01/29/10 508 W, 1 I - + 15 - 12 The Mangel Fire, 1981 - The Rescue, The Photo

For your Friday enjoyment, here's the first in a number of memories and stories about the Mangel Building fire of a couple decades ago...

Firefighter clinging to a bucket at a fire scene in Raleigh, North Carolina. That's the famous photo taken at the Mangel Building fire on July 7, 1981. The blaze was one of the biggest in downtown Raleigh in decades. The photograph became one of the most popular action photo of the Raleigh Fire Department.

Raleigh Times photographer Seny Norasingh captured the dramatic image of R. D. Perry clinging to the bucket of Truck 1. As the story goes, the the platform was raised when flames exploded from the roof. Perry instinctively jumped, but was grabbed by T. J. Lester before he could fall. As the tower was rotated and then lowered, recounted the newspaper, the unmanned master stream sprayed in an arc and sent spectators on the mall scrambling for shelter. Click to enlarge:

Seny Norasingh/Raleigh Times Photo

Norasingh's photo was transmitted on national news wires, and the picture appeared in newspapers nationwide. The city subsequently received notes from other fire departments that saw the image. The photograph became very well-known within the fire department, though the details of the rescue have been less well-preserved.

Some tell the story as heavy smoke sending Perry out of the bucket, while others say fire. The truth is a combination of both. Let's turn our clocks back to that Tuesday morning. The time is probably around noon, or a bit before. Truck 1 is operating a 1977 Mack/Baker Aerialscope, and is positioned in the parking lot beside the Mangel Building. There's a crack developing in the building's facade, on the side facing the Fayetteville Street pedestrian mall. Truck 1 will be moved to Salisbury Street, as the collapse danger increases.

Two firefighters have already been in the bucket, and were sent to the hospital with smoke inhalation1. They were replaced by Firefighters Perry and Lester. While airborne and over the fire, nearby refrigerant lines ruptured on an air conditioning unit. The escaping Freon gas became heated, and produced Phosgene gas. This effects of this acrid and deadly gas-- most famously used as chemical warfare in World War I-- were felt in the bucket. But as they attempted to move the bucket using with their controls, the controls didn't respond. At the turntable, the driver/operator had inadvertently depressed a pedal that overrode the bucket controls.

The effects of the gas compelled Perry to jump, and who was caught by Lester, and who were both caught on camera2. The bucket was lowered, the truck was repositioned, and both the photo and the fire became a part of Raleigh Fire Department history.

1The Aerialscope was equipped with air masks that connected to connections in the bucket. They were not used that day, as was the case on the ground. Those who worked the fire remember few if any breathing apparatus utilized that day. And which was the case at many fires during those years.

He was only about 8’-10’ off the ground in the photo.
A.C. Rich - 01/31/10 - 14:37

Yes! Look to the bottom left and you’ll see the stabilizer. The boom is also fully retracted.
Legeros - 01/31/10 - 14:38

I’m the police Mike Murray, was getting out of court and came up the mall. I was standing on the mall when the wall fell, and the real deal was the fireman at the top of the fully extended ladder truck. As the wall fell, he dropped everything, held on as the ladder swung to the north towards the Capitol. I got soaked during the swing, He was a lucky fireman to have survived.
He was the hero of the day in my opinion.
Mike Murray (Email) - 04/23/12 - 22:36

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