… well, evacuated their headquarters
America OnLine (AOL) set up their first headquarters in Tyson’s Corner’s, the closest thing to a central business district in an urban county that spreads to 499 square miles.
8619 Westwood Center Drive
A four story, 97,000 square foot, sprinklered office building at the end of a cul-de-sac. My first encounter with AOL was standing by on Engine 29 as a helicopter was positioning a huge auxillary generator at the rear of this building.
The generator was the size of a locomotive. Lifted from the front of the building to the rear. It supplemented an existing back-up generator that would normally be used by a community hospital.
It took a Sikorsky CH-54 “Sky Crane” helicopter to handle the generator.
Life in the Emerald City
Brand new Seagrave pumper and 100′ tiller were assigned to the Tyson fire station when it opened in December 1978.
They were replaced after six years of brutal workload that included responding to 20 to 35 alarm activations every day. Alerts came from the smoke, fire and waterflow monitors that covered 30 million square feet of office and retail space.
New occupancies were announced with a flurry of activated alarm responses, up to six a day, until the alarm system was sorted out. It would take weeks for some occupancies.
By time I got to Engine 29, the department was on its third program to control the false/faulty alarm problem. A “Faulty Alarm Ordinance” with a progressive series of sanctions was passed by the Board of Supervisors. Recurrent alarm system problems would compel a complete retest of the fire alarm/detection system by Fire Prevention at a price designed to encourage early correction of problems.
You cannot come in here
Some tenants do work for the federal government that require extraordinary security. The most extreme worked in buildings or floors where the fire department was completely denied access.
Fire-rescue emergencies were coordinated with the on-site security team. There were few response problems within the truly top-secret facilities.
Not so for many of the places posing as a secured facility.
Graveyard AOL Dogs
For whatever reason, the overnight security team at AOL rarely followed the activated alarm protocol developed by Station 29 and the building manager. They would reset the alarm before the fire department arrived and denied entry into the building.
When the events were rare and months apart, it was an irritation. We documented their actions and notified the building manager and fire prevention.
Now I was seeing them once every couple of weeks. They were still clearing the alarm before we arrived and not letting us in. Issued fire company level “Notice of Violation” report after every encounter and started a log for Fire Prevention.
In anticipation of a continuing problem, I dusted off my supervising fire marshal guide. Made sure I had copies of the county ordinance and state statute.
“Engine 29, we are getting notification of another alarm activation”
It was after 1 am. I do not remember if we were still on the scene or a couple of blocks away when dispatch notified us that they were getting another alarm activation at 8619 Westwood Center Drive. It was the sixth alarm activation in 14 days, second one since midnight.
The central monitoring station reported that it was a different alarm type/location than the one we just cleared. I requested the duty fire marshal and the balance of a first alarm assignment.
Informed the security supervisor that I believed there was a fire or dangerous situation in the building and was ordering an evacuation. Provided a copy of the ordinance and indicated that failure to immediately comply with this order will be handled as a charge of obstructive behavior by the county police.
Suggested that he may want to notify the building manager before I call him.
Dozens of unhappy technical staff were standing in the parking lot as the balance of the first alarm arrived.
Dirty smoke detectors were driving the increased alarm activity. The different type of alarm that triggered the evacuation was a trouble signal after a dirty detector shorted out.
The new graveyard shift security force supervisor had no problem following the activated alarm guidelines.
(I still could not log into AOL while sitting in the fire station a quarter-mile away – oh the days of dial-up service)
Mike “FossilMedic” Ward
Also on FireGeezer…
- Persistent Application of Effort: David Feiring – September 7, 2012
- Can Emergency Services Lean on a Manufacturing Model? – February 7, 2012
- The Most Important Man in our Department that you probably never heard of… – November 19, 2012
- “Long-nosing” … a practice lost to technology – January 22, 2013