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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Seven months and seven days after his department was unable to save the Burger King restaurant on base from burning down, Chief Master Sgt. David Donan said Friday that he’s confident a similar incident won’t happen again.

That’s good news for parents, who are just a few weeks from sending their children back to the school that’s located on the same base. And for those undergoing procedures at the nearby medical clinic.

“I’ve had a long time to go back and consider everything,” said Donan, the base fire chief at Aviano. “I cannot think of anything from the firefighting operation that I would have done differently.”

No one has publicly laid any blame on the fire department for being unable to put out the fire until all that remained of the structure was smoking embers. Firefighters responded to the blaze quickly and started to apply water. They couldn’t fully operate the jets on two trucks at the same time, however, because they didn’t have enough water pressure. So it took about four hours for the fire to be put out.

Donan said part of the problem was that pumps weren’t working because electricity had mistakenly been shut down on the base. That power outage either contributed to or caused the fire, according to a page released from the safety investigation. The other problem was a system of old pipes that simply couldn’t supply enough water.

The majority of the safety investigation won’t be released to the public, so it’s not known if there were recommendations for changes or if any such changes have been made.

Donan, who hasn’t seen the safety report himself, said the situation should improve soon when a new water station opens nearby on Area 2. That station will supply a greater amount of water (1,100 gallons per minute) at stronger pressure to pipes that have already been laid. It also has backup generators in case power fails.

“Yeah, we wish the new system was already on line,” Donan said, referring to delays in opening the water station. It was supposed to open during the summer, but like many projects in the Aviano 2000 construction program, it fell behind schedule.

Still, recent tests have shown a gallons-per-minute rate of 990 on the existing system. That’s enough to meet firefighting needs, Donan said: “It’s not bad for an older system.”

He said newer construction — like that used in building the school, medical center and other new buildings around base — is flame resistant and has multiple systems designed to help put fires out.

That wasn’t the case with the Burger King building, which was built in 1986.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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