MOUNT VERNON — Investigators looking into the cause of the fire that consumed the former Kresge building at 201 S. Main St., were able to access the basement on Thursday after the uncontaminated water was pumped out.
According to Shane Cartmill, public information officer for the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshals, efforts are being made to search for information in the building without rummaging through the debris and causing further disturbance to the structure.
“What we are doing is we are not disturbing the fire debris. We are not going to remove it just yet. They are going to try to probe into the debris without moving much of anything,” Cartmill said. “There is substantial collapse (inside the building); significant danger for the inspectors to go in there that’s why we need to be extremely cautious of putting investigators in that situation.”
In order to maintain the safety of the inspectors, the Central Ohio Strike Team was requested to serve in a standby capacity because of the frailty of the structure. Six members of the urban search and rescue unit, along with an equipment truck, were on-scene Monday to provide as-needed assistance to the investigation.
“The role there for us was, the damage was too large an area to go in and actually shore it up and stabilize the building, so they asked us to come in on a standby basis and be there to assist them if something went wrong in their entry. If that happened, then we would have someone there immediately and put shores in place, and protect them and get them out of the building,” said Jack Rupp, Plain Township assistant fire chief and advisory member of the strike team.
During the operation, Rupp said, the strike team’s services were not needed.
“There were no problems from that standpoint. We did not have to do anything in terms of attempting to get anyone out of the building or anything like that. From that standpoint things went very well,” Rupp said.
Rupp said there were some “voids” in the rubble, and strike team search and rescue cameras were used to allow inspectors see what was below the upper layers of debris.
“It’s a pretty sturdy building believe it or not. Unlike most old buildings, they are finding the structure was sturdier than they expected or anticipated once they got in there. It is surprising considering the fire that damaged the building and the water that was used,” Cartmill said.
In his daily update, Cartmill said the masonry exterior walls and the steel beam skeleton remain in tact and are “structurally sound. The walls and floors were made of combustible materials and have substantially collapsed into the structure.”
The Central Ohio Strike Team is made up of 11 fire departments in Franklin County and serve Region 4.
“The reason regional teams are put in place is, if a building collapses, a federal team can be put in place within about 24 hours and they operate for about 72 hours. Like anything else you will do, survivability comes with speed. Regional teams are designed for that speed to identify where people are at hopefully within that first eight to 16 hours you can make rescues for that survivability. The goal for the regional teams are to be in place and operational within two hours,” Rupp said.
Cartmill said at this time there is no indication as to whether the cause of the fire was accidental or intentional.
See Saturday’s edition of the News for a special section filled with photos of Monday’s fire as well as the latest details of the investigation and an in-depth look at the federal emergency response vehicle on the scene.