the Chase Bank building for 12 years before she ran for office. Overnight, the mayor checked in with fire crews at the scene after visiting the six injured firefighters at the hospital.

"It is a beautiful historic building and we hope that there is not too much damage to it," said Mayor Parker.

The 27th floor of the building is occupied by Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, a non-profit program. A spokesperson tells us about 250 square feet of office space has been damaged out of a total of 8,000 square feet. The amount of water damage in the building is still unknown, but salvage crews have been working all night.

Chief Williams says the cause of the fire may not be apparent for days. Arson teams have a very intense investigation ahead.

The building will remain closed while that cleanup continues.

TRAFFIC IN THE AREA

For those who work downtown, getting around could be a little difficult. Crews worked through the night and into the morning to get the area cleared for today's commute. Mayor Parker says drivers should expect delays.

"Take a little extra time. Don't be in a hurry," she said. "And if you're in this building, you should check with your employer and make sure they expect you to work in the morning."

The mayor says there is also damage to the tunnel system. Emergency crews are working to get that back open as soon as possible.

ABOUT THE BUILDING

The JP Morgan Chase Building has been a Houston landmark since the 1920s. It stands 430 feet high and it cost an estimated $6 million to build. It was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River until the 1931, when a taller building in Kansas City was erected.


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