LOUDON, Tenn. (WATE) – When flames started rising out of the top of the Loudon Courthouse, most in the area got further away, keeping a safe distance from the fire that would eventually burn for hours. The group who ran toward the smoke and into the fire: Firefighters from the City of Loudon.
The first three responders arrived to the historic 147-year-old building within 2 minutes of being notified there was smoke coming out of the roof of the building. Already, temperatures inside were rising, flames peaking through.
“The first three guys on the scene on duty were probably by themselves for about 5 minutes. Those 5 minutes seem like an enternity when you’re waiting for more help to come,” said Mike Brubaker, Fire Chief for the City of Loudon Fire Department.
That wasn’t the most dangerous part, in fact, firefighters say it was the structural integrity that required them to retreat outside three times. It was too dangerous to continue working inside because the ceiling and floor potentially could give out at any time.
“The safety of the firefighers is always my top priority and when you’re sitting there looking at the structure trying to determine when is that time to bring them out because it’s unsafe. It’s an emotional time,” said Brubaker.
While firefighters retreated, water was still being sprayed on the fire from outside. In total, Brubaker says nearly 1 million gallons of water were used to stop the fire. That water, soaking the floor of the building, weakening the strength of the floors.
“As we go in we’re worried about structural stability. We’re sounding the floor in front of us, to make sure it won’t collapse… we’re worried about the weight of the water… the debris,” said Bryan Mcfalls, a firefighter with the City of Loudon.
Mcfalls said when he first arrived, 20 minutes after the first team began working to put out the fire, all he saw was smoke. Quickly, he said, it started to change — flames growing.
“Heavy smoke and flame. We had crews in that was knocking the flame down, but it would seem like it would continue to grow. Anything that we were trying to do to it, it wouldn’t go out,” said Bill Geames, a Captain for the City of Loudon Fire Department.
Gratitude and appreciation
The list of agencies that responded alongside the City of Loudon Fire Department is long. In total, 80 emergency personnel assisted the city’s fire department.
Those agencies include: Lenoir City Fire Department, Greenback Fire Department, Philadelphia Fire Department, Loudon County Fire & Rescue, Tellico Village Fire Department, Loudon Police Department, Loudon County Sheriffs Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Priority EMS, Loudon County 911, Loudon Utilities and Loudon County Emergency Management agency.
In a Facebook post shared just a day after the fire, Brubaker thanked the agencies that helped. He emphasized the community’s support was not only appreciated, but necessary for those responding to the fire.
To our great community of Loudon, Words alone can’t express my sincere thanks and appreciation to you all. Your constant support, thoughts and prayers meant more than you know. The outpouring of water, Gatorade, snacks, pizza, sandwiches and other goodies was continuous.
The gratitude continued after the day of fire, community restaurants provided food at the station for the firefighters. A gesture, they say, that isn’t going unnoticed.
“You can’t ask for a better community than we have right here,” said Geames.
Brubaker said he is proud of the work of all agencies that kept the structure standing. He said crews used “all the training they had” and “did the best they could” given the size and dangers of the fire within the building.