“The Butter Fire” – Lessons Learned From Madison’s Biggest Blaze
May 3, 2016 marks a significant anniversary in the history of the Madison Fire Department.
It was on this day 25 years ago the Central Storage Warehouse on Cottage Grove Road went up in flames.
Those who lived in Madison at the time will never forget the events of that late afternoon. The fire itself progressed very rapidly and caused a collapse that sent millions of pounds of melted butter and food product into the street, approaching Starkweather Creek.
As firefighters battled the blaze in the days that followed, off-duty personnel were called in, mutual aid from surrounding fire departments was requested, and approximately 3,000 residents within a half-mile radius were evacuated as the fire threatened the facility’s anhydrous ammonia tanks.
The fire wasn’t officially declared “out” until May 11. It was the most significant fire and environmental hazard the city had seen.
What has happened in the last 25 years?
Preparation has been our biggest advancement. The City now has an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that's activated any time there’s a significant natural or human-made disaster.
When the EOC is activated, department heads from public safety and public works gather to better assist the lead agency with the issue. The EOC provides real-time resources to events to responders so they're best supported to provide services in the community.
Training is another area that’s seen a lot of change. The fire department is constantly exercising the response plan for large disasters. We work on coordinating the responses internally and with external partners, whether they are local, state, or federal partners.
The training that occurs every day at the station or company level incorporates large and small events. These daily practices keep the department on the cutting edge of tactical response.
The department has also made huge strides in keeping the community informed should tragedy ever strike a neighborhood again. We continually work to improve our communication within the organization and outwardly to the community by maximizing the use of social and legacy media.
Central Storage was the largest fire in the city’s history. My hope as Fire Chief is that it will always be the largest the department and city experiences.
If another, bigger event comes along someday, the community should rest assured that today’s department is ready to respond and minimize the detrimental impacts on the community.