Story and photo by Doug Petrowski
Firefighters and officials from Fire District 1 held a community meeting in the clubhouse of the Taluswood Apartments Monday evening. They met with about 50 residents following a two-alarm building fire that hit the apartment complex a week earlier.
District Chief Ed Widdis and district firefighters explained their response to the fire in the J Building, the follow-up investigation, alarm systems the complex currently uses and general safety tips residents should keep in mind.
The April 16 fire started after incense in a third-floor unit ignited combustibles placed nearby. Flames spread out the door of the unit into the common stairwell, trapping a man in a neighboring apartment; he was rescued by firefighters from his third-floor deck. All other residents escaped without incident; firefighters also rescued a dog from a third-floor apartment and a cat from a second-floor unit.
Capt. Ed Maddox, from Fire Station 19 in Mountlake Terrace, led the first firefighters to arrive on the scene. His initial plans were to start shooting water onto the fire with their large 2-and-a-half-inch hoses, but when alerted of a man trapped on a third-floor balcony, “well, that changed everything in my mind to a life rescue.” His unit used ladders to reach the man and assist him down to safety. Other firefighters immediately began going door-to-door to ensure all residents of the building were accounted for.
Battalion Chief Dan White praised the leadership of Captain Maddox. “This was textbook; it was perfect,” White said. “The first five minutes were done so well that I didn’t have to do much when I arrived,” he added.
Lead fire investigator John Westfall began working on determining a cause of the fire not long after it was extinguished. “Investigating is a little like working backwards, moving from the least burnt areas to the most burned,” he said. It didn’t take him long to find the source of the fire in the third-floor apartment.
The first emergency call came in from a heat detector in the apartment that the fire started in. All units in the complex have these detectors, which send a signal to a monitoring company and the fire department when they detect a sudden rise to 135 degrees. One minute later 911 calls began to be received.
A couple of residents expressed concerned that some heat detectors in the apartment complex are tagged for replacement. Fire officials explained that the detectors are inspected annually and during the last inspection it was discovered that some detectors had paint spray on them (much of the complex was repainted after a change in ownership last fall). The paint spray has not cause any of the detectors to become defective, fire officials stressed, and that all the heat detectors in the J Building were working properly the morning of the fire.