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High-rise kitchen blaze draws huge fire department response

What proved in the end to be a relatively minor fire brought a major response from the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) to West Walnut Lane and Morris Street on Tuesday evening, August 16. The reason: the location of the blaze, which broke out on the ninth floor of the multi-story Four Freedoms House. The building houses senior residents in 280 units.

A total of seven engines, five ladder companies, three battalion chiefs and three medic units responded to the report of a fire called in at 6:23 p.m., according to PFD Battalion Chief Ron Johnakin. Two minutes later, at 6:25 p.m., the event was declared what the PFD terms a “MIRA” – a Major Incident Response Assignment.

PFD Deputy Chief Joseph Mack described the MIRA designation as basically a precautionary measure, designed to quickly mobilize additional resources in case they were needed. In this case they weren’t: the fire was localized in the kitchen of one apartment and was declared under control at 6:48 p.m, according to Johnakin. There were no injuries due to the blaze, said Mack, but two of the elderly residents of Four Freedoms House were taken to the hospital during the evacuation of the building.

By 7:30 p.m. most of the equipment had left and residents had begun to re-enter the building while others stood and waited outside for permission to go back to their apartments. Hope Leigh, a 15-year resident of the complex, and her friends calmly watched and chatted among themselves while watching the activity wind down. They had all easily evacuated the building, though Leigh said that there was some smoke in the stairwells.

This fire wasn’t much compared to a blaze which had taken place at the building on Christmas Day several years ago, said Leigh. “That one caused major destruction – it burned out half the 11th floor.”

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