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Past fires fuel diligence at Tinker

The 1984 blaze was initially sparked by a contract welder’s torch. It burned for nearly 50 hours before Tinker AFB firefighters and 23 other fire departments in the community extinguished.

The 1984 blaze was initially sparked by a contract welder’s torch. It burned for nearly 50 hours before Tinker AFB firefighters and 23 other fire departments in the community extinguished.

The Nov. 12, 1984 fire at Bldg. 3001 raged for several days before fire crews were able to extinguish it. It was Tinker Air Force Base’s largest fire and one of the worst in USAF history, costing $154 million in repairs.

The Nov. 12, 1984 fire at Bldg. 3001 raged for several days before fire crews were able to extinguish it. It was Tinker Air Force Base’s largest fire and one of the worst in USAF history, costing $154 million in repairs.

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

Nov. 12 marks the 34th anniversary of the fire that destroyed approximately 17 acres of roof on Bldg. 3001 at Tinker Air Force Base. It’s also a day that Tinker Lanes Bowling Center Manager Brett Moler said he’ll never forget.


The day of the fire, Moler was a golf cart attendant at Tinker AFB. Most of Team Tinker was off work due to Veterans Day.


A contract welder working on the roof of Bldg. 3001 sparked the fire at the north end of the enormous structure. It erupted between the heavily tarred roof to the insulation below. The blaze raged for nearly 50 hours, billowing an 80-foot plume of smoke at times.


“I saw helicopters scooping up and carrying water from Lake Stanley Draper and dumping it on the fire,” Moler said. “It was a difficult fire to fight and everyone was concerned the whole building would go down. I couldn’t believe it could put out that much of a plume of smoke.”


It took nearly 500 firefighters from Tinker AFB and surrounding communities to extinguish the fire. The clean-up and restoration involved three shifts working seven days a week until Bldg. 3001 was fully restored on Sept. 1, 1985.


Team Tinker demonstrated resilience, including an engine repair team at the building’s south end that worked for about two weeks after the fire and rebuilt a jet engine for an F-111 aircraft. It was the base’s largest fire and one of the worst in USAF history. It cost $154 million in repairs.


According to historical documents, an industrial fire also burned in Bldg. 3001 in 1976, caused by an electrical short in an office area and cost $1.2 million.


The most devastating fire in base history occurred nearly 72 years ago on Jan. 28, 1946, when the center of Tinker AFB’s Bldg. 230, an industrial building used during World War II, caught fire.


While most of the workers fled after the alarm sounded that morning at 9:31 a.m., 22 maintenance workers in the building’s soundproof war room, a closed classified area, weren’t aware of the fire until they noticed smoke coming in under the door.


Hampered by dense smoke, 12 workers felt their way out of the inferno to the second story windows and jumped to safety, but 10 people died and 38 were injured. Some injuries were sustained when workers rushed to pull the 13 B-29s away from their hangers.


The Air Force learned many tough lessons from those fires on base through the decades. Tinker AFB Fire Chief Terry Ford said the Air Force’s modernized fire-fighting capabilities and technological advances work hand-in-hand with improved fire codes, regular inspections and continuous training.


“Tinker AFB is properly equipped with superbly trained firefighters and inspectors at our four fire stations.” Ford said. “We’re more safety-conscious today. In terms of fighting fires, we’ve taken a strong proactive approach to protecting our firefighters.


“The systems installed in buildings are also better and we’ve taken advantage of technology through improved fire suppression agents and techniques that have greatly reduced the risk of fires in industrial areas.”


Tinker AFB Fire Department has robust annual fire inspections and the prevention branch as “pretty aggressive” when it comes to educating Team Tinker.

“We have the largest fire prevention program in the Air Force,” Ford said. “It is a relentless business. With our inspections, we like to say it is their job to put the firefighters out of business. However, that is not always the case, but when called to action, rest assured our firefighters are prepared.


“We’ve looked at different fire programs over the years. The 1984 fire was caused by a welder’s torch, since that era we’re a lot more aggressive out there in the shops, watching processes and coordinating with mission partners to make sure the workplace is safe — from a process standpoint to a facilities standpoint.”

Ford said there are systems now that alert people in closed classified areas when there’s an emergency.


“We work closely with our civil engineers and the design folks, and we are very careful about ensuring new construction and renovation projects have the proper alerting systems that include audible and visual alerting devices,” he said.


Ford said workers should practice the Wingman concept to make sure that they are looking out for one another. Workers should be mindful of co-workers with mobility issues and those that are hearing impaired and have a plan to take care of each other.


He said after the National Fire Protection Association made a case study of the 1984 fire, which was important because there were other Air Force facilities with similar roof structures. Tinker AFB also teamed with an engineering team from the University of Oklahoma to rebuild the facility. Today, every building on base is inspected at least once a year and the Child Development Centers are inspected twice.


You can’t eliminate all risk, but we sure do try. We’re aggressive in the process and prevention world and in coordinating when there is a process change; our folks go over and work with them to make sure what they’re doing is not contributing to a risk.”


He said today’s firefighting training and certification process are second to none.


“Our firefighters undergo rigorous physical and academic training, proficiency training, credentialing and certification,” Ford said. “Our firefighters are nationally certified under the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress. We have outstanding safety equipment and tremendous support from base leadership getting the training and the tools that we need.”


Ford has been an Air Force firefighter for 37 years and said the advancements in firefighter safety have greatly improved.

He urges Team Tinker to maintain good relationships with Tinker AFB’s fire prevention team inspectors.