Acting South Milwaukee Fire Chief Joe Knitter has provided the following update on the Spirits Bar and Grill fire …
Among the news: The building suffered substantial structural damage, as well as damage from smoke and water, and the cause is right now undetermined (albeit with no reason to think it’s suspicious). A firefighter suffered a minor elbow injury fighting the blaze.
From Acting Chief Knitter:
South Milwaukee Police Dispatch rec’d a cellular 9-1-1 call from the cleaning help at the bar at 0339 hrs. reporting smoke and flames in a back storeroom. Upon arrival of the fire units, all occupants of the building were accounted for (2nd floor tenant self-evacuated out of the apartment) and heavy smoke was issuing from the bar entrance and store room entrance. Capt. Czajkowski was the Shift Officer and immediately upgraded the level of response to involve our mutual aid neighbors and initiated an interior attack on the fire.
Crews encountering the fire in the store room were held at bay by live electrical wires in the room that were arcing and blocking their ability to advance on the fire, however, they maintained their position and continued to extinguish the fire. Due to the age and construction of the building, the fire had the opportunity to spread through numerous false ceilings and void spaces and eventually spread to the floor joists between the 1st and 2nd floors and into the attic. Crews spent the next hour or so “chasing” these fires to make sure the fire was fully extinguished before we began to release companies from the scene. Adding more difficulty were at least three of the false ceilings and the original tin ceiling that was located directly below the floor joists between the 1st and 2nd floors. Crews had to pull this ceiling down to access fire above it.
Due to the nature of the establishment, I requested the help of the State Fire Marshall’s Office to assist with the investigation. As a result of their involvement, they dispatched an Agent from the ATF, as well. While investigating, we secured the video footage from the security cameras and had the ability to download the beginning of the fire. As of right now based on our findings, many interviews, and the video footage, our official area of origin is going to be the storeroom located on the east wall of the building. The cause is being classified as undetermined with no evidence of suspicious activity, however, an origin of electrical nature cannot be ruled out.
There is substantial structural damage to the building and smoke / water damage throughout. Thankfully, the aggressive interior attack by our crews contained the fire to the single building with no extension to the neighboring buildings, which has always been one of our concerns about Milwaukee Avenue. The Building Inspection and Health Departments were made aware of the fire and had representatives on the scene. I have learned of one minor injury (bruised elbow) to one of our members that did not require treatment.
Also, you can see some harrowing pictures of the fire on this website. The photos provide some perspective to the following additional note from Acting Chief Knitter, who said it could be have been so much worse:
Since I was hired, we have talked about fighting a fire in these buildings along Milwaukee Avenue and always prepared for a catastrophic outcome while maintaining our aggressive (but safe) mentality. Today . . . . . It paid off. This same fire has played out in many other cities across this state and other’s with worse results. Even the ATF and Fire Marshall Agents were impressed with the stop. SMFD continues to provide a very high caliber of service and maintains their stellar reputation amongst our colleagues. I have been answering e-mails, text messages, and phone calls throughout the evening from these colleagues offering their praise and asking for feedback. Nice job to all.
Nice job, indeed. Thank you to all of our South Milwaukee firefighters.