AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 100 firefighters — around 40 percent of the entire Austin Fire Department force — responded to a fire on the ninth floor of a downtown high-rise Wednesday afternoon.
Most were turned around when they arrived once it became clear that the fire in the Perry Brooks Building at 720 Brazos St. didn’t need such a large response.
Dozens of people were forced to leave the building after firefighter found smoke, then fire several floors up from the street. Jennifer Lavallee, a witness, told KXAN she thought it was a drill when the fire alarms started going off.
“And we came out and there were 11 fire trucks and a battalion,” she said. “I knew I was fine. I knew I was safe. I knew they had it under control.”
Firefighters got the first call about an alarm going off at 1:15 p.m. When they arrived and found smoke, they elevated the response to a high rise alarm, which brought more resources to the scene and shut down roads around Eighth and Brazos streets.
The first crew of firefighters into the building also found flames on the ninth and tenth floors of the building, setting off a second high-rise alarm and triggering more than 100 firefighters and 20 trucks to respond.
“A little intense during the initial phases,” Palmer Buck, the Austin Fire Department division chief, said.
The first firefighters in were able to put out the fire; Buck said then the crews had to clear out smoke from three floors. Investigators said the fire started when a generator the maintenance staff was working on overheated.
It wasn’t clear how many people were told to leave, but 10 companies share the building, some with a few dozen workers.
“We just went through the office and made sure that everyone was clear that this was not a drill,” Spencer Stevens, office managing partner at the law firm Strasburger and Price, said. “And when we went into our conference tower area, you could definitely smell the smoke.”
High-rise fires require a different kind of game plan for the Austin firefighters who respond, Buck said. “With a high-rise building it’s not a quick fight,” he said. “It’s more of a campaign-type fight.”
“We’re adding high rise buildings in Austin on a daily basis. Our crews in the downtown area especially have gone through extensive extra training, and we have high rise policies specifically for how we attack these buildings,” Buck said.
No one was hurt in the fire, Buck said, and the damage is estimated around $10,000.