February 23 2024 0Comment
One Meridian Fire

One Meridian Plaza 33 years later

Article by Dale Grant- Marketing Coordinator

In the late hours of Saturday, February 23, 1991, a fire ignited on the 22nd floor of One Meridian Plaza, a 38-story office building situated in downtown Philadelphia.

This massive blaze, escalated to a 12-alarm fire, ravaged 8 floors of the Center City office structure, spanning a harrowing 19-hour period. Tragically, three brave Philadelphia Firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty during this catastrophic event.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the fire originated from a pile of rags left by workers refurbishing woodwork in an unoccupied office space. These rags, saturated with linseed oil, underwent oxidation, generating sufficient heat to trigger combustion and subsequently spread to nearby solvents.

Numerous obstacles hindered the firefighting efforts. As firefighters ascended, the building lost power due to fire-damaged electrical cables by the time they reached the 11th floor. Moreover, the building’s emergency generator malfunctioned, leaving the entire structure powerless throughout the ordeal.

Compounding these challenges, pressure reducing valves on the building’s standpipes were improperly set, impeding adequate water pressure for firefighting. Hours elapsed before technicians could rectify this issue. Furthermore, falling debris from the building compromised fire hoses and injured firefighting personnel on the ground.

Relief arrived when, six hours into the inferno, the fire reached the 30th floor, where automatic fire sprinklers were installed. In the end, a mere 10 sprinkler heads halted the fire’s advance, restricting it from ascending further. Although extinguishing the last flames demanded another 13 hours, the sprinklers effectively contained the blaze.

The aftermath entailed nearly a decade of painstaking efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars to erase the irreparable structure from Philadelphia’s skyline.

Even after 33 years, the question remains: “How can we prevent another tragedy like One Meridian Plaza?”

From the standpoint of fire protection specialists, we cannot stress the importance of regular inspections and maintenance of your building’s life safety systems. The reason most fire suppression systems fail to activate is due to them being manually turned off by a user for maintenance or other reasons. Regular inspections also mitigate the risk like issues such as the improperly calibrated pressure reducing valves, which led to the blaze getting out of control in the first place.

Another aspect of fire suppression that the One Meridian fire makes clear is the importance of fire sprinklers. In the end, it was 10 sprinkler heads that stopped the spread of the fire. It is a safe assumption to make that had the 22nd floor of the building been equipped with fire sprinklers, the fire may have been controlled immediately saving the building and more importantly saving the lives of the three firefighters

The city of Philadelphia is currently considering a bill that would require all high-rise buildings of 75 feet to be equipped with fire sprinklers with the intent of making sure a fire like the one that destroyed One Meridian Plaza never happens again.

For 65 years, Oliver Fire Protection & Security has been the area’s Trust Partner in Protection.

Oliver offers regular inspection and maintenance of your life safety systems to ensure that when tragedy strikes that your building is prepared to reduce the risk to lives and property.

Whether you are undertaking a new construction project or looking to retrofit an existing building with a fire suppression or notification system, please contact Oliver Fire Protection and security for a free consultation.

Dale Grant