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Fire industry expert weighs in on Plainfield Walmart warehouse fire

13News talked with a veteran firefighter for some perspective on the initial response to the massive blaze.

PLAINFIELD, Ind. — There are questions about part of the response to a massive Walmart warehouse fire.

Plainfield's fire chief confirmed Friday firefighters turned off part of the sprinkler system after arriving inside.

Most of the building's suppression system stayed on, but water was turned off in the specific area where the fire was burning.

13News talked with a veteran firefighter for some perspective on the initial response to the fire.

“Something went drastically wrong,” said Marc Bashoor, a retired fire chief and public safety director. He listened to the radio traffic between fire crews from Wednesday’s fire in Plainfield and looks at video of an inferno in a building the size of 21 football fields.  

“Let’s be honest, I wasn’t there, so me commenting on this is about what I hear on the radio and about what I know,” Bashoor said. 

After 40 years on fire departments across the country and now as executive editor for FireRescue1.com, a website for fire industry professionals, Bashoor says there are lessons every fire department can take away.  

“1.2 million square feet, fully-sprinkled buildings don’t normally burn down, so we need to figure out what happened,” he said.

In an article on FireRescue.com, Bashoor outlined some of his takeaways after analyzing more than two hours of radio traffic between fire crews on scene. 

“Engine 121, be advised we have zero visibility inside,” you hear from the radio traffic, found on Broadcastify.com. Then, a short time later in that same radio traffic you hear “We’re under control.  We need to get the doors opened up and start the ventilation process.” 

RELATED: Officials say fire now out, as ATF begins on-site investigation into Plainfield warehouse fire

“They really couldn’t see what was going on, so I am sure there’s going to be an analytical look at how that determination was made, that the fire was under control,” Bashoor said, then raising questions about the call to open up the doors.  

“That feeds oxygen to a potential fire if there is still one,” Bashoor said. 

Then this can be heard: “We’re going to need to shut down the riser that controls the sprinkler heads in the section we’re working off of.” 

RELATED: Firefighters turned off part of sprinkler system at Plainfield Walmart fulfillment center

“What shutting it off tells me is they believe they have it under control and they no longer need these sprinklers to continue flowing water,” Bashoor said. 

Combine that call with the one to open the doors: “If you shut down the sprinkler system and you introduce this air intake, and if the fire was still in a smoldering state, you just created a recipe for disaster and unfortunately that looks like it may have played out,” Bashoor said, adding that only a thorough investigation will determine what really happened. 

“There were a lot of folks that were extremely fortunate that they walked away alive, both occupants of the building and firefighters,” said Bashoor.

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