Historic Florence Building Evacuates for Fire Drill - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Historic Florence Building Evacuates for Fire Drill

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MISSOULA -

About 100 people evacuated the historic Florence Building today as part of a building-wide drill to promote fire safety.

The Florence Building has burned down twice in its 125 years of existence -- once in 1913 and once again in 1936.

Fire officials were happy to report tenants were able to get out of the building through two exits in about three minutes.

They said knowing proper evacuation routes and other safety tips can help save lives, and keep history from repeating itself at the Florence Building.

Florence Building Superintendent Chris Sampson said employees who work at businesses located inside the Florence Building were notified a few weeks prior to the fire drill.

"You know most of the tenants in this building were all for it -- we're kind of a community in here, and you know we're all in this building a lot of times," Sampson said.

Sampson said the 100 or so employees exited the building swiftly and safely, but he did notice one mistake tenants need to learn from to stay safe in the event of a real fire.|

"The tenants need to make sure they know that you can't block open a fire door. Those doors are 20-minute doors -- it takes the fire 20 minutes to burn through them -- so when the door's propped open, we have no barrier between them and the fire," he said.

The Florence Hotel was originally constructed in 1888, and served as a rest stop for railway travelers, settlers, and even Theodore Roosevelt on one occasion.

The hotel first caught fire in 1913, and was rebuilt as a larger, 106-room hotel, which also burned down in 1936.

Monday's fire drill took place on the 72nd anniversary of the hotel's grand reopening back in 1941.

"In a fire situation, you won't be able to see your face, if that smoke's been banked down," Missoula City Fire Marshall Gordy Hughes said.

Hughes said early, organized evacuations from buildings have saved lives throughout history during real emergencies.

"It's very important to become familiar with your points of egress -- how you can get out expeditiously from the building," Hughes said.

Hughes said today's drill took about 30 minutes, and all tenants evacuated in just three, allowing six firemen to investigate the seven-story building.
"If we show up and everybody's out of the building, that's fabulous, you know, we can go to work if need be," Hughes said.

Sampson said today, the Florence Building has fire-resistant interior walls, heat sensors, smoke detectors and sprinklers.

He added, "But, the people are the one thing that we cannot control, so having these exercises is an excellent drill for everybody."

The Florence Building is home to more than 10 Missoula businesses and organizations.

Missoula City Fire officials encourage all businesses to practice evacuations of their buildings, and would be glad to assist in fire drills.

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