Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

    Los Angeles Central Library Fire
    April 29, 1986


Central Library Fire
April 29, 1986

On the morning of April 29, 1986, one of the most challenging structure fires in the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department occurred at the Los Angeles Central Library,  630 West 5th Street.  Extinguishing this blaze required sixty fire companies, nine rescue ambulances, two helicopters, forty command officers and support personnel, a complement of over 350 Firefighters and Paramedics,  and assistance from virtually every element of the Department.
Extinguishing this blaze was accomplished by the maximum commitment of bravery, courage, and determination to succeed by all those 350 members.
The members of this department performed beyond the expectations of many and through their combined efforts defied the predictions that this fire could not be extinguished short of a total loss.  Those members assigned on the historic Central Library Fire have, by their actions, set a new mark for the reputation of the Los Angeles City Fire Department by limiting the potential of a $160 million loss to $22 million in structure and contents fire damage.
These members are to be commended for their bravery, courage, determination and outstanding effort in controlling the loss to this precious resource of the City of Los Angeles.

Chief Engineer and General Manager
Los Angeles City Fire Department
Fire Suppression
Central Library Fire
April 29, 1986

On April 29,1986, a major fire occurred at 630 W. 5th St., the Los Angeles Central Library. Before the fire was declared a "knock down" 7 hours and 38 minutes had passed. The fire required a maximum commitment of Department resources including 60 fire fighting companies, 1 arson unit, 9 paramedic rescue ambulances, 3 helicopters, 4 salvage companies, 1 squad, 2 emergency air units, a heavy utility company, and over 40 staff and support personnel, for a total of almost 350 Fire Department personnel. Approximately 45% of the on duty Fire Department resources were committed to this fire.
In addition, 6 mutual aid companies from Los Angeles County were used to fill vacant stations until Fire Prevention personnel staff six reserve apparatus to relieve them.
Five private ambulance and a Hospital Emergency Response Team from USC assisted the Medical Division in the care and treatment of injured firefighters.
Fifty Fire Department members were treated for injuries with twenty-eight members being transported to medical facilities. There were no deaths or critical injuries and only one minor civilian injury.
An estimated loss of $2 million to the structure and $20 million to the contents occurred. The more important fact is that 85% of the total value of the structure and contents were saved. This, in a building that the national experts on library fires, as well as a former L.A. City Fire Department Chief Engineer, predicted would be a complete loss if a fire of this type ever occurred.
One factor that helped prevent the loss from being larger was the recognition and implementation of salvage operations early in the fire. Out of over 1.2 million books that were in the library at the time of the fire only 350,000 received any fire or water damage.
The following, in a chronological order, are the events that took place from the receipt of the alarm at 1052 hours until "Knock Down" at 1830 hours.
1052 - 1130 Hours
On the morning of April 29, 1986, an audio alarm, activated by a smoke detector, sounded in the Central Library. The library telephone operator telephoned the alarm to the Fire Department. The library security personnel directed library employees and patrons in evacuation of the building. Evacuation was completed in approximately eight minutes.
At 1052 hours the Fire Department received a telephone alarm from the Library reporting that "Bells were Ringing". OCD dispatched a category "B" assignment consisting of TF-3, TF-9, E-10, SQ-4, BC-1.
At 1057 hours, E-10 arrived on the scene and went to the main entrance on 5th Street (north side.) They reported that nothing was showing. E-3, SQ-4, and BC-1 arrived on the scene together on the 5th Street side. TF-9 responded to the Hope Street side (south side.) LF-3 responded nonemergency, due to a broken siren, to the 5th Street side.
E-10 followed by E-3 entered the building to investigate.
E- 9 on Hope Street reported light smoke showing from the east end and roof.
E-10 found light smoke on the 3rd floor with heavy smoke in one room on the northeast side.
At 1111 hours, BC-1 Chief Cate requested 4 more Task Forces.
LF-10, TF-11, TF-4, E-6, TF-15, and E-29 were dispatched.
BC-1 named the IC the Library IC, announced the location of the IC, on 5th Street across from the Library and the location of the staging on 5th Street across from the library.
At 1114 hours, E-10, using a land line, requested help on the 3rd floor and on the second floor below them. They were in the northeast corner of the building.
E-10 then backed out of the building via a metal ladder from the 3rd floor onto the 2nd floor roof at the east end of the building. They drop-bagged two 1-1/2" lines up to the roof from the 5th Street side.
E-10 then attacked the fire through a window into an office and up a ramp into the fire on the 7th tier of the northeast stack (see figure 1.)
E-9 entered the building from the Hope Street entrance and was directed by library security personnel to the 5th tier of the northeast stack.
E-9 discovered fire and, using their High-rise hose packs, connected to the interior standpipe and attacked the fire from the "Fiction Room" (see figure 1.)
E-3, after going to the basement to check the main alarm panel, climbed the stairs in the northeast stack and exited on the 2nd floor. They obtained a water supply and attacked the fire up the stairs to the 6th tier of the northeast stack (see figure 1.)
LF-3 put their aerial to the roof on the northeast corner of the building and went to the roof to begin ventilation (see figure 1.)
LF-9 used ground ladders to ladder balconies on the south side of the library. They were unable to reach the building with their aerial from Hope Street.
T- 9 then entered the building where they joined E-11 to drop bag a 2-1/2" line up from the Hope Street side, went to the 5th tier of the northeast stack and used a 1-1/2" and a 2-1/2" line to attack the fire up the stack stairs on the 6th tier (see figure 1.)
E-203 took the hydrant on 5th Street directly in front of the library, hooked into two standpipes, one on either side of the main entrance on 5th Street, and pumped into the standpipes (see figure 2 for placement of apparatus.)
E- 9 took the hydrant at the north end of Hope Street and pumped into standpipes on the south side of the library.
E-209 layed from E-9 to a hydrant on the southeast corner of 6th Street and Hope Street and supplied E-9.
SQ-4 entered the building from the 5th Street side and went to the 2nd floor northeast stack area and assisted companies working in that area advancing lines up the stairs in the stack.
LF-11 was directed to the 3rd floor northeast stack, by the I.C. They drop-bagged two 1-1/2" lines up from the 5th Street side. Unable to find any fire on the 3rd floor, LF-11 went to the 2nd floor roof and joined E-10 in making an attack on the fire from this location (see figure 1.) E-11 drop-bagged a 2-1/2" supply line up from the Hope Street side to supplement the interior standpipes on the 2nd floor, then joined TF-9 in attacking the fire in the northeast stack.
LF-10 entered the building through the main entrance, went to the 2nd floor, and using a 2-1/2" and a 1-1/2" line went up the stairs in the southeast stack to the 7th tier and attacked the fire from the south side (see figure 1.)
Batt-5, Chief Mello, arrived on the scene and was requested by the I.C. to recon the outside of the building. He found the south, west, and north sides clear. Light smoke was showing from the east end roof. Batt-5 was then assigned ventilation, using windows and skylights.
Batt-11 Chief Creasey, was assigned as Operations by the I,C. He went into the building and directed fire fighting operations in the northeast section of the building.
LF-4 raised their aerial to the roof on the northeast roof (see figure 2.) the crew then went into the building where the TFC was assigned as Division 3 by operations and placed in charge of fire attack Operations inside of the northeast stack area.
E-4 layed a line from 5th Street and Grand to the front of the library and supplied lines to members on the roof at the east end of the building (see figure 2.) The crew went inside to the 3rd floor where they joined E-6 in an attempt to bring lines down into the fire area from the 3rd floor.
E-6 spotted their apparatus to the hydrant at 5th Street and Grand Avenue and pumped to E-4 (see figure 2.) The Crew of E-6 provided lines off of E-4 to the east end of the building to LF-11 who drop-bagged them up to the 3rd floor. E-6 then joined E-4 and LP-11 on the 3rd floor in an effort to bring lines down into the fire area from the 3rd floor.
The attempt to attack the fire from above was abandoned when it was discovered that they were opposing the lines coming in from the 2nd floor roof and up the stack stairways from below the fire.
E-29 arrived on the south side of the library and provided a supply line to the 2nd floor to supplement the standpipe system. E-29 was then assigned as "Water Control Officer" to insure that all of the standpipes were loaded and being pumped into.
TF-15 arrived at the fire and raised their aerial to the roof on 5th Street west of the main entrance (see figure 2.) All of TF-15 was then assigned to fire attack in the northeast stack.
At 1120 hours, Bureau Commander Chief Anthony and Assistant Bureau Commander Chief Schnitker, responded from headquarters. Realizing the need for salvage work, Chief Anthony ordered 3 fully staffed Salvage Companies.
At 1127 hours, Chief Anthony on Scene and in Charge.
BC-1 Chief Cate was assigned as Plans Chief.
Chief Anthony requested that 5 Battalion Chiefs be assigned to the fire.
It was at approximately this time that the fire attack teams in the northeast stack began to experience tremendous amount of heat and heavy smoke on the 6th and 7th tiers. The heat became so great that the attack teams were unable to advance hand lines further into the fire area (see figure 1.)
This was the start of one of the most serious problems that would hamper fire fighting efforts through out the fire. Because of the construction and design of the building, there was no practical way to ventilate the heat and smoke from the involved areas. This and the fact that the building itself acted as a heat sink to hold the heat long after the fire was out, combined to make penetration into the fire areas extremely difficult. Access to the tiers were the fire was located was limited to 4 narrow, 36-inch wide stairways and one window. (See Building Construction & Design section for more information on the building.)
At 1130 there were 22 fire companies, 8 command and staff officers, and 1 rescue ambulance committed to the fire.
1130 - 1200 Hours
Batt-7, Chief Allen arrived on the scene and established "Lobby Control" inside of the library at the main entrance off of 5th Street (see figure 3.)
At this time it appeared that the fire was contained in the northeast stack. The three major problems were to provide ventilation for the fire area, rotation of members of the fire attack teams that were taking a beating from the tremendous heat build up and salvage below the fire area.
Batt-18, Chief Lilly arrived and was assigned as Logistics.
Batt-3 Chief Dameron arrived and was assigned as Salvage Division.
Ventilation Division under Chief Mello continued efforts to ventilate the northeast stack area. Windows, and skylights were opened or broken out to effect ventilation with little or no positive results. The 16-inch thick reinforced concrete walls, 6" thick reinforced concrete roof and floors combined with a lack of vertical or horizontal passages made ventilation almost impossible.
Salvage operations were started on the 1st and 2nd floors and in the northeast stack area beneath the fire area on the 1st through 5th tiers. Polyethylene plastic and salvage covers was used to cover book shelves and furniture. Sawdust was used to direct water out of the building. At this time there was no standing water problem in the basement.
Division I, Chief Rojo arrived on the scene and was assigned as Operations.
Chief Creasey was assigned as Fire Attack.
The incident was re-designated as the "5th Street I.C."
At 1145 hours Chief Paramedic Fasana arrived on the scene and a "Medical Division" was established. The Medical Division was set up across the street from the library on 5th Street, west of the library's main entrance (see figure 3.) The entrance to an underground garage was used to provide shelter for the medical division operations.
At 1156 hours, Lobby Control was directed to shut down the building ventilation and electrical system.
It was at this time that the first two firefighter injuries occurred. One heat exhaustion and one burned knees.
Supply and Maintenance Division was notified of the fire in progress.
Emergency Air 2 was ordered to respond with a full load of air bottles.
Chief Anthony directed that staff be notified of the major emergency in progress.
There are now 24 fire companies, 10 command and staff officers, and 5 rescue ambulances assigned to the emergency.
1200 - 1230 Hours
At 1201 hours, Chief Mello reports that there is fire in the wall on the 3rd floor. His location is at the west end of the hall connecting the northeast stack to the northwest stack at the 7th tier level (see figure 4.)
Chief Creasy reports that the fire attack companies are experiencing a serious banking down problem of heat and smoke due to restricted ventilation of the fire area.
Fire fighting efforts continue to be concentrated in the northeast stack area.
Chief Creasey reports concern of a possible flashover due to the tremendous heat build up in the northeast stack area below the third floor.
Crews have to be rotated every 15 to 20 minutes due to the heat and smoke they are experiencing. All members are taking a beating in their effort to reach the fire. Whenever a fire attack team opens a nozzle, they are driven back by super heated steam.
Chief Anthony provides an update of the fire to the Chief Engineer and OCD.
From the outside, dark smoke can now be seen coming from the center and west portion of the building.
At 1225 hours, E-60 reports they have fire showing at windows on the west end of a light shaft (see figure 4.) This is at the west end of the hall connecting the northeast and northwest stacks on the 7th tier. This is close to the area where Chief Mello had reported fire in the walls earlier.
An attempt to attack the fire from the lightshaft is made by LF-3 and TF-35 as directed by Chief Rojo.
Additional companies are ordered including Emergency Air 88 and an Air Ambulance staffed by RA 100.
Supply and Maintenance delivers 13 blowers, 50 bags of sawdust, and 30 rolls of plastic to the fire.
There are now 29 fire companies, 1 air ambulance, 10 command and staff officers, and 5 rescue ambulances assigned to the incident.
1230 - 1300 Hours
The fire has now spread through the hall connecting the northeast and northwest stacks. The 6th and 7th tier of the northwest stack are involved in fire (see figure 4.)
Fire attack teams are directed up the stairs in the northwest stack, to attack the fire from below.
The Fire Attack teams in this area encountered the same problems as the Fire Attack teams in the north east stack. Extremely high temperatures, heavy smoke, narrow aisles, and very limited access. There are reports from members of the Attack teams that the metal of the bookshelves are bright red from heat.
2-1/2" lines are being used to fight the fire. 1-1/2" lines are being used to protect the members on 2-1/2" lines. Still little or no progress can be made because of the tremendous heat build-up in the stack areas. Fire attack teams are taking a real beating from the heat and must be rotated every 10 to 15 minutes.
At 1241 Hours, Chief Anthony requests an additional fire ground radio frequency and is assigned Channel 5.
The Fire Marshal, Chief Drummond arrives on the scene.
At this time, Chief Anthony provides an update of the fire to Chief Engineer Manning.
The Medical Division requests Supply and Maintenance to send all available saline solution to the fire. It is needed to treat the fire fighters suffering from burns and heat exhaustion.
Assistant Chief Lucarelli, from Supply and Maintenance arrives on the scene and is put in charge of Lobby.
Chief Allen is now assigned the northeast stack area.
Battalion Chief Defeo, from Supply and Maintenance, arrives on the scene and is put in charge of Lobby.
Chief Allen is now assigned to the northeast stack area.
Using sledge hammers and axes, the Ventilation Division is able to breech the roof, but are unable to open a hole large enough for effective ventilation.
The fire has been burning 2 hours. There are now 34 fire companies, 12 command and staff officers, 1 air ambulance, and 7 rescue ambulances committed to the incident.
1300 - 1330 Hours
Chief Drummond is assigned as I.C. and Chief Anthony takes over Operations to coordinate all firefighting operations.
Fire is now visible in the west windows of the "Patent Room" which is located on the west end of the building on the mezzanine level.
At this time the fire extends almost 300 feet on the second floor through the building. From the northeast stack through the connecting hall into the northwest stack and out the window on the west end of the building (see figure 5.)
Chief Anthony and Chief Rojo tour the inside of the building, to assess the situation and develop plans for further attacks on the fire.
A plan is developed to attack the fire alternating between heavy streams to cool the fire, and an interior attack to extinguish it.
Companies and attack teams are moved into position in anticipation of implementing the above plan.
At 1314 hours, Heavy Utility 27 is called for as the need to open up walls and roofs with jackhammers becomes more apparent.
A 2nd helicopter is ordered for observation purposes.
The fire in the northeast stack area is being controlled with only spot fires and deep seated hot spots left.
The hallway connecting the northeast stack to the northwest stack is too hot for members to enter, even in full protective gear.
It is estimated that the temperature in the hallway area has reached between 2000 and 2500 degrees F.
A personnel rehab area is established in the shade on 5th Street side of the library at the east end of the building.
TF-17 is in charge of base.
A request is made for additional handie talkies and spare radio batteries.
1330 - 1400 Hours
The 6th and 7th tier in the northwest stack collapse.
Chief Anthony calls a planning meeting and divides the building into 4 Divisions. Each Division includes a stack and approximately 1/4 of the building.
Division "A" under Chief Rojo is assigned the northwest quadrant.
Division "B" under Chief Vega and assisted by Chief Allen is assigned the northeast quadrant.
Division "C" under Chief Creasey is assigned the southwest quadrant.
Division "D" under Chief Mello is assigned the southwest quadrant.
(see figure 6 for Division locations.)
Chief Lucarelli is assigned ventilation.
Chief Dameron is assigned 2nd floor staging.
Chief Defeo is assigned Logistics
Chief Cate is assigned Plans.
Chief Fasana assigned Medical Division
Chief Schnitker is assigned Command Post Liaison.
At 1344 hours, Operations gives the order to remove everyone from the area in the northwest end of the building for heavy streams operations.
A portable monitor is placed in the east end of the hallway connecting the northeast and northwest stacks. It is being used to cool the area and to prevent fire from being pushed back into this area when the heavy streams are used on the west end of the building.
Even with a portable monitor and hand lines in operation, the connecting hall will remain too hot for members to safely work in for several more hours.
Engine 29's wagon battery and Truck 75's ladder pipe are positioned for a heavy stream attack on the west end of the building (See figure 2.)
A coordinated attack alternating between exterior heavy streams and interior hand lines continues until approximately 1400 hours, when all fire that can be reached by exterior heavy streams has been knocked down.
1400 - 1420 Hours
The interior attack in the northwest stack is renewed with 2-1/2" inch and 1-1/2 inch hand lines. The attack is made from the Patent Room on the west, the southwest stack from the south and up the stack stairs of the northwest stack.
The connecting hall is still to hot for companies to advance from the east.
Companies have to be rotated on the hose lines every 15 minutes.
This method of attack is to continue until Heavy Utility 27 can use jackhammers to ventilate the stack area, through the 3rd floor, under Chief Lucarelli's direction.
As additional resources became available they are assigned to ventilation and salvage divisions.
De-watering efforts are renewed on the 1st floor.
Five Task Forces are requested to provide emergency relief to fire crews at the fire.
Chief Allen replaces Chief Vega in Division "B" and calls a knock down on the northwest stack. The fire is now concentrated in the northwest stack (see figure 7.)
The fire has been stopped from entering the southeast stack.
1430 - 1500 Hours
Chief Drummond leaves the fire to meet with the Chief Engineer and the Mayor.
Fire Attack continues in the northwest stack. Crews are rotated every 15 minutes and very slow progress is made due to extreme heat and limited access into the fire area.
More emphasis is being placed on ventilation and on salvage efforts.
There are now 50 fire fighting companies committed to this incident.
1500 - 1530 Hours
All spread of the fire has been stopped. The fire that remains is located in the northeast stack. There is still a great deal of difficulty in advancing hand lines due to the extreme heat that has been built up inside of the building. The concrete walls continue to retain heat even in areas where the fire has been knocked down. Very little progress can be made in reaching the seat of the fire.
At 1505 hours, the Hazardous Material Response Unit (HMRU) is called for to be uses as a command post communications center.
Heavy Utility 27 is positioned and begins preparation for jack hammer operations on the west end of the building, 400' of 1" compressor hose is layed out.
1530 - 1600 Hours
Heavy Utility 27 under direction of Chief Lucarelli continues jackhammering holes through floor on the 3rd floor to ventilate the fire area.
As each hole is opened large volumes of heat and smoke are released under pressure. Members working on the jackhammers are required to wear full protective gear including breathing apparatus and ear muffs.
Blowers are used for cross ventilation to help keep the smoke and heat away from the jackhammer crews.
Hose lines also used to protect the jackhammer crews. The floors were so hot that when water was applied to cool the area down, the water would actually boil.
Distributors were placed into some holes to cool the areas below. Eighteen holes were eventually jackhammered through the 6 inch thick concrete steel reinforced floor in order to ventilate the fire below (See figure 8.)
At approximately this same time crews in the Patent Room, used sledge hammers to break the wall into the 7th tier level of the northwest stack (see figure 7). The 6th and 7th tiers have collapsed in a large area inside of the northeast stack.
As the ventilation efforts start to become effective, fire attack teams are able to make slow progress into the fire area.
A planning meeting is held by Chief Anthony with all Division Commanders.
Chief Anthony resumed the duties of Incident Commander and directs the coordinated activities through Chief Schnitker, who replaced him as Operations.
1600 - 1630 Hours
Chief Drummond returned to the Command Post. Chief Anthony leaves the Command Post in order to meet with the Chief Engineer and the Mayor.
The only uncontrolled fire that remains is located deep inside of the northwest stack.
Ventilation efforts are paying off as smoke and heat are being released from the fire area.
However, advancement of hand lines is very slow due to the tremendous heat that is being retained in the fire areas.
Divisions "B", "C" and "D" report that all fire in their areas have been knocked down and crews are being removed.
Salvage operations are continued below the fire area in the basement and on the first and second floors, both in the public and stack areas.
1630 - 1700 Hours
There is still fire in the northwest stack. Progress is still slow due to the heat build up, but it is felt that we are making good progress. Efforts to advance hand lines into this area to effect a knock down continue. The fire has been stopped from entering into the southwest stack, except for a few rows of books on the 6th and 7th tiers.
The fire in the northeast stack - 5th, 6th and 7th tiers, the connecting hallway, the Patent Room and the two office areas on the 3rd floor are fully contained.
The Mayor returns to the Command Post with Chief Anthony. The Mayor and the Chief Engineer are briefed for a press conference.
1700 - 1730 Hours
The northwest stack remains the only area with uncontrolled fire. Hand line crews are continuing their advance slowly into the fire area. The size of the uncontrolled fire continues to shrink.
Relief companies began to arrive on scene.
Companies are being released from the fire to go to the Bonaventure Hotel for dinner.
Salvage operations has replaced fire fighting operations in all areas except the northwest stack.
All Chief Officers are assembled for a planning meeting to discuss all areas within the building. A plan is also developed for relief of all personnel.
There are now 60 fire fighting companies, 40 command and staff personnel, 11 support apparatus, 9 rescue ambulances, 3 helicopters and one Arson Unit assigned to this incident.
1730 - 1800 Hours
The fire in the northwest stack is 90% knocked down and hand lines are being advanced as quickly as the area can be cooled down.
Salvage operations are being given the highest priority.
As relief crews arrive, companies are rotated to the Bonaventure Hotel and Red Cross area to be fed.
Companies are being pulled out of the fire for rehab and relief.
Companies are released from the fire as soon as they are no longer required.
1800 - 1830 Hours
The fire in the northwest stack is knocked down. Hand lines are used to cool the area so that entry can be made.
Chief Anthony and staff tour the building and upon return to the command post declares a knock down at 1830 hours.
Operations are scaled down as companies pick up their equipment and are released from the incident.
Two Battalion Chiefs and six fire companies are to remain on the scene for overhaul and investigation.
In order to prevent the possible destruction of evidence and to prevent further damage to the library, overhaul is limited too digging out hot spots and extinguishing them with small quantities of water. Hot spots will continue to be found in the piles of burned books up to five days after the fire was extinguished.
A joint investigation by the LAFD Arson Unit and the Alcohol, Fire Arms and Tobacco Department determined the fire was incendiary and began on the 5th tier of the northeast stack.

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