The Memphis Fire Department has inspected bay doors at all its stations after firefighters missed calls because they were trapped inside their station during a power outage.
The Commercial Appeal reported a fatal house fire occurred on Nov. 27 while fire equipment was stuck behind inoperable doors at fire station No. 23 less than a mile away. However, the station’s firefighters wouldn’t have responded to that blaze even if the doors were working, said Memphis Fire Director Alvin Benson.
They should already have been on a medical call that arrived two minutes before the fire report, he said.
Because power was out in the area, firefighters attempting to respond to the medical call at 10:43 p.m. followed backup procedure and began to open the electronic door manually. But the chain fell off the pulley system, blocking their exit.
“Another truck was sent (to the medical call) because the door wouldn’t open due to mechanical failure,” Benson said.
The malfunction led to a department review of alternative plans in such instances. Benson said manual bay door lifts at all 56 fire stations have been inspected since the incident.
“In terms of frequency, we’ll be looking at some type of schedule to have the doors inspected and literally testing them to make sure they open,” he said.
Firefighters responded to the Nov. 27 house fire in just over five minutes, Benson said.
Tami Rachel Cekala was taken from the burning one-story home to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, where she later died. Fire officials said the medical examiner has not determined the cause of her death, and that the cause of the fire will follow the medical examiner’s report.
Station No. 23 is less than a mile from the house, but firefighters from three surrounding stations answered the call.
“Every fire call we get, we send out three fire engines and one ladder truck, and that’s what we did that time,” Benson said.
“Because we have so much redundancy in our system we were able to have a failure and still respond within the National Fire Protection Association (response time) guidelines of 5 minutes and 20 seconds,” Benson said. “That’s the beauty of redundancy.”
Gale Jones-Carson, a Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division spokeswoman, said the power went out at 10:01 p.m. that night and was restored at 11:10 p.m.
Lt. Wayne Cooke, a Fire Department spokesman, said budget constraints mean nearly half of Memphis fire stations, including No. 23, do not have backup generators.
City Councilman Lee Harris, whose district includes the station, thinks the city should consider providing generators for fire stations without them.
“That tragedy sounds like it had multiple causes, including acts of God, which the city obviously can’t control,” he said of the fatal fire. “But one of the lessons to be learned here is that we should take inventory of all 56 fire stations.”