THE SEMINOLE COUNTY JAIL FIRE
NFPA Fire Analysis Specialist
B U R N I N G URETHANE MATTRESSES THE BUILDING
in this institutional occupancy created a rapid buildup
The Seminole County Jail is located in Sanford,
of intense heat and toxic smoke. Prisoners could not
Florida. The original building was constructed in 1961.
escape from their locked cells, and ten of the prisoners
A four-story courthouse building, with a second-story
died before rescuers could reach them. One prison
eonneeting passageway to the jail, was constructed in
correctional o~eer died while attempting to free the
1971. A two-story administration building, adjoining the
inmates. Fire fighters were frustrated in their attempts
southeast eorner of the jail, was added in 1973. (See
to rescue prisoners because the jail keys had been left
Figure 1.) At the same time, a roof was added over
on the floor of fire origin in the confusion of the first
part of tlm space between the two buildings, forming
few minutes. Also, one passageway, which before the
a garage-like sally port. This area had an overhead
fire had been designated by the Fire Department as a
steel mesh door so that prisoners could be taken into
possible emergency evaeuation route, was blocked t)3,
and out of vehicles going to and from the jail in a
approximately 100 unclaimed bieyeles on the day of
the fire. The bicycles were goh~g to be sold at an auc-
The jail is "T" shaped, two stories tall without base-
tion the following week.
menL and measures 94 feet bv 1:293 feet. The building
This flre was invest/gated by the author, who gratefully ac- was designed to allow two additional floors to be added
knowledges the assistance of Chief G. M. Harriett, Sr., San- at a later date. Floors and roof were of 8-inch eonerete
ford Fire Department; Chief Inspector J. H. MeCluan, Seminole with heavy reinforcing. The seeond floor had a 2-inch
County Deparlanent of Fire Protection; and Deputy State Fire
Marshal Ernest B. \Vright. cover slab over a waterproofing membrane. Partitions
All photos are from the Sentinel Star. were of 1~-ineh tool-resisting steel plate, 3/16-inch oil-
f ~ f
West side of Seminole County
Jail, with smoke coming through
..... •• ~ .... ili ¸ ~ii!i~ii!iii!!i~i
¸!~! the screen block wall.
hardened steel plate, metal bars, and concrete block. first floor. The second floor was not air conditioned;
The roof was fiat, covered with builtup asphalt and however, the dispensary and adjoining female's cell had
gravel over 2-inch rigid insulation. The outside walls two window air-conditioning units. There were a num-
were of concrete block. The walls with windows were ber of large-pedestal floor fans in the corridors to cir-
screened by decorative concrete block walls. culate air. A ventilation system exhausted air from the
Building heat was circulated through ceiling-hung, second floor through metal grilles above the toilets in
hot-water unit heaters supplied from a boiler on the the cells to power roof ventilators. Two grilles in the
Figure 2. Second floor of Seminole County Jail.
FIRST FLOOR ONLY
m i m
r---- " - 2
"~ F3 i
q. ~- ~2 IJ I I
- - -- ~ F2 SALLYPORT
-~- STEEL BAR JAIL WALLS I J1 I i
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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............. L .............
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~ O N N E C T ~ ' R
segregated cells did not exhaust air from the cells, but
were designed to ventilate the pipe chase behind the
cells into the cell area. The cells were vented through
grilles in the east wall to the corridor and to the roof
The first floor was air conditioned and was occupied
by the County Sheriff's Department. That floor in-
cluded offices, kitchen, laundry, visitors' area, and hold-
ing cells. The second floor contained the jail ceils, a
classroom converted from a cell, a guard office, and a
dispensary. The second floor consisted of several sec-
tions, designated F, J, N, and S. (See Figure 2.) Two
segregated cells, used to isolate problem inmates, were
located near the center of the west wall. These cells
were located between N and S sections. The room of
fire origin was between the isolation cells and the in-
terior main corridor. (See Figure 2. ) The cells were
each 6 feet, 9 inches by 7 feet, and the floor-to-ceiling North and south segregated cells as seen from adiacent room of
fire origin. North cell on the right is where juvenile prisoner,
height was 7 feet, 10 inches. There was a guards' cor- alleged to have started the fire, was located. He was one of the
ridor between the cells and the outside wall, and a fatalities.
narrow space between the outside wall and the screen
wall. The west side of the cells, facing the guards' cor-
ridor, consisted of metal prison bars. The north and
south walls were of solid, floor-to-ceiling, heavy-plate
steel. The east walls were also plate steel with a 3-
foot-by-6-foot, 6-inch steel door to each cell.
The two segregated cells each contained one metal
bunk with mattress and pillow, and a toilet with a
small built-in sink at the top of the unit. (See Figure
The room of fire origin was 8 feet, 11 inches by 13
feet, 7 inches, of similar construction, with concrete
floor and ceiling, blank steel walls north and south, the
segregated cells on the west side, and a steel wall on
the east side with a 3-foot-by-7-foot single steel door.
The classroom on the south side of the room of fire
origin was a large cell used for inmate schooling. The Segregated cell ;treat seen from main corridor. Hose cabinet is
walls and ceiling were covered with a combustible ceil- above trash can in center of photo. One of the cell door control
ing tile to give the cell a classroom atmosphere. panels is at right; the wheel is turned to open sliding cell doors.
Figure 3. Room of fire origin and the two adjacent
segregated ceils. There was no sprinkler protection, no smoke or fire
detection system, and no alarm system in the jail. There
STEELBARJ A I t WALLS
was an emergency lighting system and standpipe hose
system. One hose station was located immediately out-
side the room of fire origin on the second floor, and an-
other hose station was located on the first floor.
The second floor portable fire extinguisher cabinets
and hose cabinet were locked and required a key for
access. A key to the cabinets, with a wooden handle
for easy identification, was located at the second-floor
~ X jailer's station.
The main exit from the second floor was an enclosed
I stairway to the first floor, located near the center of the
UAETHANIE building. A small elevator served the second floor, and
O ~ eEO DOUBLE t ~
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CC T/OTNIO' $¢ iS ie E
I PLATEWALLS I
I FIRE JOURNAL-JANUARY 1976 • 7
another stairway on the east side of the elevator led to The storage of mattresses in the room of fire origin
the roof. The stairs and corridor to the roof were had been going on for malay years. Tim number of mat-
blocked by cartons of mattresses, pillows, and other tresses stored was unknown, but the stacks were re-
storage. The only other means of egress from the sec- ported to be from five feet to seven feet high. The mat-
ond floor was the connecting passageway to the court- tresses on the north wall were piled on a metal bed
house buihling. Doors on both ends of the connector frame.
were normally locked. There were no exit signs on any
of the exit doors.
The doors from the cell sections were 20 inches wide.
Other doors from the section corridors to the main cor- There were 65 prisoners in the jail on June 9, 1975,
ridor were 24 inches wide. Some doors to the cells were when the fire occurred. Sixty were behind locked doors,
locked by individual key locks, but most cell doors in a one trustee 1 was working outside, and four trustees
section were controlled by a naanually-operated control were working in the kitchen and laundry on the first
panel. Doors to these cells were sliding doors that were floor. Eight correctional officers were on duty and two
mechanically opened and closed b y turning a large were stationed on the second floor.
wheel in the control panel. With the cell doors open in The noon meal was delivered to the second floor at
a section, prisoners could comnmnicate between cells, 11:55 am and the two correctional officers served the
but were still confined to the section or wing by a trustees first, then the inmates in N section, and then
locked corridor door. the inmates in S section. The door to the outer room
Several master keys were required to open all the of the segregated cells was unlocked so the two pri-
various cell and corridor doors. Separate keys con- soners ill the cells could be fed. ( See Figure :3. ) One of
trolled the cell corridor, section, and control-station the two prisoners, a juvenile located in the north cell,
doors. Control stations located in the north and south threw his drink at the con'ectional officer. Tim officer
wings could all be opened by the same key. Control asked him what was wrong and he stated that he
stations in the east x~qng were opened by a different "wanted out" because his trial had been postponed a
key. Main access doors to all cells werc opened from second time. The prisoner said he didn't want anything
the same control station as the sliding doors for the ccll to eat and was going to set the place on fire if he didn't
or cell block, lint had a completely separate lock sys- get out. The correctional officer locked the door and
tem. There were two sets of keys. One set was kept at left to feed the prisoners in the other sections.
the second-floor correctional officers' post and the other The second correctional officer went downstairs and
at the first-fioor shift supervisor's post. Both sets of keys reported the problem with the inmate to the shift super-
were normally used daily in routine work. Both sets visor. The shift supervisor advised him to watch the
were on the second floor when the fire started. prisoner and said that if the prisoner continued to
cause trouble, he would be put in leg irons and hand-
BACKGROUND cuffs and confined to the holding cell on the first floor.
The prisoner in the south segregated cell was just
Two stacks of mattresses were stored in the room of starting to eat his lunch when he noticed that the pri-
fire origin on both the north and south walls. They soner in the neighboring cell, who had threatened to
were 25-inch-by-72-ineh-by-3-inda thick penal mat- start a fire, was throwing crumpled-up newspapers out
tresses that consisted of a nrethane foam slab interior the food opening of his cell door. The newspapers made
covered with a nylon-bonded vinyl cover, The foam a pile about one foot high and covered a large area of
was treated with chemicals and was advertised to com- the floor. Soon after noticing that, the prisoner in the
ply with the ASTM 1692-67T general usage rating test. south cell saw fire and smoke and he started to holler
The cover was treated with chemicals to meet specifica- for help. When the fire grew more intense,he covered
tions as a flame-retardant fabric. A prominent notice his head with a wet towel, lay down on the floor, and
on the manufacturer's brochure stated: pulled his mattress on top of him,
NOTICE One of the correctional officers noticed smoke coming
Under actual fire conditions, this product, as well as sheets, from the segregated cell area a few minutes later. H e
blankets, pillows, towels, etc., will under some circumstances called to the other officer and they ran to investigate.
produce toxic fumes and dense smoke. Extreme care must be
exercised to minimize the risk of all fires, most especially in close. One of them unlocked the outer door to the security
poorly ventilated cells. cell area. When he looked inside and saw that the mat-
This product cannot he ignited with lit cigarettes, ttowever,
open flame from matches, lighters, or burning newspapers will
ignite this product for as long as the outside flame source is in Trustees are prisnners who are allowed out of their cells to
contact with this mattress or pillow. work in the huilding and sometimes outside of the Imilding.
8 * FIRE J O U R N A L - - JANUARY 1976
tresses were on fire, he shut the door again and went
to get the standpipe hose outside the room of fire origin.
The lock on the door to the hose cabinet had been
broken at one time and repaired. The two correction,'fl
officers didn't realize that the lock had been repaired
and thought they needed a screwdriver to open the
door. The second officer went after a screwdriver, The t
first officer called downstairs on the intercom and re-
ported to the shift supervisor that there was a large
fire on the second floor. He stayed as long as he could,
then went downstairs to see if help was coming. The
smoke was so heavy by this time that he had to crawl
to the stairway. He got the standpipe hose from the
first floor and went back up the stairs with a third offi-
cer, both men using wet towels to cover their faces. t.*1 a
.1ti " °,i
Just before the first correctional officer reported the
fire, a trustee ran dox~aastairs and reported the fire. The
Sanford Fire Department was immediately notified by
The two correctional officers crawled and felt their /
way along the second-floor corridor and opened the
door to section N-I, but only three prisoners came out.
The prisoners went down the stairs to the first floor, Fire fighters, initially unable to obtain keys and release prison-
where other law enforcement officers took custody of ers, attempted to break throu~dathe screen hlock wall to direct
them. The officers crawled back downstairs to get air, water through windows into the cell area. Most of the inmates
located alon,~this west wall survived the fire.
then repeated their trip to the second floor and opened
the S-1 section. No prisoners came out. By this time
the heat was so great that the officers retreated to the
first floor again, leaving the keys in the door to S-1. had happened to the keys. When he remembered, he
One was nearly overcome by the smoke and heat, and went back upstairs wearing breathing apparatns and
was taken outside for oxygen. recovered the keys. He then went back to N-2 with the
The Sanford Fire Department received the alarm by fire fighters, who led all prisoners out of the building.
telephone at 12:15 pm and responded with two engine They tried to get to S-2 and S-3 sections, but the heat
companies, one truek company, and a tanker. Eleven from the classroom was so great that they couldn't get
fire fighters responded, in addition to the chief and by the classroom door.
assistant chief. Other correctional offieers donned breathing appara-
Evacuation of some prisoners had already taken tus and went upstairs to assist. The smoke was heavy,
place when the Fire Department arrived. There were about waist high. The), asked for the standpipe hose
no keys to the cell doors available for fire fighters to cabinet key, but by that time the heat was too great for
continue the evacuation of prisoners. Heavy smoke was the correctional officers to get to the hose station. They
billowing from the west side of the jail. Fire fighters then asked for keys to the cell areas and tried to enter
directed i,Ginch hose streams into the cell area from N-1 and S-1. They finally"got three pzisoners out. They
outside, while other fire fighters tried to break through obtained the key to J-l, found three bodies by the door
the decorative screen block wall to get to the windows. and dragged them downstairs. After searching J-l, they
The fire fighters were able to talk to the prisoners in went to S-1 and found at least eight prisoners uncon-
the cells along the west wall and instructed them to lie scious on the floor, and dragged them out.
on the floor and cover themselves with mattresses and
blankets. The fire fighters then kept the prisoners wet After searching the entire area, they still could not
with their hose lines until they could be evacuated. find the second correctional officer who had gone for
After receiving oxygen for about four minutes, the the screwdriver. They entered the dispensary room by
first correctional officer, who left the keys in the door, crawling along the floor and found the body of the
went back inside. Fire fighters and other correctional officer by the air-conditioning unit. The second set of
officers were trying to locate the keys. It took the cor- keys were found with the dead correctional officer.
rectional officer a couple of minutes to remember what Correctional officers and fire fighters went to J see-
FIRE JOURNAL--JANUARY 1976 • 9
tion where the trustees were jailed, and dragged out Numerous recommendations had been submitted to
the unconscious prisoners. Then F section was opened the County Jail Administration by the Seminole County
and all the juvenile prisoners and the one female pri- Department of Fire Protection prior to the fire. The
soner left; one of the prisoners had to be carried out. recommendations included the following:
Correctional officers and fire fighters again tried to • Provide breathing apparatus on both floors.
get to S-3 section, and by this time the hose streams • Label doors as to use and provide illuminated exit
from outside the building had cooled the classroom signs.
area. Meanwhile, fire fighters had also entered this area • Remove all storage from the stairway to the roof.
with l~-inch hose lines. They were able to feel their • Provide a manual fire alarm system with connec-
way along the walls and open S-2 and S-3. All prisoners tion to the Fire Department.
were evacuated from those cells. • Provide a smoke detection system.
When all sections had been evacuated, officers • Provide additional exits and install access panels
opened the door to the corridor between the segregated for the purpose of ventilation and rescue of trapped
cells and the outside wall. They discovered the inmate occupants.
in the south segregated cell at that t i m e - still alive. • All security personnel should carry keys to all
The correctional officers and fire fighters went back standpipe and fire extinguisher cabinets.
around to the cell entrance. The fire fighters cooled the • Bedding should be noncombustible material.
walls and the)' were able to evacuate the prisoner. They • Provide a reliable holding area for inmates while
also opened the north cell and recovered the body of an emergency in the occupancy exists.
the prisoner who is alleged to have been responsible The breathing apparatus had been provided, with
for the fire and who was one of the fatalities. two units on each floor. A decision to install the recom-
The fire fighters and the correctional officers again mended smoke detection system was made in March
made a thorough cell-to-cell cheek of the entire second 1975, and the company arrived to start the installation
floor for any remaining inmates. Fire fighters used on the day of the fire. Other recommendations had not
smoke ejectors and hose lines to clear the smoke from been complied with.
the jail,and the area was reasonably tenable 35 to 40
minutes after the Fire Department arrived. Evacua-
tion of the prisoners took nearly an hour to complete. ANALYSIS
Two breathing apparatus units and portable fire
extinguishers on the second floor were not used. The
standpipe hose on the second floor, less than two feet
The Seminole County Fire Department assisted the from the door of the room of fire origin, was not used
Sanford Fire Department and provided extra breath- because the lock was believed to be broken. There was
ing apparatus. A total of 60 fire fighters fought the fire reportedly no delay in notifying the Fire Department,"
and evacuated prisoners. All ambulances in the area however, keys were not available for Fire Department
responded to the fire, and all available police and use. The sally port, which had been surveyed by the
sheriff's department personnel assisted in the transpor- Fire Depaz~ment as a possible route for removing pri-
tation of prisoners to hospitals and other jails. soners from the jail in an emergency, was blocked by
The fire was confined to the mattresses stored in the approximately 100 unclaimed bicycles that had been
outer room of the segregated cell area; however, the scheduled to be auctioned off during the week follow-
wall tiles in the classroom on the south side of the ing the fire. An alternate route for evacuation of the
room of origin were ignited by radiant heat. The tiles prisoners - the second-floor connecting passage to the
burned to within three to four feet of the floor, and the jail - was not used.
books and other combustible materials in the room This fire points again 3 to the need for penal institu-
were consumed. tions to be designed, constructed, maintained, and
There were no fire-fighter injuries and no serious in- (Continued on page 17)
juries to correctional officers or prisoners other than the
eleven fatalities. Many of the prisoners and officers An electric clock in the correctional officers' post on the sec-
ond floor stopped at 12:15 p m - t h e same time that the Fire
were treated for smoke inhalation. Autopsies of the Department received the alarm. A reasonable time allowance
victims revealed 24.1 to 54.5 percent carboxyhemoglo- for the fire to reach temperatures sufficiently high to cause fail-
bin or carbon monoxide saturation based on total ure of electrical circuits corresponds with correctional officers'
reports that the fire started at approximately 12:10 pm.
hemoglobin concentration. There were 2.1 to 6.7 micro- 3 See "No Freedom For John," Frrt~ IOtna~AL,Vol. 69, No. 3
grams of cyanide per milliliter of blood in the samples. ( May 1975 ), p. 16.
10 . FIRE J O U R N A L - - JANUARY 1976
ferences in building codes. A rapid transit system mav in nature to other occupancies of the same type. They
traverse a number of local fire service districts, and are also in areas of local jurisdiction, and local build-
therefore involve several jurisdictions. The degree of ings codes can be and usually are enforced. Most of
service may vary h'om a large metropolitan department these areas, because of values involved, will be pro-
to a small vohmteer company. While the discussion tooted with sprinklers. The yard, however, can present
above centered around tunnel fire problems, the involve- some hidden loss potential. The vehicles, as discussed
ment of the fire service is no less integrated in any other before, will for some period of time continue to he com-
element of the transit system. To provide for the special bustible and, while undergoing minor repair and clean-
needs, variable service, and equipment available, the ing in yard operation, could produce fire potential.
fire service should be provided with information from During slack operational periods, the yards may repre-
the transit system, and the response from the fire serv- sent a substantial possible loss with half or more of the
ice should be considered in the design. If the number vehicles of a system in one location. Based on a need to
of fire service districts is small, it may be practical to conserve land, expedite operations, and minimize third-
involve all of the districts in each design step, but if the rail power, trackways in a yard are congested and ac-
number of districts becomes large, consideration should cess is limited. Water supply and fire-fighting access
be given to having a coordinating group represent the need to be properly arranged. In some cases, specially
distTicts. Informational data should be provided to all designed equipment such as hose cabinets, trucks, and
districts involved. Specific data on each section should even a monitor tower may be needed to provide ade-
be provided to the district affected. Particular atten- quate protection.
tion should be paid to giving the fire service a true pic-
ture of station design in order to help fire officers make
decisions. A good example of this is in provision of In summary, the provision of adequate fire protection
hose; a fire chief, having experienced a long history of for a rapid transit system is based on applying well-
problems with property owner's hose, mav be tempted learned fire protection principles. Transit systems are
to offer or even insist on providing his own hose at a different from many occupancies in that they are, in
tunnel fire. But if his men must carry hose up to 1,200 esscncc, a mobile function and spread over a large area.
feet or more in length into a tunnel while wearing t/ather than attempt to fit them into existing codes, the
breathing apparatus, it may, well be better to use the development of a code specifically written for them
property-provided hose and spend the extra time and would allow the use of techniques that are most com-
effort to ensure that the hose is maintained. patible with transit operations and cohesive with their
unique designs. I am pleased to see that during the
The support facilities, offices, shops, yards, and con- time that I have been preparing for this presentation,
trol buildings also are part of the system and must be the NFPA has moved to form a committee that will be-
considered. The offices or shops are likely to be similar gin to recognize at least part of this concept. /~
The Seminole County Jail Fire (continued from page 10)
operated so as to minimize the possibility of a fire re- • Proper design, construction, and eompartmenta-
quiring the evacuation of occupants. Because the safety tion;
of occupants of institutional buildings cannot be as- • Provisions for detection, alarm, and extinguish-
sured adequately by dependence on evacuation of the ment; and
building, their protection from fire must be provided by • Fire prevention and the planning, training, and
appropriate arrangement of facilities, adequate staff- drilling in programs for the isolation of fire and transfer
ing, and careful development of operating and main- of occupants to areas of refuge or for the evacuation of
tenance procedures composed of the following: the building.
FIRE J O U R N A L - - JANUARY 1976 • 17