30 years later: Retired Philly firefighter recalls moments before One Meridian Plaza blaze

Walter Perez Image
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Retired Philly firefighter recalls moments before One Meridian Plaza blaze
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A retired firefighter is recalling the moments before the worst high-rise fire in Philadelphia history.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- February 23, 1991, is a day retired firefighter Jack Bloomer will never forget.

"We were just sitting around having dinner and after we had dinner we were shooting pool when the alarm came in," he remembers.

That alarm was in response to what developed into the worst high-rise fire in Philadelphia history.

Engine 11 quickly arrived to find flames shooting from the 22nd floor of One Meridian Plaza near City Hall.

Bloomer was put in charge of the engine that day, so firefighters Phyllis McAllister and James Chappell ran in with Captain David Holcombe leading the way.

SEE ALSO: 30 years ago: 3 Philadelphia firefighters killed in One Meridian Plaza fire

It was the last time Bloomer would see his colleagues and friends alive.

"Sometimes it seems like it was yesterday, and other days, you know, It's constantly something you think about," Bloomer says on the 30 year anniversary of the fire.

Brian Anderson, the curator of the Fireman's Hall Museum in Philadelphia, says it's hard to imagine what those three men encountered as they approached the 22nd floor when you consider that the owners of the building had not yet equipped every floor with a sprinkler system. It's something that was not mandated until years after the building was constructed.

"There were no sprinklers on those floors except on the 30th floor. So, firefighters had to both fight underneath the fire as well as go above the fire," said Anderson.

Investigators later traced the fire back to rags soaked in linseed oil that workers left behind after a day of refinishing some woodwork. The oil apparently oxidized and generated enough heat to ignite.

The result was a catastrophic fire that burned for 19 hours.

Now, Bloomer says the memory of the men who died that day serves as a constant reminder of the uncommon courage it takes to leave for work every day not knowing if you'll come back home.

"You always hope to come home and, you know, we say goodbye to our families because you never know if it'll be the last," he says.

The Meridian was completely dismantled in 1999 and replaced with what is now the Residences at the Ritz Carlton.

Outside that building stands a permanent memorial honoring the memory of firefighters Phyllis McAllister, James Chapell and Captain David Holcombe.