The first thing Kahlil Robinson did when he got home the morning after the Metropolitan fire was hug his wife and kids, who stayed up all night praying for his safety.
Few people understand the devastation of the March 16 fire and the danger it posed as much as First Class Firefighter Robinson and other firefighters on Engine 13, which responded to the fire first.
The fire destroyed the under-construction Metropolitan apartments and damaged nearby buildings.
“You start to smell the smoke on the way there, that’s when you start to realize this is real,” Robinson said. “The fear factor comes into it for a second, but I’m trained for it. There’s nobody better at it than the Raleigh Fire Department.”
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Robinson is one of the many that city leaders have applauded. City Manager Ruffin Hall paused a council meeting to recognize firefighters, other government employees and volunteers who offered help and comfort in the wake of the fire.
It was an amazing and truly heroic effort to protect property and lives.
City Manager Ruffin Hall
“It was an amazing and truly heroic effort to protect property and lives,” Hall said. “I witnessed countless acts of sympathy and support ... It’s part of the culture of this community.”
The city’s dispatch center, public relations experts, engineers and other staff members worked over the weekend after the fire to address concerns and that most efforts went smoothly, Hall said.
“There was a tremendous amount of debris, mostly glass, on our sidewalks and our streets,” Hall said. “They pretty much cleaned up the entire area by Sunday afternoon, which was pretty amazing if you had a chance to go out there and see how much debris was out there.”
A week after the flames engulfed The Metropolitan and damaged surrounding buildings, Raleigh is still wondering what caused one of the biggest fires in city history. The fire department hasn’t released an update on its investigation.
The department is working with the the State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives. It could take weeks for investigators to announce a cause.
In the meantime, residents are questioning the safety of wood-framed buildings like The Metropolitan.
“While we await the results (of the investigation), I would like our council and staff to work together to review current policies and procedures to see what if any changes may be needed to ensure the future safety of our community and property,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.
Robinson, 26, said he had never seen a fire so big in his time as a Marine or firefighter. A sense of relief didn’t set in until about 4:30 a.m. Friday, when he got back to Fire Station One to contact his wife and two children, ages 1 and 4.
“It was a great feeling just being able to get back to my phone to let everyone know, ‘Hey I’m OK,’ ” Robinson said.
His captain, Paul Wyatt, said his crew could see the orange sky from Nash Square.
“Even though it was a black night, you could see the black smoke silhouette,” Wyatt said.
Robinson praised Wyatt’s leadership and his colleagues for remembering their training during a frightening experience. Robinson said he’ll never forget what he saw from atop The Quorum, a 15-story building that overlooks the fire site from the south.
“We got to the roof of the building and we were able to see the fire from the birds-eye view and it was just astounding,” he said. “It’s something you’ll never see again, hopefully.”