Today is the 20th anniversary of one of the worst high-rise fires in American history. The fire at #1 Meridian Plaza killed three firefighters from Engine 11 and left our department devastated both emotionally and psychologically for many years. It also forced many needed reforms in building codes, construction methods and firefighting tactics. Ironically many of these same issues would be revisited in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster of 9-11.
I came into this job nearly one year to the day following Meridian. It was a time of much soul-searching for many in the job. Some guys never recovered from it and others just moved on. Some left the job. Unfortunately the biggest lessons of the Meridian aren’t those learned by the firefighters. They are the lessons forgotten by our leaders both in and outside the job. Those who say firefighters can do more with less are fools. Those who think public safety is bloated and inefficient as if we were making widgets are ignorant. Those who ignore the lessons of the past… well we know what happens to them.
For a gut wrenching account of the Meridian fire click this link. FF. Jack Bloomer is the only survivor from Engine 11 that fateful night. Assigned as the driver / pump operator he was outside the building with the fire truck when his whole crew was killed. I know Jack personally and have worked with him over the years while stationed in town. He is a great guy, a great fireman and a true gentlemen. The citizens of Philadelphia will never understand the scars he carries with him to this day. I believe the Meridian fire called for twelve alarms. Today on the twenty year anniversary we can most likely no longer field twelve alarms.
The lessons of the past.