By Scott Jenkins and Mark Wineka
The call for help came at 9:06:13 a.m. on March 7.
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” the firefighter shouted into his radio from inside the burning Salisbury Millwork.
It was unclear, from a preliminary review of Salisbury Fire Department radio traffic from that morning, who called the mayday. Two firefighters ó Justin Monroe and Victor Isler ó lost their lives in the blaze that destroyed the business off South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Capt. Rick Barkley, the leader of that hose team, was badly injured.
“Safety to all units, stand by. Mayday, go ahead.” came the reply.
It’s hard to tell what the firefighter inside the building said after that. Only a second call of “mayday” is perfectly audible. What’s clear is that he was frantic.
Senior fire officials on the scene quickly dispatched a Rapid Intervention Team to help.
“Let’s get ’em out of there!” the incident commander yelled over the radio. “Get rapid intervention! Let’s get ’em out!”
In the sometimes chaotic exchanges that followed, it’s hard to tell exactly what happened as the team moved in and pulled the fallen firefighters out. One firefighter apparently located the fire hose the fallen men were using to battle the blaze, but it was of no use.
“I’m on the hoseline, but the hoseline’s gone dead!” he yelled.
At one point, commanders pulled the Rapid Intervention Team out, then sent them back in. Firefighters charged a second hose.
Locke firefighters were part of a second Rapid Intervention Team covering the front side of the building that day. Granite Quarry Fire made up a first RIT, covering the back of the building.
The Locke RIT successfully pulled Barkley out of the fire, and Barkley is now at home recovering from his first- and second-degree burns. Three Locke firefighters were treated for injuries and released.
Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell credited Salisbury Capt. Buddy Miller with locating Isler in the blaze and bringing him out of the building.
Emergency workers immediately began CPR on Isler.
Monroe’s body was recovered later.
The March 7 Salisbury Millwork fire posed challenge after challenge for firefighters as their efforts to contain the blaze suddenly turned into a rescue operation and the loss of the facility.
Late Monday afternoon, the Post obtained dispatcher logs and city of Salisbury fire channel recordings made that day.
A preliminary review of the fire’s first three hours reveals a city-county fire community that worked closely together and made strong decisions early on that probably saved lives.
The recordings also show how firefighters had to keep moving from offensive to defensive modes in fighting the fire, as they tried to contain it to Salisbury Millwork’s office and the basement.
Firefighters were on the roof and off the roof. They were in the basement and pulled out of the basement. They dealt with a collapsed floor and the need for more water and water pressure.
They had serious concerns about trains and their ladders around power lines.
EMS units were called into the scene at 9:10 a.m., “reference to burns,” and again at 9:26 a.m., according to dispatcher logs. Another EMS note from the dispatcher log at 9:39 a.m. says, “CPR in progress.”
The tragic day started with a 911 call at 6:57 a.m. from Salisbury Millwork employee Tony Dowell.
The first dispatch for Salisbury Fire said, “Structure fire, 1820 S. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s going to be at Salisbury Millwork, Salisbury Millwork. It’s going to be in the basement.”
En route, Quint 2, the fire truck on which Leonard and Isler were hose team members, reported back, “Rowan, we have smoke in the area of South Main and Jake.”
Soon another report came in. “There’s going to be heavy fire in the basement. Working fire.”
At 7:06 a.m., Salisbury firefighters were engaged in a working fire.
An early report from Quint 2 said, “On the scene, have two-story brick veneer woodworking facility. Working fire. Go ahead and notify Duke Power.”
Here’s a rundown of some of the key radio traffic that followed, including some notes from dispatcher logs:
– 7:14 a.m. ó Salisbury Fire asks that mutual aid cover the city stations.
– 7:15 a.m. ó A third alarm goes out.
– 7:17 a.m. ó Salisbury Fire reports heavy smoke in the structure.
– 7:19 a.m. ó A verbal all clear is given for the structure.
– 7:20 a.m. ó A firefighter calls back to command. He says he thinks the department has a knockdown of the fire in the basement.
– 7:25 a.m. ó Fire reported to have extended from basement to the first-floor office
– 7:26 a.m. ó Firefighters are ordered off the roof of the office.
– 7:26 a.m. ó Firefighters leave the basement because of intense heat. They continue attacking the fire from basement doors.
– 7:27 a.m. ó Firefighter says, “We got extension in the building. I believe this is gonna be a loser. I’m gonna pull everybody out.”
– 7:28 a.m. ó Additional report: “We’ve got full involvement in the basement, also the first floor. At this time, all personnel pulling out of the structure.”
– 7:29 a.m. ó “Command to all units. We’re in a defensive mode at this time. We’re going to start protecting exposures.”
– 7:31 a.m. ó Command asks if Locke Fire Department is on the scene in case a Rapid Intervention Team is needed.
– 7:35 a.m. ó Locke Fire Department is dispatched.
– 7:36 a.m. ó Firefighter reports he thinks fire is contained to the office area.
– 7:37 a.m. ó Dispatcher gives update that China Grove, Cleveland, Faith, Granite Quarry, Rockwell Rural, Locke and Rockwell City departments are either on the scene or en route to Salisbury Millwork.
– 7:40 and 7:41 a.m. ó Command positions Rapid Intervention Team of Granite Quarry on “C” side of building and Rapid Intervention Team of Locke Fire Department on “A” side.
– 7:41 a.m. ó Command asks if the fire has been knocked down in the basement and learns there is still heavy fire in that area.
– 7:44 a.m. ó Firefighters at a basement door ask to re-enter and go on the offensive.
– 7:49 a.m. ó Fifth alarm goes out, calling in all other county units, including Bostian Heights, Ellis Cross Country, Landis and Miller’s Ferry. Two ladder trucks from Mooresville, not immediately available, are put on standby.
– 7:51 a.m. ó Quint 1 team re-enters building to evaluate, firefighter reports progress being made in basement, going farther in.
– 7:55 a.m. ó Command asks that an EMS unit respond to the side of the structure.
– 7:56 a.m. ó Report says fire contained to office section on “A-B corner.” “Deep-seated fire in basement.”
– 8:08 a.m. ó “Flash up” reported on first floor. Firefighters says “active fire” on first floor, “over the heads of guys in the basement. Going to back men out of the basement.”
– 8:09 a.m. ó A Rapid Intervention Team is called to a side of the building.
– 8:12 a.m. ó Three more engine companies asked to respond to “A” side of building.
– 8:15 a.m. ó Command calls safety and operations to command post to “reassess this thing.”
– 8:16 a.m. ó Command says, “We’re gonna regroup.” “Operations to all units: code red, pull out.”
– 8:29 a.m. ó Somebody asked about venting through the first floor, but command answers, “I can’t advise” because Quint 4 reported that floor was spongy “so we got all personnel out.”
– 8:35 a.m. ó Salisbury Police asked to make sure bystanders and reporters stay off the tracks.
– 9:01 a.m. ó A report from the scene: “Rowan, just to update. We still have fire involvement in the basement area, and crews are in a defensive mode. All crews remain committed.”
– 9:06 a.m. ó “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”
Incident commander: “Let’s get ’em out of there! Get rapid intervention! Let’s get ’em out!”
– 9:10 a.m. ó Note on dispatch log: Additional EMS units dispatched to the scene, “reference to burns.”
– 9:26 a.m. ó Dispatcher log: “Additional EMS unit to the scene.”
– 9:31 a.m. _ Firefighters instructed to lay a line from South Main Street and National Welders. “I need that line ASAP,” a firefighter says.
– 9:33 a.m. ó “The first two. We got one more inside.”
– 9:33 a.m. ó Command: “Rowan, notify the Water Department and advise them we need to boost the water pressure within the Martin Luther King, South Main area. … Also, we’ll be laying a line across the tracks. Go ahead and notify Southern we need to stop all trains until further notice.”
– 9:36 a.m. ó Command orders that a tanker task force be set up at rear of structure.
– 9:37 a.m. ó Dispatcher: “You need to get everybody off the tracks, everybody off the tracks. There’s an Amtrak train coming through, and they’ll never get it stopped in time.”
– 9:39 a.m. ó Note from dispatch log for EMS: “CPR in progress.”
– 9:48 a.m. ó Chief 20 calls operations, says crew is out. “It’s collapsing on us. We are all out and accounted for.”
Operations: “Copy. All rescue operations have ceased, right?
Chief 20: “That’s affirmative.”
– 10:05 a.m. ó EMS unit clears Rowan Regional Medical Center, en route back to scene.
– 10:38 a.m. ó EMS unit clears Rowan Regional Medical Center, en route back to scene.Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or email@example.com or Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Scott Jenkins and Mark Wineka