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CRFD Plan for Bigger Blazes

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - The historic Younkers building in downtown Des Moines caught fire early Saturday morning. Huge parts of the building collapsed into the streets as firefighters worked to put out the flames. The investigation into what caused the three alarm blaze has many people wondering about structures in our area.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department says over the past three years they have re-focused on high rise strategies, even bringing in experts to teach firefighters how to fight the fires.

Their message to their firefighters - just because it doesn't happen often, doesn't mean it won't happen at all.

"It's interesting, it's a whole other animal," says CRFD firefighter Matt Weldin.

Assistant fire chief Greg Smith says high rises come with their own set of problems.

"When you have an open floor, the fire builds that much quicker, which takes that much more water to extinguish," Smith says.

Weldin knows that very well. He has responded to high rise fires before in his career. He recalls a specific one he fought on the east cost.

"I went to one out there, 7th story," Wedin says. "It was a retirement community."

Weldin says taller buildings like that one require a little extra - extra training, extra strategy, and extra equipment.

They also practice search and rescue techniques, in case a situation calls for it. Weldin demonstrated a tethering technique from their 'Chicago Bag', one of the tool kits they use in major emergencies. 

"We can search two adjacent rooms, and I know I can stay in contact with him" Weldon said, as he demonstrated the technique with Smith.

The Younkers building is Des Moines was more than 100 years old. While we have yet to find out if age is a factor, Smith says it's not the only factor.

"If you live in an older structure, it's not necessarily any more or less safe than a brand new structure," Smith said.

He says it comes down to building owners staying up to code, practicing proper use of fire doors to contain fires, and making sure sprinklers are in working order, so firefighters have a head start when they arrive.

Smith says 21 Urban Search and Rescue Members from Eastern Iowa were sent out to Des Moines. They're hoping to help investigators figure out what caused the fire.
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