Five alarm fire breaks out at Plainfield Walmart Distribution Centre, Indiana, US; one fire fighter injured
A structure fire at the Walmart Distribution Centre in Plainfield, Indiana in the US broke out about noon on Wednesday, 16 March 2022. Plainfield fire fighters got the call at 11h57am that a fire had broken out on the third floor of the facility, which is located near the Indianapolis Airport. One fire fighter suffered minor injuries. At least 24 agencies assisted Plainfield Fire Territory in fighting the blaze Wednesday afternoon into the evening, including the Indianapolis Fire Department. The fire at the 1,2 million square feet warehouse sent a plume of black smoke into the air that was visible for miles. The fire also dumped debris and ashes on surrounding areas. Fire crews were conducting a training exercise near the facility and were on scene at the massive building at 9590 Allpoints Pkwy within three minutes. Crews fought the fire for about 30 minutes inside the warehouse before switching to a defensive operation. “This is the largest fire in my career. This is the largest fire I can remember in my career in central Indiana,” said Plainfield Fire Chief Brent Anderson. Two fire fighters temporarily got lost in the structure and called a Mayday, causing some tense moments in the early going. Both fire fighters were able to make their way out safely.
Fire fighters had to slow their efforts because the local water supply is inadequate to continue full-scale operations. Water was transported to the scene.
“Every one of those departments that responded all came in with the same goal in mind of assisting Plainfield and trying to get this fire under control,” said Captain Eric Banister, public information officer at the Wayne Township Fire Department. “Over one million square feet under a roof, that’s probably the biggest I can recall in my 20-plus years,” said Banister.
Wayne Township fire fighters responded to assist in the efforts as part of the mutual aid called to the scene. “I think eventually it got to five alarms, which is very rare, you don’t see that a lot,” said Banister.
Jerry Bessler, A-Shift Battalion Chief and public information officer for the Washington Township Avon Fire Department, said this was the most significant sized fire he can recall responding to, as well. “A lot of people will say this is a once-in-a-lifetime fire, a career fire. Hopefully, it is. I would never want to see this type of mass destruction again,” said Bessler.
Although crews train in their own respective manner and do often conduct joint training with agencies in their county and beyond county lines, fire officials said it’s difficult to coordinate a training with as many agencies as we saw at this scene. “It’s hard to do a training of this magnitude, like to get this many agencies together just as a training,” said Banister. “Individually it’s up to each department to prepare for commercial building responses.”
However, as luck would have it, at the moment the call came out over dispatch, the Plainfield Fire Department and Washington Township Avon Fire Departments were conducting a training nearby for this type of response and were on scene in about three minutes. “We had crews just down the street doing some training and they were actually training on building construction for warehouses and what we can expect for fire load,” said Plainfield Fire Chief Brent Anderson.
Bessler, who was a part of the morning session of training, said there were things they went over that came into play as they arrived on scene Wednesday. “Part of the training we learned about is how this is constructed,” said Bessler. “They say it’s like a deck of cards or almost like a domino effect. When things start to happen, it really just happens quickly.”
One of the things that Bessler said they reviewed during the training, which was coordinated by John Shafer, Division Chief of Fire Training for Washington Township Avon Fire Department, was what happens when the walls of a structure like this begins to push out. “Once that push happens, then that 12-ton slab of concrete is going to come somewhere,” said Bessler.
“You’re always taught, especially in this training, that the biggest trailer that will come into these places is 50 foot. So, if I have a 53-foot trailer, I need to keep my rigs at least 60 feet from a structure because when these slabs come down it’s not like a house or bricks that just fall off and fall straight down. These things come down in one solid 12-ton piece,” Bessler explained.
They’re even taught that where you place apparatus is vital, said Bessler. He mentioned, if you look at the corners of the building, you’ll see they’re still standing, while everything else around them has collapsed in.
During Wednesday’s response, Bessler was in charge of staging apparatus and said there was one point where they had to reset where the rigs were parked to ensure they were completely out of the collapse zone. They’re still putting water on hot spots, which could continue for several days. Crews rotate out every few hours, Chief Anderson said.
“It’s one of those fires you hope never happens but as we all do, you prepare and train for the worst,” said Shafer.
When responding to the scene, those we spoke with said, it wasn’t about asking what to do, but rather anticipating and being prepared for what is expected of them as they arrived at the scene. They credited the way agencies in the county and beyond train together and communicate to prepare for mutual aid responses.
“It’s like putting pieces of the puzzle, we’re trying to put apparatus in the most advantageous place to try to control the fire or prevent further fire spread,” said Banister. “It was a very difficult situation. There’s a lot more fire than there is water a lot of times in these situations, but staying in there, trying every tactic we could to throw at it, and then basically keeping ourselves safe while still aggressively trying to control the fire — I’m very proud of everybody that made the effort there.”
According to Chief Anderson and Walmart officials, the warehouse’s approximately 1 000 employees were inside the building when the fire broke out. All of them were able to escape and are accounted for. Departments responding to the scene credited the quick actions and preparedness of Walmart employees and management for getting everyone to safety. “I think it speaks universally for how well-prepared Walmart and a lot of our companies are,” said Banister. “I give a lot of credit to Walmart and a lot of our corporate people, the businesses we deal with. They do take their employees safety very seriously. We just want to make sure that they know they did the right thing, got out of the building and that building can be replaced, most likely will be replaced but they can’t be,” Banister added.
Smoke from the Plainfield Walmart distribution centre fire could be seen on satellite imagery as the fire grew, according to the National Weather Service.
Sources: Fox 59, News Week