Truss Roof Fire, Wyckoff, New Jersey

Truss Roof Fire, Wyckoff, New Jersey


On the morning of June 3 at approximately 03:42 hours, the Wyckoff, New Jersey, public safety dispatcher received a burglar alarm for Wine & Spirit World. The temperature was around 607F; there had been some rain about 212 hours earlier, and a front was moving through the region. The winds were east at 25 mph; gusts were up to 40 mph.

The first police unit was on the scene within two minutes of the burglar alarm call. The officer reported a working structure fire in Beauregard`s Restaurant. A general alarm was transmitted to the Wyckoff Fire Department at 03:44 hours, activating all three Wyckoff companies.

The Township of Wyckoff, New Jersey, has a population of 17,000 and covers approximately seven square miles. The upper middle class community is made up of residential, retail/commercial, and high-industrial occupancies.

The 125-member fire department is entirely volunteer. Three stations house six class A engines, one 75-foot tower ladder, and one heavy rescue.

The Wyckoff Fire Department is a member of the Northwest Bergen Mutual Aid Association (NWBMA). The NWBMA is made up of fire and rescue organizations from 14 towns. Mutual aid dispatch is handled through Northwest Control (NORCON), located in Wyckoff Company #1. NORCON personnel have predetermined dispatching procedures for all 14 towns; these procedures are known as “automatics.”

All incident commanders have the right to call for any apparatus they choose. However, the automatics were designed to unencumber Command from picking and choosing during critical times. An automatic for Wyckoff consists of two engines, a ladder, and a rescue to the scene and two engines to be relocated into Wyckoff`s quarters. Further backups are specified as well. This system proved valuable during this incident.


The building in question, Wine & Spirit World, shares the building with Beauregard`s Restaurant. The building was constructed in 1956 and originally housed an A &¥grocery store. In 1981 the building was renovated and divided into two separate tenants. The overall building measured 75 feet wide by 140 feet long. It was constructed with a full basement, concrete block masonry walls, and a bowstring truss roof. The interior of the truss void itself remained unobstructed for two-thirds of its length with a second-floor office located “inside” the remaining third following the renovations, although a tin ceiling concealed this area from below.

The renovations occurred prior to a 1990 retrofit law, so sprinkler or fire detection systems were not required. Recommendations to install a fire detection system were turned down due to the owner`s anticipating future tenant changes that would have required them to be installed. The building is located on the edge of the center business district on the corner of Wyckoff and Clinton Avenues.

The front of the building (sector one) faces south onto Clinton Avenue. The exposures were Sector 1, Wyckoff Shopping Center, separated by 50 feet of roadway; Sector 2, 125 feet of parking lot followed by the start of the residential district; Sector 3, a bank that was separated from the building only by the width of two drive-through banking lanes (covered with an overhang) and beyond by a gas station; and Sector 4 (eastside) by Wyckoff Avenue and then a masonry construction New Jersey Bell Building and beyond by a retail clothing store and a residential neighborhood.

Through preplanning the department had identified the building as a hazard due to its roof construction. The potential hazard was brought to attention in 1988 when five Hackensack, New Jersey, firefighters perished in a collapse of a bowstring truss roof during a fire at the Hackensack Ford Dealership (see sidebar on page 106).


While responding, I encountered heavy smoke four to five blocks east of the incident. Deputy Chief Steven Pallokat (239) and I arrived at the scene simultaneously from the east. Heavy fire was visible from three large windows in the restaurant. Heavy black smoke was emitting from all of the roof edges and several vents from the truss void. At 03:46 hours, I established command in the shopping center parking lot across the street in Sector 4-1.

Chief Pallokat was assigned as Sector 1. An immediate discussion between us established the positioning of the first engine and truck and that any attempts at an interior attack would be abandoned.

Due to the wind speed and direction, Wyckoff Avenue (Sector 4) was deemed untenable due to the tremendous amount of brands issuing from the building. Sector 1 handled the positioning of the first two arriving pieces of equipment. At 03:48 hours, Wyckoff E231 laid a five-inch supply line from a hydrant (eight-inch main) and positioned past the structure in the roadway in Sector 1-2. The engine stretched two 134-inch attack lines and two three-inch supply lines to Wyckoff Tower Ladder (T241). Sector 1 positioned T241 in the lot in Sector 2; the wind condition in Sector 4 and multiple wires would have hindered the attack in Sector 1.

As the truck arrived, the fire began to break through the roof in the restaurant area. The elapsed time from the original dispatch was not more than seven minutes!

At 03:47 hours, Command requested that an “automatic” alarm for mutual aid be activated through the NORCON desk, along with a request for two extra tower ladders. With the fire breaking through the roof and the high winds, Command relinquished the fire attack to Sector 1 and focused on the immediate exposures.

At 03:50 hours, Command assigned Deputy Chief Bob Yudin (237) as Sector 3. Wyckoff E236 laid a five-inch supply line from a hydrant (eight-inch main) 400 feet north of the incident and positioned past the structure in the roadway in Sector 3-4. The priority was to protect the bank with four 134-inch attack lines. A deluge gun was also positioned at this location to protect the bank overhang and to provide protection for the firefighters covering the bank. Franklin Lakes E334 arrived and was assigned to supplement the water supply through a hydrassist valve.

At 03:51 hours, Battalion Chief Dave Zuckerman (248) was assigned exposure 4. Wyckoff E235 and E232 were directed into the residential neighborhood to protect structures from the heavy amount of flying debris. Embers were found up to 2,000 feet from the incident.

At 03:55 hours, the interior of Wine & Spirit World was completely involved, and the interior tin ceiling collapsed, followed shortly thereafter by the collapse of the trusses and complete failure of the roof. Had an interior attack taken place, it would have started through the entranceway in Sector 1-2. There was no warning of the collapse, and the first crews would have had enough time to advance to a position from which they could not escape.

Wyckoff Rescue 242 set up as support, lighting, and a personnel rehab center in the lot in Sector 1. Midland Park`s 75-foot Quint 532 set up on Sector 2-3 and flowed its elevated stream to protect the bank and to provide partial fire attack. Waldwick E632, assigned to feed 532, laid a five-inch supply from a hydrant (12-inch main) 500 feet south of the incident. Mahwah E412 hooked up to the hydrassist valve to supplement the supply.

Allendale Chief Dave Walters (930) was requested to establish a separate command post one block east of the incident to protect the now very vulnerable exposures within Sector 4. He was assigned the two Wyckoff engines already operating there, incoming Allendale Tower Ladder 941, Rescue 942, and an additional Wyckoff engine. His designation became Exposure 4.

A tower ladder from Ramsey (441) was positioned in Sector 1. Relocated engine Oakland E2 was moved in from staging to lay a five-inch supply line from 600 feet west of the incident to feed T441. A tower ladder from Glen Rock (832) was staged by Command until the wind-driven fire and embers were substantially knocked down. They then positioned in Sector 4 and assisted the three other elevated streams in knocking down the remaining fire.

Prior to the knockdown, four hydrants were committed to the fire, and two others were being intermittently used by the units within Exposure 4. Plans were formulated to establish a draft from a pond that was within 300 feet should additional water be needed. Three engines remained in staging, two of which would have been assigned this task had it been necessary. The hydrants provided in excess of 4,500 gpm.

Early during operations, Command requested that the Bergen County Prosecutors Arson Squad and demolition crane be called to the scene. This incident met two of the squad`s guidelines for response: heavy involvement on arrival and heavy fire within a commercial structure. Also, this was the second major incident in Wyckoff within six weeks.


The fire was determined to be accidental and electrical in nature and to have started in the kitchen area of the restaurant. A survey of the structure revealed that the fire began in a wall and immediately extended to the roof truss area. It is estimated that the fire had burned in excess of an hour before its discovery and that the fire was well involved in the cockloft area when the first units arrived.

Further investigation revealed that the fire destroyed the interior of Beauregard`s Restaurant and the entire roof structure. Wine & Spirit World, however, sustained most of its damage from the roof truss collapse. Plastic buckets, in the liquor store, did not even sustain heat damage. The basement, 80 percent filled with liquor stock, was flooded with four feet of water and had to be pumped out.


A significant fire in a bowstring truss void area necessitates the commencement of a defensive operation. Firefighters must be out of, off of, and away from the building, outside the collapse zone. Such fires will very likely result in truss collapse, possibly bringing down the parapet and/or exterior walls with them. In this case, firefighting efforts were expended on protecting exposures and keeping the fire to the building of origin.

Brand patrols became an important segment of the overall operation. Roofs had to be laddered and searched, hoselines stretched, and embers extinguished. Quick deployment with sufficient personnel and equipment was necessary to stay ahead of the “fire from the sky.” Once the roof “went in,” the brand generation was significantly reduced.

Getting water on the body of fire in a building as at the Wine & Spirit World incident is through two avenues–aerial streams through the collapsed roof structure and master streams from at/near ground level through windows up into the roof structure in areas where the roof/ceiling is still intact. These ground-level master streams (tower ladder, deluge gun, and so on) must also be outside of the collapse zone.

Proper size-up is critical. You have to let your knowledge and experience overcome your aggressiveness. It is hard to admit defeat early in an operation. Most assuredly, had the Wyckoff Fire Department undertaken a typical aggressive interior attack, serious results would have occurred. The basic rule of writing off what was lost and concentrating on what can be saved prevented damage to exposures. Constant vigilance on the part of the incident commander to keep firefighters from “creeping up” on the fire and getting into the collapse zone (especially as the fire dies down) is important.

A predetermined mutual aid response is a valuable tool; it allows Command to focus on the incident itself instead of on who and what was called.

Large-diameter supply lines allowed for full use of the area`s water system. We did, however, utilize the water supply to capacity. A secondary water supply (a nearby pond) was identified and apparatus assigned for possible drafting operations. Fortunately, this secondary source was not needed.

Preplans and truss identification placards required by New Jersey state regulations (as a result of the five firefighter deaths in Hackensack in1988) save lives.

Exposure protection with handlines is normally the realm of the 212-inch line. At this fire, four 134-inch handlines were used for exposures on the exposure three side (the bank). It was, however, recognized that although they don`t have the “punch” of the 212-inch line, they could be maneuvered more easily. n

Thanks to Firefighter Michael Ciampo of FDNY for his assistance in the preparation of this article.

Note the proximity of the bank to the still smoldering ruins. Protection of the exposure was critical. (Photo by author.)

(Left) Photo taken from 1-4 corner. The conditions of the fire building just prior to the roof collapse. Note wind-driven flames and embers above the structure. Also note the lone firefighter with handline in the collapse zone. Handlines have no effect on a fire of this volume. Firefighters have no place in the collapse zone, either. (Photo by Keith Schroeder.) (Right) A tower ladder is positioned to attack the fire on the exposure 1 side. Big fire, big water. Forget the handlines! (Photo by Emilio Vitolo.)

A crane was brought in to assist in the investigation and for demolition. Such equipment must be called early since arrival and setup times are lengthy. (Photo by Glenn P. Corbett.)

(Top) Hazards at a fire-damaged building pose problems not only for firefighters but for fire investigators as well. Note the precarious condition of these air-conditioning units, which could fall on an unsuspecting investigator. Brief investigators on building hazards before investigators enter the damaged structure. (Photo by author.) (Middle) Photo taken toward exposure 3. Note the remaining trusses and second-floor office area that is actually “inside the trusses.” This office area added to the quantity of combustible material in addition to the trusses themselves. (Photo by Glenn P. Corbett.) (Bottom) A view of the area of origin. This is the entry and kitchen area of Beauregard`s Restaurant. (Photo by Glenn P. Corbett.)

(Left) Aerial streams provide the power to knock down the main body of fire and attempt to minimize the generation of fire brands. Note the rectangular opening in the right-hand side of the wall. This is one of the louvered vents through which heavy smoke was pushing from the truss void when firefighters arrived. (Photos by Emilio Vitolo.) (Right) The early decision to employ a defensive strategy necessitated the rapid removal of these firefighters from the collapse zone and the changeover to master streams.

n HOWARD WOODBURY, JR., is chief of the Wyckoff (NJ) Volunteer Fire Department. A member since 1976, he has progressed through the ranks and is serving his third year as chief. He is a project manager at IBM in Sterling Forest, New York.

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