Workers and Lessons Reinforced ó
Vacant Funeral Home Fire
On May 15th, North Hudson (N.J.) Regional Fire
& Rescue responded to a reported fire in a vacant funeral home at 1912 New
York Ave. The time of alarm was 23:40 hours. Just prior to this, normally first
due companies were dispatched to an odor of gas down on 4th St., so the initial
arrivers were coming from further away in the upper first and second battalions
(NHRFR runs three battalions).
The additional transmission from Fire Control
(our dispatch center) of ďmultiple callsĒ told us we were going to work.
Battalion 1 arrived, established command, and transmitted the working fire as
well as a request for a second alarm. We ride 4 engines, 2 ladders, a rescue, a
BC, safety officer, and command tech along with me, the DC on a reported fire.
The working fire confirmation prompts the response of a fifth engine company and
an RIC team. The second alarm (and all addition alarms) brings another two
engines and a ladder along with another BC.
I arrived not long after Battalion 1 and the
first few companies. The fire building was an old three-story, mixed-use
occupancy of ordinary construction. The first floor was once occupied by a
funeral home, with apartments above on the top two floors. The fire building was
attached to a similar structure on the Bravo side. This structure, like the fire
building was vacant, but was completely gutted right down to the studs. The fire
building was not quite as gutted as the exposure. There were tin ceilings on the
top floor and much of the sheetrock was intact. On the Delta side was an open
lot and Ladder 2 made the most of this lot, using it as a vantage point from
which to operate. At the rear of the fire building was a one-story extension.
Behind the fire building on side Charlie was a 2Ĺ-story wood frame residential
dwelling with a peaked asphalt shingle roof
As I arrived, I observed a heavy black smoke
condition pushing from the top floor windows on side A. There were also an
abundance of power lines across side A and side B on the northern cross-street.
There was also a service connection running across the front of the building in
between the second and third floors. This condition thwarted roof operations
from side A and any attempt at top floor horizontal ventilation from the front
of the building. Ladder 3 took the front of the building, but due to the wire
issue, their aerial was not effective. This made the position of ladder 2 in the
adjacent lot all the more important.
1, above: A shot of the Alpha side of the building. Note the wires running
across and the attached exposure. All photos by Ron Jeffers.
2, above: This is the side
street on the Bravo side. The B exposure and the one-story extension can
be seen and the fire building can be seen to the left of it
3, above: This is the view from the B side parking lot. This
is early on with fire breaking through the roof. Ladder 2 is
conducting ventilation ops of the half-shaft windows.
I let Battalion 1 stay in command for a few
minutes while I took a quick look at the back of the building. The glow that I
could see in the reflection of the C exposure windows turned out to be heavy
fire venting angrily from four top floor windows. Fire was also evident from the
roof at the rear and breaking through the roof flashing at the edges of the
roof. This fire had a good head start. I took command and as the first companies
were commencing with an attack, I had to think ahead of the fire. I ordered a
third alarm, primarily to secure additional water supplies. In fact, the third
alarm brought companies from neighboring Hoboken, but as this was going to be a
surround-and-drown operation, I released those companies relatively quickly ó
no use depleting two fire departments. They were used to relocate NHRFR as was
several companies from Jersey City.
Lines were ordered to protect the C exposure and
a second water supply was established. The first water supply was being used by
the first companies on scene who were stretching lines to the top floor pf the
I also ordered lines stretched to the top floor
of the Bravo exposure as I was pretty sure there would be either a common
cockloft or a shaft between the two buildings or both. We got lucky here ó
sometimes the fire gods give you a break, but not often. There was a shaft, but
the wall of the exposed building was unpierced. There was also a brick wall
between the fire building and the B exposure and only a light smoke condition
was evident on the top floor. I assigned a division supervisor to the B exposure
and another one to the C side.
I was also concerned with the attack-line
progress, as the smoke and fire were violent on the top floor rear; but I
figured we could get one shot at knocking it out. Due to the power lines, we
could not provide horizontal ventilation on the A side, but there seemed to be
plenty on the C side and Ladder 2 was taking care of the windows on the mid-B
side. The problem arose when reports of holes in the floors and collapsing
ceilings were received by the command post. I decided to pull the plug on the
offensive operation in the fire building and concentrate on confining the fire
to the building of origin. The ladder pipes of Ladders 2 and 3 were readied and
additional water supplies were secured. We used four water supplies in all.
Calls went out to the utility company to kill the power. When Ladder 3ís pipe
was charged, the stream crossed the high tension lines and a loud explosion was
heard that instantly darkened the block. The utility company rep said that we
only knocked out one of the phases, but the other two were still live, so we
still had use extreme caution until the rest of the power could be shut down.
Additional large-diameter lines were also
stretched to the C side to assist in knocking down the heavy fire at the rear
and to protect the combustible roof of the C exposure. Companies worked from the
one-story extension to accomplish this. Large diameter lines were also stretched
to the D side parking lot to supplement the water power from Ladder 2. An
additional line was hoisted to the top floor of the B exposure and stretched out
through the scuttle to be used on the roof. In fact, a lot of opening up of the
edges of the fire building roof were done from both the roof of the exposure and
from Ladder 2, once we shut done the ladder pipe. These operations, conducted
from safe, monitored areas, kept the fire from progressing toward the A side and
cut down on the time we were to spend on this scene. A roof division supervisor
was assigned to the Bravo roof to further decentralize command.
4, above: Continuing operations of the Bravo side of the structure
included large diameter hand lines as well as a ladder pipe from Ladder 2.
The fire was quickly darkened down, but I did not
want to let companies inside to mop up because of the condition of the building
even before the fire. We continued to use master streams as needed. By using
Ladder 2ís ladder pipe though the shaft window from close range as well as the
opening up and stream application being conducted from the B side of the roof,
the fire was confined to the rear of the structure. There was no damage to any
of the exposures.
Lessons learned and reinforced
- Always assume there is a shaft between old
attached buildings ó the fact that I had a half-shaft on the open Bravo
side (see Photo 2) gave me sufficient evidence to believe there was one on
the Delta side. A quick request for recon from the exposure roof division
- Get ahead of the fire as soon as possible; itís
OK to lose one building. Losing two or more that were not involved when you
got there leads to parking lots that bear your name.
- Plan for hydraulic reserve. This requires
people who know the grids.
- Call enough people. Donít hesitate to strike
early additional alarms.
- Donít mess with electricity; you are dead
before you hit the ground.
- Break down the fireground. Put supervisors in
all major areas you cannot see from the Command post.
- Donít risk your neck tonight for something
that will be loaded in a dumpster tomorrow morning. So effective were the
fire control operations that one of my BCís said to me that whether we
went inside to work this fire or stayed out, the resulting damage would not
have been any different; and the added bonus of no injuries (that might have
been sustained had we conducted prolonged interior operations) made this a