Seven years earlier, when police fought MOVE on Powelton Avenue, one officer had been killed and three were wounded along with four firefighters. So early May 13, Richmond rode on Engine 72 to the neighborhood.
"I made up my mind we weren't going to have firefighters shot or killed or wounded or anything else if I had anything to do with it. . . . Our commitment Monday morning didn't warrant someone of my level, but that's why I went out there."
About 4 p.m. May 13, Richmond learned of the plan to drop a satchel with explosives on the house to destroy the bunker that MOVE had built there. Richmond said he did not know even then there were cans of gasoline on the roof.
"As it was, I turned to Lt. Frank Powell and asked him, would that [bomb] start a fire, and he said no. So I accepted his word at face value. . . . It was information not shared, and this came out at the hearings, and the mayor said, I thought everybody knew."
Powell dropped the satchel at 5:27 p.m. In about 40 seconds, a loud explosion sent debris 30 feet above the roof line. The fire took some time - 20 minutes or more - to flare up. Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor and Richmond met again.
"Sambor said to me, very briefly, 'If we let the bunker burn, can you still put out the fire?' [Given] the extent of fire at the time, the only thing I could judge it from - my own experience - was yes, I think we could. . . .
"We were hoping [MOVE members] would exit and that would end the event. It did not happen. And we could not fight the fire the way we normally would. . . . We could not access the property, and consequently the fire started to spread through the [rowhouses], across the alley, across the street, down the block. . . . We didn't have access to Osage Avenue and its environs until sometime after 10 o'clock."
Richmond declared the fires under control at 11:40 p.m., though houses were still burning. The conflagration ignited outrage in the city and the nation and abroad, with decisions made by Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Managing Director Leo A. Brooks, Sambor, and Richmond all coming under scrutiny. The next year, Richmond was berated by the MOVE Commission for acquiescing to Sambor's plans and not putting out the fire. In 1988, a city grand jury and later a federal grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against any of the city officials.
"I think what most of us on the public safety side regret the most is the loss of the children - that should never have happened, and of course it's the kind of thing you never forget. The bottom line is, the planning was inadequate, the execution didn't play out the way they planned, and there was information that was not shared. There were a lot of problems. There was no Plan B. It was kind of made up as you went along. When they knew the kids weren't out, they should have aborted the plan on that Monday morning. We never knew, only a select few knew, kids were still in the house. [Also] there were no intercommunications, that is, the police and the fire departments could not talk on the same radios.
"If I took any satisfaction from that day, it's that all of our firefighters went home that night."
More broadly, "the only thing of a positive nature to come out [of the disaster] was that the integrated emergency management of the city was improved."
Richmond retired in 1988. In recent years, he has lectured on the 1985 disaster or other fire-fighting issues. Last year he published a book, What I've Learned: Thoughts From a Fire Chief.