Fire safety in Northeast Wisconsin’s high-rise buildings

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Looking at the Green Bay skyline, not many high-rise buildings are in view. But, in the event of an emergency, responders have to be ready for the few taller buildings in Northeast Wisconsin.

That was the case last week, after a 10-story apartment building caught fire in Green Bay’s downtown.

It happened at about 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday July 24, at the Monroe Plaza Apartments. As the building houses mainly people who are disabled or elderly, not everyone was able to evacuate the fire.

Last week, Action 2 News ran a story on safety tips for people who are elderly or disabled, in the event of a fire. After that, our station received calls from concerned Monroe Plaza tenants, worrying that the apartment complex is too tall – and that fire engine’s ladders cannot reach the top floor.

Action 2 News reached out to the Green Bay Metro Fire Department, which handled the fire, but responders were unable to comment. The nearby City of De Pere Fire Department explained how first responders handle a high-rise fire.

“Any time that you go into that type of a situation, that type of a fire, then we have to consider alternatives. And that's what we call ‘high rise operation,’ says Assistant Chief Rich Annen, City of De Pere Fire Department.

Firefighters say technically any building taller than three stories is considered high rise. Because Monroe Plaza is ten stories tall, firefighters started what they call “high rise operations,” calling in twice as many fire trucks as usual.

And while fire ladders can ideally reach six floors high, there are many factors that go into that length.

“You also have to take into consideration the obstructions. Trees, power lines, things on that order. They all come into play when you're talking about that operation,” Assistant Chief Annen tells Action 2 News.

That’s why firefighters plan other ways to evacuate people safely, if their ladders can’t reach high enough.

Last week, firefighters with the Green Bay Metro Fire Department told Action 2 News, many Monroe Plaza tenants were told to stay put, instead of risking their lives to get out.

“You can do what we call 'protect in place,'” Assistant Chief Annen explains. “And that's basically just close your doors, close your windows, don't allow any of the smoke to come in. Don't allow any of the fire to come in.”

If you are able to evacuate in the event of a fire, firefighters remind us the importance of using the stairs.

Last week’s fire at Monroe Plaza caused $75,000 worth of damage. The fire stated in a dumpster next to the building. The Green Bay Police Department is still investigating who or what may have started the fire.