High-Rise Fire

How do you investigate the origin, cause and results of a high-rise fire when every system fails at once?

Case Study – Fatal High-Rise Fire

A fire on the 12th floor of a 37-story office building is dangerous enough. In this case, the evacuation procedure went wrong, the fire fighting procedure went wrong, the point of origin was compromised by multiple agencies working independently and there were multiple contradictory explanations for what had transpired.

There were six fatalities and several injuries to occupants trying to evacuate using a stairwell. The inevitable lawsuits began in an atmosphere of confusion and clashing agendas.

A well renowned law firm, representing the building management company, called in S-E-A.


Assigned Task:

The primary task assigned to S-E-A was to determine the origin, cause and development of the fire.

S-E-A was also requested to ascertain the factors contributing to the death and injury of occupants within the building stairwell (i.e. fire alarm system, emergency evacuation communication, life safety issues, fire suppression systems, firefighting activities, building construction code compliance, etc).

During the early stages of the investigation, it was determined that among the numerous agencies investigating the fire, only S-E-A was capable of providing the necessary arrangements to handle, store and protect the large quantity of evidence that was expected to be retained.  S-E-A therefore took on the responsibility to locate, identify, organize and preserve evidence after this fatal high-rise fire.

To perform the analysis, S-E-A took the following steps:

The fire and explosion team of S-E-A, consisting of investigators, electrical engineers and fire protection engineers, investigated and evaluated the scene for weeks.

Gathering the evidence entailed removing, mapping and cataloging every floor tile, ceiling tile, electrical component, etc. for a total of nearly 800 pieces of evidence. S-E-A secured and warehoused the evidence—providing access to all parties developing cases for their various constituents—and continued evaluations.

Results of S-E-A's investigation:

S-E-A’s 40-plus years experience and expertise in fire and explosion investigation and its evidence gathering and preservation methodologies provided the only reliable source of access and information in the aftermath of this tragic fire.

Subsequent to this deadly event, the fire safety codes for this major metropolitan area were substantially modified and updated. At S-E-A, we are proud to have been a part of establishing the need for these upgrades in safety procedures and for our role in the protection and preservation of evidence in the aftermath.

S-E-A’s multi-disciplinary teams are a large part of the reason why we have been able to help so many clients. Our scientific methodologies cross all disciplines and our wealth of experience solving a wide range of problems is invaluable in assuring broad perspective and thinking unfettered by familiarity and repetition.

Above all, in situations where emotion and conflicting agendas make resolution so difficult, our passion for science and objectivity is the most effective path to real answers.

For more information about our fire and explosion practice group, contact:

Ryan Siekmann