Woman Rescued From Stalled Elevator in Smoke-Charged High Rise

Tuesday, May 16, 2006 |

On Monday, May 15, 2006 at 7:07 PM, twenty-four Companies of Los Angeles Firefighters, three LAFD Rescue Ambulances, one Heavy Rescue, one Arson Unit, one Urban Search and Rescue Unit, one Hazardous Materials Squad, one LAFD Helicopter, two EMS Battalion Captains, six Battalion Chief Officer Command Teams and one Division Chief Officer Command Team, under the direction of Assistant Chief Roderick Garcia responded to a Major Emergency Structure Fire at 21700 Oxnard Street in the Warner Center area of Woodland Hills.

The first Company arriving in response to an Automatic Alarm activation, discovered forty persons calmly self-evacuating a twenty-story sealed high rise office building.

As the half-dozen first responding Firefighters quickly secured the lobby and adjacent Fire Control Room, they noted alarm activation on upper floors of the building. Firefighters also received verbal indication of fire on the seventeenth floor, and at least one building occupant missing and believed to be stranded in an elevator.

This information, relayed to Firefighter/Dispatchers at LAFD's Operations Control Dispatch Section, brought the well-coordinated response of an additional 149 Los Angeles Fire Department personnel on the ground and in the air.

In accordance with LAFD's High Rise Incident Command System, Firefighters established firm control of key building systems, including a recall of elevators to the lobby level of the seventeen year-old building. Firefighters carrying as much as 100 pounds of equipment each, then commenced a steady climb up more than forty flights of stairs to the upper reaches of the third-tallest building in Warner Center.

With detailed knowledge of the structure gained during fire prevention and annual Fire Department high-rise drills, Firefighters made strong headway to the seventeenth floor, where they found fire within an electrical room and smoke charging the seventeenth and impacting floors above.

As an LAFD Helicopter cross-staffed with an airborne Engine Company circled overhead, Firefighters established staging on the floor below the fire, optimizing a strategic assault that confined the incident entirely within the electrical room. The flames were fully abolished in little more than an hour.

There were no injuries related to the fire.

Subsequent to firefighting operations, Firefighters systematically searched the buildings many elevators and associated systems to discover a woman trapped in a 'blind' segment of a split-bank elevator that served only floors twelve and above from the lobby.

Finding the one elevator car stuck at the 'fourth floor' level of the sealed shaft, Firefighters established verbal contact with the woman, who was uninjured and not exposed to smoke.

After redundantly securing the elevator, Firefighters used power tools to breach the elevator shaft wall from a fifth floor storage room, and then used a 12-foot Fire Department ladder within the shaft to access the woman.

Following a cursory evaluation of her condition and affirming her capabilities, she was gently assisted in climbing the ladder, and exited safely to decline further treatment or transportation.

Battalion Chief James Gaffney, 'B' Platoon Commander of LAFD's Battalion 17, was quick to compliment building staff for their prompt and efficient actions prior to and following the Fire Department's arrival.

The 29-year LAFD veteran offered special praise for the Building Engineer and Electrician, who offered technical expertise and insight that helped readily mitigate the emergency and strengthen Firefighter's efforts at severely minimizing potential damage from smoke and water.

Damage to the building was severely limited, and is estimated at $330,000 ($30,000 structural & $300,000 contents damage - largely attributable to smoke). The cause of the fire was determined to be electrical in nature. The specific reason for the elevator becoming inoperative was not determined by Firefighters, but may have been related to the fire.

NOTE: The building's management firm, Douglas Emmett, and tenants have been deeply supportive of the Los Angeles Fire Department for many years. On a regular basis, they donate the full weekend use of this entire building, at more than a minimal inconvenience, to allow Firefighters to train for high-rise operations. It is training and teamwork that clearly played a dividend in this fire.

Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department


redcup56 said...


I know the LAFD doesn't use "1st Alarm, 2nd Alarm, etc", but in your best estimation, what would be the number of alarms? Also, in numbers, what was the approximate number of personnel responding initially, and what was the approximate total number of personnel?


Portland, OR

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...


Thanks for the note. You are correct, in that the LAFD does not "number" alarms in an escalating fashion.

The initial response for the Automatic Alarm was six on the first due Light Force.

I may have been a bit cryptic in my writing, as I make vague reference to a half-dozen personnel and then credit the Firefighter/Dispatchers in adding 149, making the total 155 LAFD Personnel.


For those lurking...

As most Fire Department's, the initial LAFD dispatch of resources, whether one or a dozen units, is simply considered the "First Alarm" assignment.

The LAFD only recognizes two specific tiers above the First Alarm, those being "Greater Alarm" and "Major Emergency".

An LAFD Greater Alarm is presently defined by our office as any incident at which seven or more Fire Companies are truly "assigned, committed and working".

An LAFD Major Emergency is presently defined by our office as any incident at which sixteen or more Fire Companies are similarly "assigned, committed and working".

Units that "buy in" to the call or remain in staging are not typically counted.

The LAFD does not use a "box" system that predefines resource requests from the field, and instead seeks to offer any manner of specific resources the Incident Commander might request. Some might describe this as a "special call" system.

If the Chief wants five of this or eight of that, that's what she asks for - and that's what she gets!

Because there is no standard in the "numbering" of alarms by a Fire Department in the USA (and in fact, neighboring agencies in our country often do so in a conflicting fashion) the LAFD is reticent to discuss an equivalency.

If one was to simply count the number of requests an Incident Commander makes (sometimes leading to Departments in other regions having what *they* choose to describe as an "18-Alarm" or "22-Alarm" fire, then so be it.

The truth be told, any Fire Department that wants to use such a numbering system can call a fire whatever they like.

In fact, many members of the public are surprised to learn that there is no local, regional, State or national standard for numbering alarms.

If one was to take this recent fire in Warner Center and (mistakenly) identify each particular request for resources as an alarm, they would have a number that lands squarely between five and seven. For those lurking, please don't call it a six alarm fire, for as mentioned above, the words have no particuar meaning at our agency, and cannot be transferred from one incident to the next.

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

Would you know the basis of the LAFD said...

Brian; Would you know where the basis came from for the LAFD to use stairs instead of elevators in high rise situations? The ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators contains the Phase I and Phase II description for fireground operations involving elevators. As a retired fire service member (Cambridge, MA-39 years)and a representative on the ASME A17.1 Emergency Operations Committee for the past 12 years, I have seen many changes take place to make elevators more reliable when operating on Phase II. Any help would be appreciated. Stay safe. John O'Donoghue

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Mr. O'Donoghue,

Thanks for the note, which is indeed on-topic for this thread.

I am confident that your question would be best handled in dialogue with the Command Staff at the In-Service Training Section of LAFD's Bureau of Training & Risk Management.

We welcome you to call them Monday-Friday during normal local business hours at 213-485-6087.

I hope this information helps.

Please accept our congratulations on your long and distinguished Fire Service career and well earned (semi) retirement, and of course, our warmest wishes for continued success at your important endeavor.

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

Anonymous said...

Since the LAFD has about 80 Chief Officers, but only one female Chief Officer, and since she works a desk job in City Hall, why do you find it necessary to state, "If the Chief wants five of this or eight of that, that's what she asks for - and that's what she gets!"? It's no wonder morale suffers in your Department!

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Dear Anonymous,

It's nice to see that folks are actually reading the blog and the comments. :)

Were an apology in order, I would be the first to offer it.

FYI...since your comments related to the thread, asked somewhat of a question and did not contain vulgarity or too pointed a personal attack, they have been published - if only to express a more important message.

But first...
For the benefit of those lurking, please know that I welcome and read all comments but cannot post or and do not reply to every one.

IMHO, the comment above clearly toed the line. For those who offer comments that we can't publish, we remind you that this is not an open discussion forum, but rather a place for us to consider posting some comments evbery now and then that are specific to the thread - and happen to strike our fancy.

Please know that we only post messages directed to our blog staff and/or the message thread at hand. Anyone who wants to address any and all other issues is welcome to call LAFD Headquarters via 3-1-1.

Please know that I will not post comments that are off-topic or seek to attack another person or rebut their comments (directly or indirectly).

If you want to have a discussion or debate one another, please know there are many
internet chatrooms, on-line discussion boards and other arenas are always available.

Kindly know that comments are quite likely to be posted here if they are profoundly civil and matter-of-fact (not snide or vitriolic) and highly related to the topic at hand, regardless of their viewpoint.

Best yet: comments that are polite and offer genuine solutions or suggestions, even when disagreeing! ;)

This system does not allow me to alter or edit another persons comments (i.e. remove swear words), so please I ask, be civil or it can't be published.

That much said, the comments here are (as clearly labeled on the submission page) moderated by the blog staff, generally me.

But back to the "question"...

Like all LAFD spokesmen (we have no spokeswomen at the moment), I am given reasonable leeway in what I say, and remain accountable for it all.

Please know that I chose to write what I did because it is simply what came to mind at the time.

There was no deep thought, hidden agenda or interest in being P.C. I've got to say that it sure seemed more natural than writing 's/he'.

If you knew me, you'd know I haven't time for that, no more than I have time to consider a regretful and illogical argument that writing a single message post mentioning a female Chief would somehow be the root (good, bad or otherwise) of morale issues in the LAFD.

As it has for 120 years, morale at LAFD runs the gamut, and when we elect to offer a thread on that particular subject, I hope you'll chime in.

In closing, it seems that you are probably on the job here at the LAFD. If you want to chat, please give me a call.

While I regretfully don't have much time to spend with others (the phone in our small office rings off-the-hook with media calls), I will *always* find time for my Brother and Sister Firefighters. All you have to do is call.

In fact, let's do breakfast. I'm buying.

Oh, and the woman you allude to? She's a phenomenal leader and visonary. Come to think of it, maybe she can join us for breakfast? In that case, she's buying. :)

Fraternally (Can I say that?) Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the "Chief Officer" comments. You are a man of character!

Anonymous said...


How often are the Rookies/recruits drug tested?

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Anonymous 8:52,

Thanks for the note. This long ago message thread is probably not the best - or most convenient place to address this issue.

The good news is that your question can be answered by the staff at the LAFD Recruitment Unit (213-485-8032), but will largely depend upon your definition of a 'rookie'.

Please know that the rules, regulations and conditions of employment applied to Recruits (those who have yet to graduate the academy) are often quite different from those of actual members of our Department (who have completed probation, but might be considered a rookie by some).

Heck, I've got 22 years on and they still think of me as a rookie. :)

Kindly make your first call to the LAFD Recruitment Unit number listed above. If they can't help you to your complete satisfaction, then contact the Public Safety Recruitment Section of the City's Personnel Department. They are the ultimate entity in charge of LAFD Recruitment and City Employment issues.

Oh, and by the way... if you have any additonal issues or questions in the future, simply call City Hall via 3-1-1 or (866)4-LACITY or (213)485-5971 and the City Hall Ambassador will be pleased to route your call directly to the correct agency, office, official or help desk.

Because this old thread is straying off-topic (and I have dozens of newer ones to focus on), I'm going to close this reply thread. If you need to contact me or any LAFD member for an off-topic question, please call 3-1-1.

I hope this information helps. Thanks and best wishes!

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

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