Middletown hospital fire not serious, but big issues raised for emergency crews

While a roof fire at a local hospital Wednesday morning was not serious, it showed the quick decisions fire officials face when they arrive on a scene.

Fire chiefs from Hamilton and Middletown said “life safety” is always the first priority, especially when it involves highly populated buildings such as hospitals, high rises and apartments.

“We have to size up the building, where is the fire and how does that impact life,” said Hamilton’s Fire Chief Mark Mercer.

Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli said fire officials face “a tough call” whether to evacuate those trapped first or fight the fire first. He said that decision is based on how to get the most people out of the building the safest and quickest.

He referenced a fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago on Dec. 1, 1958 that claimed the lives of 92 students and three nuns. In the years since, there has been much discussion about whether Chicago firefighters could have made different decisions and possibly saved lives, he said.

Lolli was thankful those types of decisions weren’t required Wednesday morning when crews from three local departments — Middletown, Monroe and Franklin — responded to a fire at Kettering Health Network Middletown on Ohio 122 near I-75. He said the fire was caused when electrical wiring from the access lighting on the roof shorted and caught roofing material on fire.

About 10 to 15 people were evacuated for about 20 minutes while fire crews quickly doused the flames, said Daniel Tryon, president of Kettering Health Network Middletown. He said the emergency room remained open during the incident that was reported around 7:30 a.m.

The fire was out, and everyone had returned to the building about an hour later, officials said.

Tryon said the location of the fire “did not pose a risk” to the people in the ER.

Lolli and Mercer said attacking a fire in a multi-level building with numerous occupants is different than a house fire.

“That changes the game,” he said.

Mercer said Hamilton firefighters average 75 fires a year, including those they provide mutual aid, and most of them are house fires. He said the city’s 103 firefighters are extremely experienced at fighting those.

But when it comes to multi-level structures, firefighters rely on their training and pre-planning, the chiefs said.

Mercer said firefighters take a Blue Card Command course that includes 50 hours of on-line training that takes them through numerous scenarios. The firefighters are tested throughout the course and they’re evaluated based on their answers.

Since there is no way for firefighters to train in multi-floor buildings, Lolli said they rely on floor plans, sprinkler locations, fire walls and stand pipes that allow firefighters to connect hoses directly into the pipes instead of the tanker truck.

Staff writer Denise G. Callahan contributed to this report.

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