Jerusalem fire highlights rescue problems

Firefighterswill be on high alert for Lag Ba’omer, when it is customary to celebrate the holiday around bonfires.

FIREFIGHTER stands outside an apartment building fire (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
FIREFIGHTER stands outside an apartment building fire
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A fire in a Jerusalem apartment building Sunday afternoon ended without casualties but highlighted the problems facing rescue teams in the capital.
The fire started around 5 p.m in an apartment on Jaffa Road near the entrance to the city. The first on the scene were police and security forces who had been called to an incident on the Jerusalem Light Rail, which runs across the road from the building.
An eyewitness, who gave his name as Ya’acov, said he accompanied the police as they rushed to the building when they noticed the flames from the balcony on the top floor of the 12-story building. Due to the code-operated entrance lock, the police could not immediately enter the apartment building and first had to break the door using the butts of their guns.
Once inside, according to Ya’acov, they raced up to the top floor where they found three older women, an approximately eight-year-old boy “and even a pet bird which we rescued” in the smoke-filled apartment. They then went from door to door, checking that nobody was left inside the building. Ya’acov said they tried to break into an apartment where they heard a dog barking but were unable to get inside.
As they came down the stairs, they heard the sound of glass shattering due to the heat. Other eyewitnesses who work in nearby stores also heard the glass splinter.
Fire engines arrived swiftly on the scene but the first few trucks seemed unable to reach the height at which the fire broke out. A ladder raised by one of the many trucks stretched up about half the height of the building before being retracted.
After a few more minutes, a fire engine with a ladder managed to reach the top floor of the building. Its pipe was initially directed at the adjacent Mevo Yerushaliyim building but was soon adjusted onto the balcony from where smoke was still billowing.
All the while, a large crowd gathered outside the building including local residents, staff in nearby workplaces, tourists and people on their way to and from the nearby Central Bus Station, some thinking it was a movie being filmed and others thinking it might be an emergency drill.
The light rail continued operating while firefighters tackled the blaze, but one rescue worker admitted to The Jerusalem Post that had the fire been on the same side as the light rail tracks, the overhead cables would have severely hampered their work.
According to the rescue worker, in such a situation they would have been unable to raise any ladders without cutting off electricity to the entire area, which would have stopped the trains and all the traffic lights at the major junctions on that stretch of Jaffa Road.
Residents were able to return to their apartments immediately after firefighters had the fire under control around 6 p.m.
Fire and Rescue Services have opened an investigation into the cause of the fire.
Firefighters throughout the country will be on high alert for the Lag Ba’omer festival later this week, when it is customary to celebrate the holiday around bonfires.
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.