Five killed in Fremont apartment fire

Updated 10 p.m. Five people have died, four of them children, in an apartment fire at 41st. NW and NW Leary St. this morning. “All of sudden I heard, ‘Fire!'” said one woman who was with the family in the apartment as they prepared to attend UW’s graduation this afternoon. “I went to go save the babies, but the thick smoke, it was just too thick, too much fire.”

When we arrived on scene shortly after the fire department, a woman was screaming, “My babies, my babies!” as neighbors worked to restrain her from running back into the burning apartment. Confusion reigned as family and friends tried to find out if the children were safe.

One of the missing kids was located by neighbors. She was brought into the arms of her distraught mother. Five others were lost in the fire: a 5-year-old girl, a 6-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl, a 13-year-old boy and a 21-year-old woman. The man who was graduating today at the UW was among the residents who tried to beat back the flames with a garden hose.

Some residents were angry, yelling to the gathering media that the fire department took too long to arrive, get organized and enter the apartment. “It took them 20 minutes to get here,” Lisa said. “We had to break windows out. We had the hose out. I’ll never be the same after today. Never. Never.” Another neighbor said the delay was after firefighters arrived. “It took a very long time to get water. There were bumping into each other,” said Cynthia. “All I could think of was, where’s the ladder to go up there?”

Fire Chief Gregory Dean said the first two units to arrive at the scene both experienced difficulties. The first arrived 5 minutes after the 911 call, but it had a mechanical problem with pumping water. Engine 18, a Ballard-based unit, was checked this morning but failed on the scene, Dean said. The second company, Engine 20, arrived two minutes later at 10:11 a.m. and was the first to put water on the fire. Engines 17 and 21 arrived one minute later at 10:12 a.m. and Engine 9 arrived at 10:13 a.m. Others followed soon thereafter.

Dean confirmed a comment posted by a My Ballard reader earlier this morning: the second responding company, Engine 20, lost a hose while driving across the Fremont Bridge en route from North Queen to the fire. “One firefighter was injured,” Dan said. “They dropped some hose, he went to get it, and he injured himself in the process.” The engine stopped to quickly remove the hose from the roadway, and a firefighter injured his back. The engine had left the station at 10:06 and arrived at the fire at 10:11 a.m.

Photo of Engine 18 about to be towed away several hours after the fire.

“Every moment counts in a fire,” Chief Dean said. “Where this measures as far as it fits in, I don’t have an answer for you.” Dean said firefighters saw heavy dark smoke and flames coming from the unit when they arrived, “which is pretty hard to sustain life itself.” He said an investigation is already underway.

“Our heart goes out to all these people,” he said. “Our firefighters believe they can save everyone. They’re beating themselves up right now.” The investigation will also look at the building codes. One neighbor said there was a fire in the same unit two years ago, and we found an archive story on an apartment fire from March 14, 2008 that appears to be at the same complex.

Three people were taken to Harborview Medical Center for treatment, including the distraught mother, a man who arrived after the fire began and a child. They were not injured. Seattle Mayor McGinn arrived on the scene just before noon, thanking firefighters for their efforts before departing to to Harborview to talk to the family. Investigators have yet to recover the bodies.

Here’s a video of the story from the Seattle Times:

And you can read the Seattle Times’ story on the fire here.

Note: There are a couple efforts just getting underway to raise money for the families, and we’ll let you know as soon as there’s information to provide.

68 comments on “Five killed in Fremont apartment fire”

  1. I wanted to fill in a couple details that Baxter II missed. I live around the corner and was one of the first people to arrive. The fire dept had not arrived yet, I called them immediately, and called the dispatcher again when I heard there were people inside (The only person who appeared to know who was inside was the distraught mother, I found out from her that there were 2 kids inside and they were upstairs, I never heard about the other people).
    When I arrived there was smoke billowing out the entire(from top to bottom) front door as well as the windows. In my opinion no one could have gone in successfully at that point and I saw no one attempt. The fire flashed about a minute later. I do not remember hearing smoke detectors in the time I was there but it may have been too hot already, or maybe I just don’t remember that.
    When the first truck arrived, I told the first firefighter out the door(the east most truck on 41st, the firefighter that came out the north side middle door) about the people in the house that I knew about and where they were.

    Baxter, I’m not sure what type of authority you would have wanted to see from the friends and neighbors. Wonderful neighbors and friends were trying to calm and care for the distraught woman, neighbors tried their best with garden hose to do what they could until the fire department took over, the unharmed child was being taken care of and kept in a safe location, and the firefighters were given all the information available, and people were doing there best to stay out of the firefighters way. In 20-20 hindsight I guess having someone move some cars might have allowed the trucks a bit closer, but that is pretty minor.

    In any event like this, your sense of time gets so skewed, it is difficult to objectively judge. I noted that the time from my call to the fire being put out was less then 20 minutes, although it certainly seemed longer then that. I noticed the first truck was not able to provide any water, they tried to take their hose to the second truck(there was a hydrant right there but I don’t think they tried it presumably because they had better options at that point), but I think it was the third truck that finally got water going. I saw no firefighter enter the unit until the fire was out and the roof vented, I think it was just to hot even with their gear. They climbed on the roof to cut holes in the attic with a chainsaw( I assume to allow the heat to escape so they could enter the house; the actual flames were put out by this time) It makes sense to me that they put the ladder on the next unit over so they could make sure that the roof/ladder would not collapse under them.

    One comment on something I noticed; the medic truck was one of the first trucks there, I was surprised they took so long to attend to the distraught mother. I don’t know how the the medics crisis counseling training is or if there were waiting for a person with more specific training, but it seemed like a long time before a medic attended to her.

    My heart and prayers go out to the family and my thanks go out to the fire department and everyone else who helped out.

    To answer another question, yes this was the same unit as the fire a couple years ago, although note the times story mentioned it was a different family living there then. The fire a couple years ago was started by a candle and was in a upstairs bedroom and no one was injured.

  2. I would like to have an explanation as to why both of the first responding FD vehicles raced past.
    I want to know why there was zero attempt to go around back and get a ladder up to the window to get the five victims out.
    How about an explanation as to why there was no attempt to use the hydrant at Leary & 41st for critical minutes.
    I want to know why the first responders bumped into each other after saying that they knew there were people upstairs.
    I was one of the callers and the timeline being provided is incorrect.
    I don’t care how it is cut or dry, I was there and I know.
    The truck malfunction was only a small part of a much bigger problem..
    There was no plan, no one in charge & the entire thing stinks.
    It took too long to get there, there was no cohesion and now there is a big CYA going on IMPO.
    The mayor and his grandstanding is just as useless as the FD person who broke the window of a neighbors BMW while rolling up the hose.
    SFD FAILED & they KNOW IT!
    Go ahead, CYA, but inside you know who you are and how you screwed up.
    From the dropped hose on the Fremont or Ballard Bridge we heard about later, to bumping into each other, to the absolute failure to make any attempt to go around the bldg for another avenue to get in.
    There was zero attempt made to save the lives of the people upstairs.
    That woman screamed like no tomorrow for her children and it was up to neighbors to hold her back for some time. It was at least 30 plus minutes before any official help for her or the other woman that wasn’t being provided by neighbors. It was heart wrenching to hear her scream and cry asking why they weren’t doing something.
    Many thanks to the neighbors who stepped up & did your best.
    There are five lives lost and nothing will bring them back.
    Please people, teach your kids about fire, have working fire extinguishers & know how to use them.
    This was a very preventable tragedy in too many ways. My condolences to all involved including the neighbors and surrounding neighborhood.

  3. Our love and full support goes out to them. We love u Helen………Nelson Family Jackson Park

  4. @ neighbor (#51) – The SFD does not provide any “crisis counseling training” or anything like that. The paramedics are there to provide medical treatment for citizens or firefighters who are physically injured. I’m not discounting the emotional crisis I’m sure the woman was having. We generally call the Red Cross or our fire department chaplain to the incident scene to help the distraught.

    @ neighbor3 (#52) – I wasn’t there but I can probably answer some of your questions.

    “I want to know why there was zero attempt to go around back and get a ladder up to the window to get the five victims out.” The technique you allude to is called vent, enter, search and is a very limited tool. When firefighters enter a window away from where a hose line enters, they create a ventilation point for the fire (feed it air) and the fire will probably be drawn to that exit point. Additionally the fire hose stream may push the fire towards the exit point, the victims, and the firefighters. The fire conditions usually preclude much of a search beyond the immediate area of the window used for entry. It’s a tool but not one without negative considerations.

    “How about an explanation as to why there was no attempt to use the hydrant at Leary & 41st for critical minutes.” SFD fire engines carry 500 gallons of water which is enough to extinguish ~1500 square feet of building that is totally engulfed in fire.

    I can’t speak to the command issues or bumping into each other but I recognize that anything less than perfection on the part of the fire department at this incident will be dissected and magnified. It’s a tragedy and people want someone to blame.

    I looked at the raw video feed on KIRO and it appears the fire had flashed over as the first units arrived. That means everything had reached ignition temperature and was on fire from floor to ceiling with temperatures of 1000 degrees plus. Unless someone was in another room behind a closed door, it’s unlikely the fire was survivable at that point (as the first hose line was being laid).

    As far as extinguishers go, you shouldn’t risk it. If you fail to extinguish the fire, you place yourself, your family and neighbors at risk and delay calling 911, giving the fire all that much more time to grow and become entrenched. Get your family out immediately, alert your neighbors and call 911.

    Certainly teach your children to respect fire and to alert an adult if they encounter one or implements such as matches or a lighter. That’s just a general fire safety rule. I have NO idea what happened here and am not implying anything of the sort occurred.

  5. Thanks Firedude…some of the amateur firefighters here must think it’s like a movie where they just kick in the front door and run in.

  6. angletini–do you work for sfd?

    why are you telling me how to use this blog?

    yeah, let’s cover it up–great idea.

  7. BMWL, exactly. Bunker gear is not an invincibility suit that allows them to withstand any and all conditions.

  8. Did I say don’t talk about it? No. I said don’t criticize before you have all the information. And no darling, I don’t work for SFD, SPD, etc. I am just more concerned about the victims well being than being critical on a neighborhood blog that the victims can see. It isn’t constructive when all is said and done, is it? I would direct my comments to the source, where it may be helpful.

  9. “This is very sad and the stupid firefighters cant do anything thats just pathetic”

    Well, next time you need help, don’t call them.

  10. Some of those who wondered why the firefighters didn’t directly connect to the nearest fire hydrants don’t seem to realize that there isn’t enough pressure in the line to fight the fire, you need the pumps on board the rigs — which is why the transmission failure on a rig tested just that morning was so surprising.

    I love the arm chair experts on this blog. I get it – it was upsetting. But has it occurred to anyone else here how upset the fire fighters are too? It isn’t just another day at the office for them. Almost all of them have children and they take this home with them. My father is retired SFD and he preferred working in Station 10 (headquarters) because he didn’t have to respond to household fires and see families homes destroyed or family members die.

    It may have seemed like 20 minutes on scene while it was going down, like forever, but clearly it was not. And an emergency scene is chaotic, nothing is orderly – which is why it is an emergency. But everyone has a role that is not always clear to the public and bystanders.

    SPD & SFD have to protect lives and property, which includes not putting more people at risk when the fire flashes over, is too hot and smoky to enter, etc. These guys are not supermen, but they will do just about anything to save lives, including pets.

  11. soo sad soo sorry i wish that never happend my brother is a freind of one of them i wish that wud of heppen to someyon else.

  12. I knew joey and i have to say that every day i am going to felll a hole in my heart for the rest of my live i just can not believe that my friend died i am jennings and i will always hate fire fighters because of this day my friend could have been saved. i miss that little guy/

  13. My hope is that a review of city building codes will result in required sprinkler systems for all multi-family housing projects. It just makes common sense, and sprinklers have proven time and time again to be the most effective way to save lives in cases like this.

  14. except that sprinkers are so expensive. will the $10/sf in additional building costs be justified?

    obviously when lives could be saved, yes, but what about the rest of the time? how do we know the sprinklers wouldn’t malfunction like the fire hydrants?

    speaking of which, my neighbors across the street and their friends constantly park in front of the fire hydrant. why do some people have no sense?

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