This month we took some time out for expressions of gratitude. One of the highlights? A very special visit to the Manhattan Fire Department Headquarters.
On November 16, a group of K-State Libraries employees met at Station 1 on the corner of Denison and Kimball. We were greeted by Battalion Chief Jason Hudson and his team. Hudson, who was a K-State freshman during Hale Library’s construction, was in charge of the scene on May 22.
Hudson started off echoing what many of us thought on the day the MFD responded to the fire: “We’re there all the time. How could it be that bad?”
“So I get out of my vehicle and I talked to some folks that are outside already, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, there’s some smoke on the fourth floor.’ I was thinking cooking smoke, or something like that.
“I was walking … between Willard and Hale on the north side of the building … and I could smell it. You can’t mistake that smell. I look up and I see just a little wisp come off the roof, and then … I had a driver come up Mid Campus Drive from the south and he said ‘Hey, there’s smoke on this side of the building.’
“And I said, ‘Oh. We have a big fire.’ I actually thought the roof was going to come off the building. In fact, I moved trucks back thinking that the roof was going to burn off. That was my first impression of it.
“I actually ended up going inside with my crews and I couldn’t believe… It was almost like, ‘This building’s taken a kill shot.’ I knew it immediately when there was zero visibility… we were fortunate that everybody made it out of there when they did, because it could have been bad. Had anyone stayed in that building thinking it was nothing they would have been overcome by smoke ….
Hudson also talked about challenges the building presented.
“[T]ypically we don’t like to be on top of fire. We’d rather be under it, pull the ceiling down and then putting water on. [In Hale Library] you can’t! There’s concrete [between the floors]. We spent a lot of time trying to pull ceiling, and we couldn’t do it, so we had to get on top of it and go down.
“[The sprinkler system] saved the building. It did a lot of water damage, but there wouldn’t be a roof on that building … It could have been like Nichols Hall, back in the ’60s when it burned and all that was left was a shell. I mean, it could have done something similar to that.”
We also spoke with Captain Dan Newton, who is currently with Station 4 by the Manhattan Regional Airport. He started out his career at Station 2, which covers Hale Library. So like Chief Hudson, when Captain Newton heard that there was smoke in the building at Hale, he said his first thought was, “Just another burnt bagel.”
Initially his crew didn’t go … but when they started getting radio traffic that smoke was coming from the eaves, they came to the scene. After an assignment clearing the Great Room, they went to the roof.
“[W]e did multiple revolutions on the roof, which was the best place to be. We spent several revolutions cutting holes, using special nozzles that you can stick in a hole and get water to confined spaces. It was a very tough operation. It’s always a great team-building experience when you have something big like that.
“I can just remember my whole entire crew cramping up … and getting to that point where knowing okay, we’ve pushed to our limit here … and you know so we did that multiple times, not just once ….
“It was a really, really hot day. And for me it was good to see my guys kind of step up. I had a very new firefighter getting to see him push through limits he didn’t know he had, and a very young driver that hadn’t been a decision-maker on scene but came up with the idea to use the special nozzle to put out the fire. So getting to see these guys grow and learn right there right in the middle of the scene isn’t something you always get to do.”
We don’t always get to hear about the fire from those who experienced it first-hand, so we’d like to extend a huge thank you to Chief Hudson and Captain Newton. Thanks, too, go out to Captain Micah Hydeman and Captain Lou Kaylor, as well as Scott Helberg, Nick Clark, A.J. Mueller, Lawilson Horne and the rest of the crew.
Thanksgiving, November 22, marks six months since the Hale Library fire, so it’s a fitting time to give thanks for the MFD and all of the other emergency personnel who were there that day, including the crews from Fort Riley, Blue Township, Riley County EMS and more.
We’re deeply grateful for these and for all first responders this holiday season, and we’re wishing them health and safety today and always!
Photos of the May 22 Hale Library fire courtesy K-State University Photo Services.