One Meridian Plaza – Remembered 21 Years Later

This week marks the 21th anniversary of the high rise fire in downtown Philadelphia at One Meridian Plaza.  Starting on the 22nd floor, the fire raged for more than 19 hours in this 38 story steel framed highrise before a tenant-installed sprinkler system on the 30th floor extinguished the blaze.  At the time, February 23, 1991,  it was the largest highrise fire ever experienced in the US.

Spontaneous combustion of a pile of oil-soaked rags left behind by workers performing some remodeling work started the fire that resulted in the death of three firefighters and injuring 24 others in this 12 alarm fire.  An excellent account of the disaster from the perspective of fire service professionals is recalled in a blog article titled One Meridian Plaza retrospective blog  at The Company Officer, part of ”A Buildingsonfire” series.

 The fire was accompanied by a complete failure of the building’s electrical system in addition to the malfunction of the emergency generators.  Inadequate water pressure also contributed to the entent of the disaster.  If anything good came out of the event, it was an in-field confirmation that automatic sprinklers work and can be invaluable in high rise fires where it is difficult for access by fire fighters. 

Arguments on what to do with the building went on for years until 1999 when safety concerns and a lack of reuse led to a floor-by-floor deconstruction of the facility.  An excellent detailed case study of this 1972 era building can be found at  Failures Wiki -One Meridian Plaza.

Additional Information:

More detailed information is available for download in the original February 1991 US Fire  Administration TR-049 Report .

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