Downtown Blaze Shows GI was Ready But Could Use More Inspectors, Equipment


Grand Island joins Hastings, Broken Bow, York and Aurora as communities that have suffered downtown fires in recent years.

Downtown buildings pose unique challenges, especially their age and the fact that they are connected. Also, they lack sprinklers and safety features modern buildings have.

The Grand Island Fire Department was prepared, and knew it couldn't handle such a fire alone

Water streamed down from the sky, because that's the only way to battle a blaze like this.

"We're not going to put people in danger to save a structure that can't be saved," Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said.

The only hope was to keep it from spreading, and that meant getting up high on a ladder truck. Grand Island has one such truck.

The largest professional firefighting force in central Nebraska had to call for help.

Schmidt said, "We have a plan for things like this, unfortunately they do happen, and we've been lucky in the past not having to face this."

Two departments brought in their ladder trucks.

Shift Commander Ed Carlin said, "Having St. Paul and Hastings come with theirs was really nice too. Been nice to have a quint for ourselves to help things along, we did all right."

Grand Island would like another truck able to spray from the air. They hope in the next few years to budget for that equipment. It may not be a full ladder truck, but something called a quint.

Meanwhile, the fire chief says Grand Island has beefed up its fire prevention program, and would like to do even more.

Schmidt said, "In July of last year, we hired our first life safety, or fire inspector. We are proposing city council hire one more. That person's role is to inspect businesses such as the one behind us to make them safer."

Twelve hours after the fire call, the smoke continued to rise. Firefighters got an assist from storm clouds.

Carlin said, "They helped us and hurt us a little too. We couldn't use the ladder truck because of the lightning, but rain was good to keep hot spots cool."

The building houses multiple businesses, including Ron's Transmission and J and J's Used Furniture.

The second floor collapsed a few hours into the firefighting effort.

Overnight, wind blew the store front down, leaving a pile of rubble...

Ron's Transmission is operated by the Alexander family.

Edwards Audio is separated by a firewall. And it's a good thing it is - firefighters say that was critical in protecting the car stereo shop.

The owners of Edwards Audio can be thankful too. Papers filed with the Register of Deeds show they just took ownership on Friday. When contacted by NTV, the new owners said they received smoke and water damage, but the audio shop is still standing.