Dispute erupts after SLO fire burns The Sub

December 28, 2015

151226h3sFollowing a fire that destroyed The Sub and burned day and night Saturday, the business owner and the San Luis Obispo Fire Department are trading blame for the extent of the damage.

The Sub is a retail store and head shop located in the 200 block of Higuera Street. The fire destroyed 40 years of collectible graphics in the store, including 100,000 vinyls in the basement, co-owner Richard Ferris said. [Tribune]

Ferris told the Tribune he arrived at the scene 10 minutes after the fire started, and at the time, the fire was confined to the front box window. A single fireman with a hose could have put out the fire, but no firefighter would take a hose in the building and fight the fire, Ferris said.

The business owner also said firefighters ignored him when he tried to explain the interior of the building.

On Sunday, the fire department issued a press release giving its account of the blaze.

Fire officials say the blaze spread quickly because of the dense storage of highly flammable materials in the warehouse and the lack of fireblocking. Contemporary regulations require there be fireblocking materials materials in the walls, but the building was constructed before the the rules took effect.

The first fire unit arrived within three minutes of being dispatched, according to the news release. The fire was consuming the front of the retail area of the store, and flames were billowing out the front windows.Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 7.10.17 PM

Crews immediately began attacking the fire from the interior and cutting holes in the roof to help remove smoke and extreme heat, the news release states.

Stacks of highly combustible synthetic materials — as high as 18 feet — fueled the fire. Heavy heat and smoke triggered by the excessive fire load forced crews to leave the building, according to the fire department.

When additional crews entered, an opening in the firewall allowed the fire to reach the stacks of synthetic materials. the blaze surrounded the firefighters, and they had to retreat before tons of flaming debris cut off their exit, the press release states.

From that point on, firefighters battled the blaze exclusively from outside the building.

Fire personnel responded to the blaze at 10:50 a.m. At 8 p.m., smoke continued to billow from The Sub while firefighters from multiple agencies battled the blaze.

Firefighters worked overnight extinguishing flare ups, according to the fire department.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire. Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosive sound around the onset of the fire.


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60 Comments

  1. RememberWhen says:

    I suppose the sub is no longer selling Salvia

    (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
  2. Perspicacious says:

    mkaney, you are the single most annoying poster here. Your incessant whining against ANY emergency services gets really old. Especially since you try to make yourself sound like an expert on subjects you know nothing about.

    (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
    • mkaney says:

      Calling me the single most annoying poster here, considering that I don’t post that often and how annoying some of these posters are, leads me to believe that you have a personal interest in this topic and that my statements were too accurate for you to deal. What is your problem that you have to attack someone personally for expressing an opinion about a tax funded service?

      I would not say that I know NOTHING about firefighting, but my knowledge is definitely limited. I would imagine that the San Francisco Fire Department knows a little something about fighting fires though, and according to their ventilation policy and procedure manual:

      Chapter 3 VENTILATION
      “A hose line should be considered when conducting extensive roof
      operations. *****This hose line shall not be used from an aerial ladder.**** An
      important use for this line is the protection and maintenance of a roof
      escape route. It can also be used to protect exposures or control fire that
      is burning on the surface of the roof.

      ***Do not place any hose streams into ventilation openingsU. To do so will
      not only prevent products of combustion from exiting the building, it will
      push superheated gases and steam back onto firefighters and occupants***

      The asterisks were added by me, to denote that this is EXACTLY what our fire department did on that building. So, hopefully the moderators will excuse me when I say that unless you have something meaningful to contribute to the discussion, STFU. And moderator, I have no objection to letting his personal attack stand, because I believe it accurately reflects the attitude of the public safety community.

      (-3) 3 Total Votes - 0 up - 3 down
  3. Cosmic69 says:

    I’ve seen this “warehouse” first hand. It was completely unsafe and hazardous. Multiple people were injured on the job there.
    The running joke among st the managers was that the fire Marshall did see the building and they were warned countless times and refused to fix it. Im under the impression they may have payed fines regularly.
    They had done several remodels in the building including knocking out the basement wall between the sun and warehouse to expand the sub’s basement.
    You can see how advanced the fire was before they got there and Richard is a man with a huge mouth who will yell at you until the cows come home. Him trying to boss them around was probably slowing them down.
    That place was not safe at all and that family knew about it. They chose to sit and laugh about it. You don’t even want to know how horrible the conditions of that warehouse were.

    (22) 26 Total Votes - 24 up - 2 down
    • rferris says:

      Cosmic69 is not a very accurate or sincere person. To have seen this warehouse first hand and for it to be a joke among “managers” means cosmic69 is connected to SLOFD.

      We have had inspections for the last 40 years and have NEVER been warned about anything,
      We have passed all fire inspections , usually with out a correction. This is public record if you wish to ask.

      The basement / poster room at the Sub is connected to the main Sub and the beaded curtain room by a ramp that was installed when the basement was built (1905).

      The fire was only in the front window boxes ( 24″ into the shop ) when they arrived. It only burned above the front window boxes for the next 30 minutes. This was when the fire should have been fought!

      We were very PROUD of our building, we had just completed a complete earth quake upgrade and it was not only safe it was very safe. Our work comp history as a firm shows only 1 serious injury in the last decades. We have the lowest work comp rate an employer can earn.
      We lived a good portion of our lives in that warehouse and where does cosmic69 get off denigrating and insulting the victims of the fire because they rightfully claim that they were victims.
      Does cosmic get anything correct, sadly NO

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  4. r0y says:

    I am torn on this one. On the one hand, I liked the Sub, my kids loved it, and I hope it comes back! We even have gift certificates for it! (we’ll probably use them at Capt. Nemo / Cheap Thrills).

    I also think our Fire Dept. is over-funded and wasteful; though I do understand we need a fire dept., etc.

    Finally, the Sub *was* literally a fire hazard. I’m sorry, but it was. Does that make the Fire Department’s handling of this incident any less suspicious? Maybe not. Would *I* rush in, knowing what was in there? Probably not, but I would have done my damnedest to put it out ASAP! We’re talking a local treasure here!

    This is a very unfortunate even for both The Sub and the SLO FD.

    (-8) 22 Total Votes - 7 up - 15 down
    • rferris says:

      What literally makes the Sub a fire hazard???? It was a large retail display area. No storage, no flammables (except regular merchandise on display, nothing stacked or piled. Take the google tour and then please explain what makes the Sub a fire hazard.
      It was a retail store with unique features that make for easy fire fighting
      – All undersides of roofs exposed
      – A 44 inch gap on top of the wall separating the front portion of the shop from the main room. A firefighter who went 10 feet into the Sub main room could have turned and put water on the front of the shop where it was burning with out going into the portion of the Sub that was on fire
      -The merchandise in the front room that was on fire was NON-Flammable….all glass and ceramic with out packaging
      -The louver at the peak of the front room on fire did not close…this resulted in the fire venting out this opening. The venting created the ideal circumstances to fight the fire…no heavy smoke in main room, no unburnt products of combustion that could cause flash over.

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  5. Pelican1 says:

    I was of the understanding that either the Fire Marshall or the local fire departments inspect businesses on a regular basis to help ensure that things like improper storage, hoarding, etc. are adequately addressed to prevent such situations.

    (10) 12 Total Votes - 11 up - 1 down
    • BeenThereDoneThat says:

      Interesting point. I have had two customers up in North County get called out recently for fire inspection problems at businesses. Would be interesting if any report on file or if anyone has been there, did they make recommendations and if they did, where they corrected.

      These are the type of legitimate questions in my book, by Pelican. No accusations. Just asking good questions, without putting blame on any one party.

      (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
    • kettle says:

      I work in a SLO wholesale business, every 1-2 years we get inspected. Most inspections they count the extinguishers, walk around the front of the business and most always (6 out of 7) they do not open doors and/or look in the back (we have multiple warehouses and storage)

      When binding arbitration was being debated/voted on, my boss signed a public statement not supporting the prop #? for binding arbitration. Our next inspection they opened every door, hatch or access, measured height of all stock to the ceiling (made us lower tall piles) and made us patch every hole in all of the walls and ceilings ( 70 year old building) and every hole in all of the conduit boxes and switches.

      They made 7-8 trips over 6 weeks until they were satisfied we had patched every hole.

      Every inspection after that has been a 5 min thing where the probie looks around and the officer chats me up. ” adequately addressed” No.

      To be clear this was under a previous Fire Chief.

      If the Sub had had a real fire inspection, like we did years ago?

      (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
  6. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    I put this link to the following for all the…………let me tell you what I know that the firefighters did wrong crowd………It is a distributed manual on firefighting I found online. It is interesting. As just one example, right after the link below is a paragraph from it that I copied. Notice the difference in fires over the years. I challenge the naysayers to read this then comment. Also notice there comment about plastics. Hmm now what is it that records are made of…………oh yea plastics.

    http://safetyandhealthweek.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Safety_ROE_Lesson_Plans.pdf

    Today’s Fires Are Not What Our Fathers Fought
    Underwriters Laboratory (UL) recently conducted research regarding the difference between
    residential homes of the past (legacy homes) and those of today. The research efforts initial goal was to determine the affects of ventilation in modern residential structures. But the research also found that fires develop much faster with today’s residential structure (with more
    plastic contents).
    The research involved 15 experiments. A lit candle was placed on a sofa in a room in both types
    of residential homes. The fire in the legacy home took 29 minutes and 25 seconds to reach
    flash over. Where as in the modern home, flash over occurred in just 3 minutes and 40 seconds!

    (9) 15 Total Votes - 12 up - 3 down
    • mkaney says:

      NO ONE is disputing these safety issues! This is merely a convenient way to deflect the criticism from valid points that are being made and questions that are being asked. Furthermore, it does not address the fact that the press release contains false statements.

      – Firefighters did not enter into the interior of the building.
      – The building was not surrounded with water being sprayed in from all sides. For a long time, no water was even being sprayed on the fire.
      – They refused to enter the interior of the back building in order to prevent the spread of the fire into that building through the firewall breeches
      – They were using mostly the smaller 2.5″ hoses instead of the larger hoses
      – Once the basement and back building were on fire, it became a chemical fire so why were they continuing to use water on it?
      – Why didn’t they use foam earlier in the firefight?

      Stop deflecting and trying to insult people who have legitimate concerns!

      (3) 43 Total Votes - 23 up - 20 down
      • BeenThereDoneThat says:

        The concerns I hear are the firefighters didn’t go in. I keep hearing, why, why, why. Well here is a possible reason. Did you read any of the link?

        (1) 9 Total Votes - 5 up - 4 down
        • mkaney says:

          Yes I read a lot of it, except I only read one or two of the real life examples for each section so I could read as much of the actual technical information as possible. I appreciate you posting that information. And I was a little bit overly defensive when i implied you were insulting, because you were not. I’m just a bit trigger happy so to speak because the public safety community has been vicious in their online community responses to questions about how this fire was fought.

          And now after reading reports about the fire department press release I am even more concerned because they have made statements which I know for a fact to be false or misleading, as if they wrote the press release with a best practices manual on hand to cover their butts.

          (3) 11 Total Votes - 7 up - 4 down
          • BeenThereDoneThat says:

            There may be something here, there may not. My point has been that I haven’t seen yet a lot of proof as to wrong handling of the situation by the fire dept. Yes they didn’t go in, yes they didn’t go to the back but I’m not sure if that was ignoring or if they are/were following a set guideline. That (guideline) is the first question to me that should be asked if someone has a problem and not put the fire dept on the defensive. Like you said you feel defensive so how do you think they feel.

            I think cooler heads should prevail and let’s all look at this objectively.

            The thing I think is most disconcerting is the owner running around stirring people up. I understand that he is going to be upset watching his whole life go up in flames but in his emotional state, should we all be basing our assumptions on what he said? So far I find the majority saying it was done right and the owner being about the only one saying otherwise. He is (understandable) going to have a bias view. I would like to see a report by a third party, not local and then I will jump on whoever if it warrants. I could make a case that maybe the owner did wrong from things I’ve read but just like the fire dept, there isn’t enough information yet to base an opinion on.

            (4) 6 Total Votes - 5 up - 1 down
            • slolusion says:

              The building goes up, and no one is hurt. For most “normal” people that is success.

              In SLO, and California your results may vary. Strange place you have here.

              (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  7. smiley says:

    Those vinyls burn like gasoline.

    (14) 18 Total Votes - 16 up - 2 down
    • rferris says:

      Totally not true. Vinyl will burn if you hold a flame under it. It burns poorly. No vinyl in the SDRS main building burned. If you doubt this take an LP record and try to burn it without a constant fire going under the vinyl.
      Why state something that is so untrue and easy to confirm as false???

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  8. mkaney says:

    Can someone please provide me with a link to the fire department’s press release or a copy of it?

    (-4) 8 Total Votes - 2 up - 6 down
  9. mkaney says:

    The fire department’s statement does not even make sense. First of all, at no time did I witness firefighters attempt to fight the fire on the interior of the building. When they arrived, they cut a hole in the roof and then began a “surround and drown.” However, they only had 3 or 4 hoses going and they were all shooting water onto the roof. No one was spraying water in the interior, nor into the interior through the windows or openings on either the side nor the back of the building. They also seem to be jumbling together the timeline with the fuel load involved. The massive fuel load was in the basement and warehouse, which did not catch fire until almost 1.5-2 hours after the fire started.

    I took a photo at 12:20pm, in which there was only a moderate amount of white smoke/steam, coming from the front building. Richard had already made them aware that there was a breech in the firewall, and yet at this time the gate to the back of the building remained closed and the firefighters were making NO attempt whatsoever to prevent the spread of the fire to the back of the building. Not only were they not making entry, but they were still only putting water on the ROOF of the front building from the ladder truck. They were putting NO WATER WHATSOEVER through the side windows or through the back of the building. (front building)

    They would not listen to Richard, and continued to do nothing differently until suddenly at 12:45 pm you could see the fire quickly move from the front of the building to the back, and black smoke began pouring out the windows. On the back of the building there is a gate, a large door, and a dock. These were not opened nor were any holes cut for water to flow in even if they had been running a hose there. It was not until around 1:00pm that a truck arrived from another city and then THEY finally started to shoot water from ground level into the side windows onto the fire itself. By then it was too late, all hell broke loose.

    One of the issues the fire officials keep referencing is safety. But I think that preventing thousands of pounds of toxic materials from catching fire is ALSO a safety concern, and possibly worth taking a risk for. But all risk issues aside, their actions on the exterior di not appear to make a whole lot of sense either,.

    (4) 58 Total Votes - 31 up - 27 down
    • joseywales says:

      the checks just keep coming regardless, and they arent small checks at that.

      (4) 22 Total Votes - 13 up - 9 down
    • SamLouis says:

      “…The massive fuel load was in the basement and warehouse, which did not catch fire until almost 1.5-2 hours after the fire started…”

      If that’s truly the case then the SLOFD needs to be held accountable. Not the rank-and-file smoke eaters but those in control.

      (6) 12 Total Votes - 9 up - 3 down
      • rferris says:

        There was no massive fire load. The most dangerous products stored at SDRS were cardboard boxes. If having cardboard boxes in your business is a reason not to fight the fire, SDRS is guilty,….but none of what SLO FD says are reasons not to fight the fire in SDRS have anything to do with the SUB……Yet items and circumstances alleged about SDRS are given as reasons not to fight the fire in the Sub.
        SLO FD talks a lot about the middle 40 foot of SDRS as if it was the entire 120 foot building…..they all speak the same inaccurate rhetoric as if they coordinated their stories.
        No other parts of SDRS is ever mentioned by any fire fighter….only this one section….and yet every firefighter fails to mention the floor to ceiling 2 hour fire wall that separates the middle portion from the back of the building. No firefighter describes the “L” wing of SDRS where the fire first came into SDRS.
        The basement was not involved in the fire and had an extremely low fire load.

        TRULY, It is not the rank and file that is the problem, it is a leadership crisis in that they have redefined their job to the extent that they no longer serve the community as much as they serve them selves. Any two rank and file fighters with a 1 3/4″ hose could have easily and safely put out the fire burning above the window box at the beginning of the fire if they had been allowed to.

        (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down

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