On January 5, 1995, four Seattle firefighters die in an arson fire that destroys a warehouse in the city's International District. The firefighters are part of a five-alarm response to the blaze at 811 7th Avenue S, which was set by the building's owner, Martin Pang. The tragedy triggers criticism of the Seattle Fire Department's training and safety practices.
At approximately 7:00 p.m. on January 5, the Seattle Fire Department responded to a fire alarm at Pang International Foods, Inc., a wooden warehouse built in 1908. The response grew to involve more than 100 men and women. Firefighters did not have accurate plans for the structure and a floor over a hidden basement collapsed. The four firefighters who died were:
- Lt. Gregory M. Shoemaker, age 43;
- Lt. Walter D. Kilgore, age 45;
- James T. Brown, age 25;
- Randall R. Terlicker, age 35.
An investigation revealed that the fire was set by Martin Pang in order to collect the insurance and to clear the property for development. Pang fled to Brazil and could not be extradited for murder. After three years of legal and diplomatic wrangling, Pang was returned to Seattle where he pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Pang's ex-wife and an FBI informant shared a $36,000 reward posted for his arrest and conviction.
The fire exposed problems with the Seattle Fire Department's training and safety programs. Fire Department leaders had learned of Pang's plans weeks before and had alerted battalion chiefs to prepare for it, but they did not intervene. The firefighters were sent into the building even though no lives were threatened. Survivors of the dead men filed lawsuits charging the City of Seattle with negligence. They won their cases with awards ranging from $450,000 to $5.6 million. In the one case that went to trial, the jury held the Fire Department 75 percent responsible for the tragedy and arsonist Pang 25 percent responsible.