Factory Building Fire

By Michael M. Dugan

A factory is reported on fire, and the Emergency Communications Center is getting numerous calls. The fire is in an older factory type of building. This is what happened in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in an old mill-type factory building.

(1) The fire in the vacant factory has quickly taken hold of the building. Firefighting operations inside the building were abandoned because of the fire conditions. As you can see from this photo, the power is on-the traffic lights are still functioning. (Photos by Glenn Duda.)
(1) The fire in the vacant factory has quickly taken hold of the building. Firefighting operations inside the building were abandoned because of the fire conditions. As you can see from this photo, the power is on-the traffic lights are still functioning. (Photos by Glenn Duda.)

This type of building can be a vacant or, in a lot of areas, can be used as office space, residential, or smaller businesses sharing a building. This is where local knowledge and building inspections and visits can pay big dividends. Are there people living in the building? In New York City, these buildings are called loft-type buildings. A loft building has an open floor plan much like a factory with high ceilings and large, uncompartmented areas tenants use for living space. Loft buildings that appear to be commercial would be marked with a sign that reads “A.I.R.,” meaning artist in residence. If the building has been converted or has people living in it, the local company/unit will have the best chance of knowing that. Of course, listen to what the civilians say, because the neighbors will also have an intimate knowledge of what is happening in that building.

(2) Notice the large number of overhead wires. The incident commander must request a utility company response as soon as possible. A utility company supervisor should be available at the command post until the fire is under control.
(2) Notice the large number of overhead wires. The incident commander must request a utility company response as soon as possible. A utility company supervisor should be available at the command post until the fire is under control.

If the building is reported to be occupied, then conduct interior searches consistent with fire conditions and reported location of victims. Units must be aware of the possibility of unusual or open floor plans that might lead to disorientation during the search. Mark and staff exits if possible. Search rope would be a required tool at one of these buildings. If the building is vacant, as appears in the Bridgeport scenario, be aware that homeless and vagrants might be in the building. If that is reported, conduct searches with the safety of the search team as a primary concern. The American fire service has lost firefighters in vacant buildings in situations where people were reported inside and it is discovered later that they beat a hasty retreat when the fire started. These fleeing occupants usually won’t report to anyone that they are out of the building. The incident commander (IC) and company officers must be aware that they might be committing members to an interior search for someone already out of the structure.

(3) A member operates a portable monitor to get water on the fire. Large-caliber streams will help get water on the fire safely as possible.
(3) A member operates a portable monitor to get water on the fire. Large-caliber streams will help get water on the fire safely as possible.

The Bridgeport fire was on a very hot day with the temperatures at about 97ºF and extremely high humidity. The members tried an initial interior attack but because of the distance inside the building the fire was located, the current weather condition, and the large open floor plan, they abandoned the interior attack plans. The location of fire and the difficulty getting a handline in operation were going to make the attack position untenable and unsafe. A switch was made to an exterior attack with well-placed master streams, large-caliber handlines, and tower ladders. In an exterior fire attack in a large building, protect the apparatus and members from radiant heat and the intensifying fire conditions. The protection of involved exposures will become a priority.

(4) A handline is put into position to protect exposures. The alleyway will be off limits because of radiant heat and collapse potential.
(4) A handline is put into position to protect exposures. The alleyway will be off limits because of radiant heat and collapse potential.

This fire is in a vacant factory. Remember that the interior of the building might be compromised from vandals and people stealing interior pieces of the building. Holes could have been made in walls and floors to remove metal objects, copper pipes, and wire for scrap value. The holes that were created by these vandals might lead to quicker fire extension and fire travel. Consider all areas above dangerous until the fire is extinguished on the fire floor and an inspection for extension is made on the floor above the fire. Delay operations on the floor or floors above the fire until you extinguish or at least control the original fire. At this fire, an attempt to get above the fire would not be prudent until the original fire is confined and controlled.

(5) A tower ladder is positioned for defensive operations. Supply the apparatus with water and use the engine supplying the tower ladder only for that task.
(5) A tower ladder is positioned for defensive operations. Supply the apparatus with water and use the engine supplying the tower ladder only for that task.

You will need additional units to set up the exposure protection lines and appliances. Command has to take into account the exposure of members and apparatus to the radiant heat and exposure to smoke in the street. This fire has become a “surround and drown” and will require a large number of master streams and a large volume of water to extinguish.

(6) Member operate the apparatus-mounted stang. Note now that the power has been removed-the traffic lights are not functioning. Members have been allowed to remove turnout coats because of the heat index and the duration of the operation.
(6) Member operate the apparatus-mounted stang. Note now that the power has been removed-the traffic lights are not functioning. Members have been allowed to remove turnout coats because of the heat index and the duration of the operation.

The other issue that affected the operations at this fire was the overhead electrical wires. The IC had the local utility respond to the command post and requested a representative of Metro-North, a railroad line running directly behind the building, to the scene. At the rear of the building were overhead catenary lines were used to power the trains. These overhead power lines contain direct current and even if the power is turned off they still retain a static charge that contains enough power to seriously injure members. The overhead railroad lines have to be grounded by a railroad lineman before they are safe. The local railroad should send a lineman to use a grounding stick to ground the line before operations are conducted within 10 feet of any electrical overhead lines. Members working in the area of electric should have a positive communication from Command that power has been removed before beginning any operation in the vicinity of any electric power lines.

(7) The tower ladder is getting into position, and members in the basket still must be aware of the power lines. The ladder should avoid the lines if possible because of potential damage to the ladder and power lines if the ladder strikes them.
(7) The tower ladder is getting into position, and members in the basket still must be aware of the power lines. The ladder should avoid the lines if possible because of potential damage to the ladder and power lines if the ladder strikes them.

The local resources are going to be stretched thin because the smoke in the area will generate a large call volume for smoke and reports of fire in the area. Dispatch will have to be aware of the call volume and have dispatch protocols for reports of smoke in the area. Mutual aid or back filling the units at the fire is necessary to respond in the area for smoke and alarms. These units must be apprised of the street closures and detours set up as a result of the fire because this will affect their responses.

The bottom line on this fire is it is a vacant factory. We are tasked with worrying about people in the building but until we know there is a definite life hazard, we must base our concerns on the people who are alive-the firefighters and anyone in an exposed building.

MICHAEL M. DUGAN, a 36-year veteran of the fire service, is also a 27-year member of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where he served as captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a lieutenant, he served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43, in Spanish Harlem, he received the James Gordon Bennett Medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was a volunteer firefighter in Halesite, New York. He lectures on truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and today’s fire service.

More Fire Engineering Issue Articles
Fire Engineering Archives

No posts to display