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Arson investigators still probing fatal blaze

D.C. Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said Friday "it's very possible" that someone put furniture in the hallway of an apartment building to keep people from escaping a fire there earlier this week.

Fire investigators believe that the Wednesday morning blaze originated in the fifth-floor hallway. where a mattress and other furniture were found. The fire killed one man who tried to jump to saftely, and injured 10 others, including a 2-year-old who remains in guarded condition at a specialty hospital for young burn victims.


Rubin said fire investigators are still trying to eliminate all possible accidental causes before ruling the blaze an arson. Most likely, though, "this will be some sort of set fire," the chief said. The mattress, he said, might have helped fuel the fire.

Speaking at the firehouse of Engine Company 24's Rescue Squad 2, which sent a number of responders to the blaze, Rubin asked for patience as investigators finish conducting interviews and collecting evidence. He said officials had several "what we would call suspects or persons of interest," but no one is in custody.

Of the 10 people taken to hospitals as a result of the fire, three had been released, three remained in critical condition, and the 2-year old girl, who suffered burns on 30 percent of her body, remained in guarded condition at Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston, said Pete Piringer, the spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services. He was not certain of the conditions of the others.

Rubin praised the efforts of the 125 firefighters and emergency responders from around the District, and specifically those of Rescue Squad 2, who he said, faced adverse conditions to save dozens of people.

Firefighters were called to the blaze at the 63-unit Sarbin Towers apartments, in the 3100 block of 16th Street, at 3:45 a.m. They escorted dozens of people out of the eight-story building, carrying some through smoke-filled hallways or down ladders.

Heat, smoke, language barriers, and pure panic made the rescue efforts challenging, according to the firefighters on scene. Firefighter Brian Phillips described having to forcefully enter an apartment on the fifth floor to find a man who had removed a cable from his television, tied it to his refrigerator door and was "sitting on his window ledge, grasping it with both hands."

"That was his last ditch effort," Phillips said. "to go out the window."

Fire Capt. Timothy Jeffery, said he knew things were bad when he saw "bloody footprints coming across the lobby area" as he entered the building. People were gathered at the windows of nearly every apartment he entered, "just trying to get fresh air," he said.

"At some point, when [the window is] their only egress, who knows what's going to happen," he said.

Three people tried to climb down a tree to safety from their fifth-floor apartments, firefighters said. They were able to stop one from doing it. One of the others made it. But one fell and died.

-- Nathan Rott

By Washington Post editors  | October 1, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  The District  
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Comments

This is more evidence of the need for a VOLUNTEER CORPs OF DC FIREFIGHTERS!

If there had been two fires of this magnitude burning simultaneously, mutual aid (help from other fire departments)would have had to respond all the way from Maryland and/or Virginia.

Most cities in the US have a volunteer fire department. Did you know that those DC Fire Department applicants with prior firefighter certification get 1st hiring preference?

Precedents for a volunteer corps of DC Firefighters are the facts that the Bethesda Chevy Chase Volunteer Rescue Squad regularly responds for emergencies in the District of Columbia; and that the 4,000 member paid Metropolitan Police Department is supplemented by a 1,000 member, gun carrying, reserve/volunteer corps of MPD officers.

Also consider the fact of the two planes have gone down in the last thirty years, and the need for supplementary fire personnel.

If we had a corps of DC Volunteer Firefighters (with an enforced residency requirement) to supplement the paid DCFD, we would not have to depend solely upon help coming from MD or VA. Then the residents of DC could volunteer, and learn, FOR FREE, the same life saving/emergency, occupational skills as our counterparts in other states.

Another consequence is that it would not be necessary to employ DC Firefighters who commute to work from as far away as New York City and North Carolina where they live!

Posted by: HannibalB | October 1, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Someone sounds like a disgruntled volunteer that didnt get hired by the big city. As volunteer myself, let me list the reasons you are wrong.

1) Having a volunteer "corps" would have made no difference at this fire, or any other fire in DC that I can remember, Including the night when 2 simultaneous 5 alarm fires were going on.

2) You dont understand mutual aid. When mutual is called for on large scale events, companies from other jurisdictions do not respond from MD or VA, they relocate to a firehouse in DC (OR MD or VA as the case may be) and respond as DCFD units would. DC has also sent mutual aid to both MD and VA recently.

3) During large scale events, off-duty members of DCFD are called back in to work to either help mutual aid companies or to staff the department own equipment.

4) I cant think of a single large metropolitan city (Boston, NYC, Chicago, LA, etc) that has both paid and volunteer companies. Most volunteer companies are in suburban/rural areas, sometimes operating on their own or sometimes in tandem with smaller paid departments.

5) Previous experience has no bearing on your getting hired with DCFD. I know MANY people in DCFD. All take the same test and are ranked the same way. The only extra preference you get is extra points for residency, military experience, or college classes. Volunteer experience in and of itself means exactly squat.

6) BCC responds into DC not because DCFD calls them, but because the citizens in Chevy Chase call 911 (getting DC) and ALSO call BCC's non-emergency number and ask for a response. BCC's responses into the district do not have anything to do with DCFD's ability to handle call volume, especially considering that upper NW is one of the slowest areas of the city.

7) DC does have a "volunteer corps" or sorts. Residents can take CERT trainings to learn many of the aspects of what firefighters, emt's and cops do with the idea that they would be put to limited use during emergencies that tax the city's resources.

8) Who cares where DCFD employees live. As long as they show up on time, put fires out and handle medical emergencies with professionalism. What does the length of time someone chooses to commute to work have to do with their value as an employee?

9) As for planes going down, one was in VA (pentagon) and one was ini the Potomac River (air florida). DC was actually the one SENDING mutual aid to VA during the pentagon, while still managing to provide for the city of DC. The Air Florida crash was a joint response between DC and VA due to the fact that it was in the river (typical of any river operations. Additionally, during that disaster DCFD was ALSO dealing with a blizzard and a Metro derailment, also without losing ability to provide for the rest of the city.

So tell me again, why does DC need Volunteers in the city?

Posted by: johnqpublic1 | October 1, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

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