ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - It is an image burned in the minds of Albuquerque Firefighters, the blaze that devoured all 47 apartments at the Royal Crown Complex on Gibson Southeast two years ago was a beast.
"We have one maybe every three or four years," said AFD's Deputy Chief of Operations David Downey.
The fire started in the laundry room.
Investigators learned the fire was creeping in the walls and crawl spaces for nearly four hours before the fire department got the call.
"We dedicated ourselves to an offensive firefight trying to get an all clear and we were in the building when it started to collapse and of course we had the four firefighters fall," Deputy Chief Downey said.
Those firefighters were all okay but Deputy Chief Downey said the close call highlighted serious problems, from a breakdown in radio communications, to the tactics used to battle the blaze.
"We sort of caught ourselves in what we call a residential mindset we used house fire tactics at an apartment complex and it didn't work," said the Deputy Chief.
Since Royal Crown, the Albuquerque Fire Department has made changes from how they call in a 'mayday' when a firefighter is in trouble to updating guidelines for fighting fires in all kinds of buildings.
For example, Deputy Chief Downey said when searching apartments now, firefighters call in after they've cleared a couple apartments rather than waiting to give an all clear after every unit in the building has been searched.
"That's where we sort of failed at the Gibson fire, we wanted 47 apartments cleared and we didn't do it in pieces," he said.
By doing it the new way, Downey said they can track the incident better which keeps firefighters safer.
It is a tactic firefighters used over the Thanksgiving holiday when a fire broke out at the Three Fountains Apartments on Lester Northeast.
"Instead of waiting to get the entire second floor searched and then get one all clear for that area, we sort of break the building down into pieces now and when you get two or three apartments searched you give an all clear and then you move onto the next," Downey said.
Another new addition since the Royal Crown Blaze is a command training center and simulator.
Deputy Chief Downey said the idea for the area had been in the works before the fire, they received a $125,000 grant for the facility in 2010, but they only started using it about a year ago.
According to Downey, the simulator allows captains, commanders and acting officers to practice their decision-making with realistic scenarios.
He said the additional training is paying off.
"If you are first in at an apartment fire now, we like to say its not your first apartment fire cause you've trained on two or three here and so you're used to what should be said and how the incident's organized," said Downey.
The cause of the fire was never determined.
As for the property on Gibson across the street from the base where the Royal Crown apartments used to be, a new two-building complex is nearing completion.
A District Court judge has ordered city leaders respond to a petition filed by an animal activist on the city's trap-neuter-return approach of managing feral cats.
Police responded to dozens of weather-related crashes in only a matter of hours Sunday.
A small plane crashed at about 8 a.m. Sunday morning on the Canyon Rim Trail near N.M. 502 and the entrance of Los Alamos.
Sunday night in Albuquerque and around the world people gathered for candlelight vigils to remember the loss of their children.
Department of Agriculture officials are warning customers to not get burned when buying firewood.
Church groups, parents and teachers met Sunday at the 20th annual Albuquerque Interfaith Convention. State education reform was their central focus.