A cold February morning was the setting for a spectacular four-alarm high-rise fire in the Bronx, New York. The fire ripped through a 13th-floor apartment of the 22-story fire-resistive apartment house. Strong gusting winds complicated the interior suppression operation.

First-arriving companies were met with a heavy smoke condition in the public hallway on the fire floor. While the first handline was being stretched off the standpipe on the floor below the fire, the truck company began to search the public hallway to verify which was the actual fire apartment.

At the end of the hallway, the truck company found heavy black smoke pushing around the door to the fire apartment. While forcing this locked door, the adjoining apartment door was opened by its occupant. The civilian was told to stay in his apartment because of the smoke condition in the public hallway and the fact that the apartment door now was forced and the engine company was getting ready to mount its attack.

When the door to the fire apartment was opened, the companies were greeted with a blast of superheated smoke. Visibility in the hallway dropped to zero, and the heat condition increased. As the windows to the apartment failed, the wind forced the fire out into the public hall. The companies, even with a 212-inch handline, could not hold their position and were driven back down the hall to the stairs.

As the fire gained momentum, conditions on the upper floors also worsened. Additional alarms were sounded to help in evacuations and to augment the first-alarm companies. A second handline was stretched to the fire floor, but the volume of fire in the apartment, driven by the wind, was too much to overcome. Interior crews were rotated as the companies tried to push the fire back into the original apartment.

In the adjoining apartment, the now-trapped civilian made his way to the bathroom window, trying to find fresh air. The apartment was separated from the fire apartment only by gypsum board walls on two sides (see diagram). The bathroom was in the middle of the apartment, on an outside wall. This afforded some insulation from the raging fire in the next apartment. Once in this room, the trapped occupant used towels to “seal” the door from the smoke.

Knowing that this civilian was now in extreme peril, companies again started to push down the hallway toward the fire apartment. Companies on the floor above the fire established voice communications with the victim, trying to keep him calm. A rope rescue was considered but not used because of the heavy smoke condition on the floor above; the difficulty in finding good anchor points for the rope and rescuer; and the high, gusting winds.

With the addition of a third handline, the engine companies finally were able to push down the hallway and make the turn into the fire apartment. As the companies advanced into the fire apartment, other firefighters entered the adjoining apartment to bring out the trapped civilian.

The multiple handlines were able to darken down the fire once the turn into the apartment was made.

Multiple-alarm companies were used to conduct searches on the upper floors and relieve the battered first- and second-alarm companies.

Lessons Reinforced

When multiple handlines are needed on the fire floor, the additional lines must be stretched from lower-floor standpipe outlets, necessitating longer stretches.

When you are operating in high-wind conditions, horizontal ventilation must be restricted, and operating forces must be ready to deal with wind-blown fire conditions if the windows self-vent.

The decision to “protect in place” must be weighed against potential changes in fire conditions and how they will affect future removal attempts. n

Heavy smoke pushes from the 13th-floor balcony area of the fire apartment. On the exposure #2 side, smoke vents from the windows on either side of the trapped civilian (circled) who is in the bathroom of the adjoining apartment. Both of these windows are in his apartment. (Photos by Mike Lindy.)

The strong, gusty winds caused problems not only on the fire floor but also on the floors above. (Left) Firefighters tried to calm the trapped victim of the adjoining apartment. Seconds later, as the winds blew again (bottom left), the victim and rescuers were obscured by blinding smoke. Because of the high winds and the smoke condition, a life safety rope rescue was not initiated.

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