Asheville Fire Department releases final report on 445 Biltmore Ave. fire

Seventeen separate working groups within the fire department have spent the last year looking at everything that happened at 445 Biltmore Ave. on the afternoon of July 28, 2011 — at least what happened after the fire department got there and found a large, working fire. What they still don’t know, of course, is who set the fire and why. But they work on that every day — and will continue to do that until they find the killer arsonist.

On Monday, Aug. 27, Fire Chief Scott Burnette summarized the 522-page final report for the City Council’s Public Safety Committee with three primary bullet points for change in the structure of the fire department.

Training

All firefighters have undergone intensive training in air management, self-rescue, and mayday procedures.

Span of Control

In Federal, State and internal studies, it was identified that the incident commander had too many separate elements to directly command. Changes are being made so that there are more intermediate commanders allowing top command more freedom from being bogged down.

Deployment Strategy

By combining the West Asheville Station 10 Ladder and Truck into a single multi-function Quint unit, (named because of the 5 functions) several positions will be freed up to increase command and support personnel at fires. This is not projected to affect fire response in West Asheville, and the model has already been successfully used at Station 5 in South Asheville.

“Right now we have 17 companies, three supervisors and one support person for major incidents,” reported Burnette to the committee, “Our changes will take us to 16 companies, four supervisors and three support people. This will give us a lot more flexibility at the command level.” Both the internal and federal investigations into the fire found that while there was no identifiable error by the incident commander that day. It was concluded that there was a possibility of an error with the number of units deployed.

“What the incident commander dealt with that day was all operational details, from getting fresh air tanks to the scene, to deciding where and how the fire should be attacked,” said Burnette. “This is a lot of detail for any one person at a complex fire like that one.” The new system will group units doing similar work together under a supervisor, who, in turn will report to the incident commander. “Of course, the incident commander is still in charge and calls the shots, but will now not have to deal with smaller issues — they should be solved before his level.”

At a big fire such as the 445 Biltmore incident, ladder trucks and rescue companies could be grouped together under one supervisor, engine companies attacking the fire under another, supporting engine companies under another, and various auxiliary units under another.

“We really believe this will streamline our command and control, and be a model for other departments in the future,” said Burnette.

The full, final report, available as a PDF is available here. (522 pages 130mb)

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2 thoughts on “Asheville Fire Department releases final report on 445 Biltmore Ave. fire

  1. mat catastrophe

    I hate to bring this up again but how can a building with that much surveillance not have something on tape from that day?

    Or was that covered somewhere and I missed it? I realize it’s been quite sometime since I set foot in that building, but I remember cameras at very least at the entrances.

  2. bsummers

    I haven’t followed this too closely, but one thing covered last night was the issue of a standpipe that wasn’t delivering water to fight the fire. Cecil observed that it’s possible that whoever set the fire also disabled that standpipe. If so, this was a well-planned arson, not some random drive-by. They probably knew how to do it without being captured on video.

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