Firefighters Overcome Challenges to Keep Hospital Open

Monday, August 5, 2019
Children's Hospital Los Angeles
East Hollywood

LAFD firefighers responded to a smoldering underground fire in the basement of a Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Sunset Blvd. Smoke filled three floors, causing evacuations of those floors. In just under one hour, the fire was extinguished, floors safely evacuated, and work to eliminate the smoke hazard proceeded into the afternoon.

At 11:19 a.m. on Monday August 5th, 2019, LAFD firefighters arrived at Children's Hospital Los Angeles to reports from security of smoke in the lower levels of a high-rise building on their property. A construction operation involving welding sparked some insulation in the wall and caused it to smolder, concealed behind a tile finish on the outside of the wall.  A high rise in Los Angeles can act like an oven in fire conditions, and a below-ground fire exacerbates that effect. Firefighters entering from above had to pass through the layers of heat and smoke to get to the fire floor (two levels below the street), before they had the ability to crawl underneath the more severe conditions above. Heat continued to build, having no way to escape through the concrete, metal, and glass capsule that characterizes this type of building. Once they had braved the conditions to reach the subterranian level containing the fire, firefighters searched for the source while the smoke continued to bank down from the ceiling. The typical bright flame signaling the source of the problem was no where to be found in this hospital basement. Firefighters finally located the hidden heat within a wall in the poor visibility atmosphere. Firefighters breached the tile wall and extinguished the smolding fire 58 minutes after the first alarm. Approximately 200 personnel were safely evacuated from the ground floor and both floors below ground during the course of the incident. 

After the fire was extinguished, crews spread throughout the building to ensure the hazards were successfully mitigated in all areas and on all floors. A small amount of smoke was discovered on some other floors, as the fire had gotten into the HVAC system below, but firefighters worked quickly with CHLA building engineers on site to shut down the system early on in the incident before the atmosphere on the floors above became dangerous. Additional walls and ceiling were breached in the sub levels to guarantee there was not another unwelcome stow-away burning elsewhere in a concealed space. Firefighters were mindful to cover and protect physical assets and property in the building (salvage operations) to protect from additional smoke or water damage to equipment or valuables. Firefighters equipped with special gas monitoring systems sampled the air to verify there were no invisible toxins to stay behind and do harm. Special cameras ensured complete extinguishment and elimination of all heat sources. 

Life support systems in the hospital remained functional throughout the operation and no patients were evacuated. Patients sheltered in place with staff assisting with controling ports of entry to each wing, thereby compartmentalizing the building to isolate them from the hazard. Once the smoke was systematically removed from the building using ventilation techniques, the evacuees were allowed back into the building to resume their duties. The building will be on LAFD Fire Watch for five days, where a designated member of their staff will be monitoring the building around the clock, ready to give advanced warning should another hazard surface.

The fire protection systems in modern buildings are very advanced, however this incident reminds us all that evacuations should be taken seriously every time because we can't predict what variables and unique circumstances will arise unexpectedly. Especially in high population occupancies, please evacuate early and orderly rather than get gridlocked. 

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