Charred Urbandale Condo Building Did Not Have Fire Sprinklers

URBANDALE, Iowa  --  Fire investigators say the Plumwood Terrace condos didn't stand a chance once they caught fire on Monday afternoon. The building did not have a sprinkler system.

“One of the things we always advocate for is fire sprinklers. One of the things we hear people say is, 'we don't want the damage from a fire sprinkler,'” says Urbandale Fire Chief Jerry Holt. “This is a great example that if this building had a fire sprinkler it would have been stopped. We might have water damaged only six or eight units.”

Three of the four buildings in the complex are without fire sprinklers, as they were built before the systems were required. The building that has fire sprinklers in place was re-built in 2007 after being destroyed by fire. Investigators believe Monday’s fire started in the attic, but due to the building’s roof collapsing they say it may be difficult to find the origin of the flames.

Despite subzero wind chills, crews were still tending to hot spots on Tuesday.

“It's a nightmare, it's the worst-case scenario. Your hose lines freeze up, trucks freeze up, spray freezes up, so the firefighters get wet and their coats freeze up. It's unimaginable this cold.”

The weather makes for added difficulty for departments across the metro, especially when it comes to what crews have to wear.

“We don’t want a lot of thick layering. Its intent is to protect us from a flash fire and some initial heat,” says Des Moines Fire Department spokesperson Brian O’Keefe.

O’Keefe says in a short period of time, firefighters' uniforms and gloves can quickly freeze, making movement and dexterity difficult. In freezing temperatures, crews often rotate taking breaks while fighting fires to prevent hypothermia from setting in.