Officials release new information on Safe Haven care center fire, estimate $2 million in losses
The following is a news release from the city of Pocatello.
POCATELLO — On Nov. 18, at approximately midnight, the Pocatello Fire Department received a fire alarm activation at Safe Haven located at 1200 Hospital Way. PFD personnel arrived on scene to find light smoke in a hallway. Additional units were requested to investigate the source of the smoke and nature of the alarm. Within minutes, firefighter’s carbon monoxide detectors were alarming.
The Incident Commander then ordered an evacuation of the south side of the structure and a full response was activated. Firefighters and facility staff began evacuating the entire facility as the environment was becoming rapidly untenable.
Facility staff and firefighters were able to evacuate and rescue all 49 patients of the facility. As more resources arrived on scene, the evacuated patients were triaged and transported to Portnuef Medical Center. Those with medical conditions were evaluated, treated and released as appropriate. Facility residents not needing medical evaluation were placed in Pocatello Regional Transit (PRT) buses and transported to the hospital parking area to get them out of the smoke and weather until facility representatives could find accommodations for them.
As rescue efforts were being performed, crews began trying to locate the seat of the fire and extinguish it. Firefighters found fire in every area of the attic space that was accessed. The fire self-vented through a roof area and with the westerly winds, the fire was given the air needed to be driven rapidly throughout the attic space of the structure not protected by fire partitions or walls.
Firefighters made several more strategic and tactical maneuvers to confine the fire but were met with deteriorating and volatile conditions on each effort. The Incident Commander, in consultation with other Fire staff, made the decision to take a defensive or exterior attack strategy due to the rapid progression of the fire and lack of progress containing it.
Firefighters worked throughout the night to turn the exterior defensive attack to a more favorable interior offensive attack. The Pocatello Fire Department investigation commenced with interviews of pertinent persons Nov. 18 and entered the structure Nov. 19.
The investigators had the following questions or goals:
1. Why the fire life safety systems, in particular the fire sprinkler system, did not operate as expected?
The fire alarm system did detect and alert occupants as designed, the first notification of smoke was initiated to the Pocatello dispatch center by the alarm monitoring company. Early in the investigation it was determined that the attic section of the fire sprinkler system had been abandoned per code prior to approximately 2007. Investigators were able to determine that the owners and contractors had sought and attained appropriate approvals to modify the fire sprinkler system in an approved manner. The sprinklers main water supply was in-service and able to supply water as designed if a sprinkler head activated. The requisite inspection and service tags indicated that an October 2017 inspection and service were compliant with current codes. As a point of explanation, the operating parts of the sprinkler system would have activated per design, up until the roof collapsed and destroyed parts of the system, had the fire been in the area they were present. The fire remained in the unprotected area of the attic for the most of the duration of the blaze. In conclusion, there were no noted violations or deficiencies noted in the fire and life safety systems.
2. What was the fire’s origin?
PFD investigators have not been able to determine an exact location of the fire’s origin but have determined several areas of probability. There is widespread and extensive damage to these areas that have not produced the typical or expected signs or indicators that would help investigators identify the exact location of origin.
3. What was the fire’s cause?
Fire investigators have determined that the fire’s cause was unintentional and have ruled out possibilities of malicious or intentional cause. For the purposes of the Pocatello Fire Department’s needs, we determined this a sufficient finding to discontinue our official investigation and have turned the research to the owner’s investigative team. While no exact cause has been determined, investigators have determined a high probability of the fire being electrical in cause.
PFD investigators will continue to work with the owner’s investigators to try and make a more determinate conclusion but much time and study will be needed. This investigation and determination was a multi-agency finding with the PFD, State Fire Marshalls office, and the insurance company’s investigator. Considering the size and complexity of this event and the resources available, we feel it went better than could be expected. If there are any lessons to be learned, early notification though 911 and alarm systems as well as the importance of well-trained staff, practiced in the fire evacuation process, and drills prevented loss of life due to the blaze. Damages to the structure and contents were extensive and values are being determined at this time. An actual value of the structure and contents has not been determined but investigators estimate losses to be upwards of $2 million.
The Pocatello Fire Department would like to thank those who helped in this effort. We feel that the rescue of 49 victims was a huge success and the quick actions of Safe Haven Staff and firefighters made this possible. These same people worked diligently in cold and smoky conditions until the last victim was safe. We would like to thank the other City of Pocatello departments that supported us.
Pocatello Regional Transit personnel provided buses that sheltered and transported victims and provided a rehabilitation area for firefighters. Officers with the Pocatello Police Department and members of Bannock County Search and Rescue that secured the perimeter, providing a safe area for the responders to operate in. The City of Pocatello Street Operations Department supported the event by refueling and supplying barricades. Portneuf Medical Center provided the quick response to evaluate, shelter, and provide comfort to an extraordinary number of people. ON Semiconductor provided much need parking space and facilities for firefighters. The State Fire Marshal and his staff assisted in the investigation. Safe Haven administrators arrived on scene quickly, providing needed information and help. Last but not least, the citizens who have reached out in numerous ways to help however they can.