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First Interstate Bank Building Fire, California, 1988

On May 4, 1988, a fire broke out on the 12th floor of the 62-story First Interstate Bank building in Los Angeles, California.  At that time, a $3.5 million automatic sprinkler system was being installed in the building, when the smoke detectors started going off at around 10:30 in the evening. Thinking it was a false alarm, security deactivated them, only to have them go off repeatedly. It wasn't until outsiders called 911 that the dispatch was given.  Given that the sprinkler system was being installed, the standpipe system had been temporarily shut off, preventing water flow alarms from activating.

Approximately 50 occupants were in the building and above the fire floors: five were rescued from the rooftop via helicopter, those on the 12th floor made it to the stairwells, and the remaining were identified and rescued after the fire was controlled. A maintenance man perished, having been dispatched to the fire floor by security unaware that a fire was occurring - he was found in the elevator. 14 firefighters were injured. The cause of the fire was predicted to be electrical in nature, but no definitive source was identified.

In the NIST report, "Engineering View of the Fire of May 4, 1988 in the First Interstate Bank Building, Los Angeles, California (NIST IR 89-4061)," the course of the fire is traced in terms of developing fire phenomena. Special emphasis is given to burning rate of building furnishings, smoke layer temperature, layer level, oxygen consumption, combustion efficiency, flashover, exterior fire propagation, detector response, sprinkler operation, smoke movement and some contamination.