$1 Million Factory Fire Shows Value of Planning, Mutual Aid
An explosion and fire in a paint plant injured three men and caused a $1 million loss in Elk Grove Village, Ill. At the same time, it showed the value of our mutual aid box alarm system and pre-fire plan program.
Solvents were being mixed in a tank in the northwest corner of the Specialty Coating Company’s one-story masonry factory at 2500 Delta Lane when an explosion tore out the north wall. The fact that the roof did not collapse immediately allowed everyone in the building to escape. Jacob Lee, the employee doing the mixing, received third degree burns, and two of the other workers in the plant area were treated for shock and bruises.
While responding to the alarm received at 9:55 a.m. last October 27, I transmitted a message to have all fire prevention and pre-fire plan program personnel on the street report to the fire and also to ask Bensenville to send an engine. While still on the way, I saw enough smoke to transmit a box alarm on the mutual aid box alarm system, and at 9:59 I radioed for a second alarm on the mutual aid box alarm system.
The manufacturing section of the building was fully involved and there was a fire ball rising 100 feet in the air. In addition, 55-gallon drums and tanks containing flammable liquids were exploding. Whipped by a 37-45 mph wind, the fire was seriously endangering a building about 50 feet to the north at 2480 Delta Lane.
Sprinkler riser broken
The entire roof over the manufacturing area had collapsed when first-in Engine 115 arrived. This company stretched two 2 1/2-inch lines to the north side of the fire building and the pump made a hydrant on Delta Lane. The blast had broken the 8-inch sprinkler system riser and a great deal of water was being lost. Large quantities of flammable liquids were flowing from ruptured drums and tanks and started running southerly along the curb on the west side of Delta Lane, endangering many bystanders. We immediately ordered everyone to leave that side of the street and diluted the runoff as much as possible with available hose lines.
On the north side of the building, 55-gallon drums of nitrocellulose wet with 30 percent isopropyl alcohol were exploding. These drums were stored above several underground tanks containing a total of 45,000 gallons of flammable liquids. At great risk, we attempted to place our first 2 1/2-inch line in operation in this area. However, it became obvious that it was too dangerous, so the line was withdrawn until master streams could be set up.
Our next 2 1/2-inch line was taken into the 22,000-square-foot building at 2480 Delta Lane, which had just been completed and was still empty. The $20,000 loss in this building was limited to brickwork and roof damage and some broken windows.
Meanwhile, Engine 111 hooked up to a hydrant in front of the Specialty Coating building and advanced two 2 1/2-inch lines to the south side of the building.
Master streams set up
Because of the explosions and unknown facts about the fire, I determined that it was too dangerous to position Truck 128, a 100-foot aerial ladder, in front of the fire building, which would have been the ideal spot for a ladder pipe. Instead, this truck set up a ladder pipe in front of 2480 Delta Lane, downwind from the fire. In this position, the company was protected from exploding drums by the southeast corner of the building. The ladder pipe was fed by three 2 1/2-inch lines supplied by Bensenville Engine 8 at a hydrant at Delta Lane and Devon Avenue.
Snorkel 127 went into operation on the south side of the fire with water for its turret gun supplied by two 2 1/2-inch lines from Engine 115 and two similar lines from Arlington Heights Engine 508, one of the mutual aid companies, which was at a hydrant on American Lane. Engine 114 took a hydrant north of the fire on Delta Lane and set up a deluge gun between the paint factory and the exposed building north of it. Another deluge set placed in this area was fed by a single line from Engine 115. One hand line from this engine was taken to the roof of the exposed building.
The monitor gun on Service 132 went into operation on the south side of Specialty Coating with water supplied by a line from Engine 115. Another master stream in this area was supplied from a gun mounted on Des Plaines Squad 67. Lines to this gun were pumped by Arlington Heights Engine 508 and Wood Dale Engine 1, both on American Lane.
Two master streams
Mount Prospect Truck 527 set up its ladder pipe on the east side of the fire and also used its deluge gun mounted on the rear of the apparatus. These two pipes, both with 1 3/4-inch tips, were supplied by three 250-foot, 2 1/2-inch lines from Wood Dale Engine 1. A 2 1/2-inch hand line, 265 gpm, also was used off Mount Prospect Truck 127, a quint. In addition to a pumper, Wood Dale also sent a squad, and the men helped fight the fire until they had to respond to an inhalator call.
The explosion caused considerable damage to the office and laboratory in the front of the Specialty Coating building, but we kept the fire from that area by taking a 2 1/2-inch line into the office to protect open fire doors to the manufacturing section of the building.
When I first entered the office, I saw one of our fire department stickers on a file cabinet. Placed there as part of our pre-fire planning program, the sticker indicated that the contents of the file cabinet were valuable. Therefore, as soon as possible, I had four fire fighters remove the cabinet to safety. The location of such things as corporate secrets, accounts receivable and personnel records that management would wish to have removed if the building were in danger of destruction is noted during our pre-fire planning program inspections and recorded in a viewer system in our alarm room.
Foam attempt fails
During the early part of the fire, there were continuous suggestions to use foam, although I believed that foam would be of little or no value. However, I asked the Arlington Heights and Des Plaines companies to use foam after the owner of Specialty Coating insisted that a foam was the only extinguishing agent that would put out the fire. After trying a foam application, it was evident to everyone that foam would not suppress the fire and this tactic was discontinued.
During the fire, Chief Fire Marshal Curtis Volkamer of Chicago sent his helicopter to the scene and I viewed the fire scene from the copter during the later stages of operations. The advantage was tremendous and it resulted in my relocating two heavy streams to a better location.
The box was officially struck out at 12:58 p.m., 3 hours and 3 minutes after the initial alarm, although the last company did not leave until 3:40 p.m. It was estimated that more than 850,000 gallons of water were put on this fire.
Under our mutual aid box alarm system, Chief Lloyd Abrahamsen of Schaumberg came to our headquarters station and would have been in charge of any simultaneous fire. Also relocated in our headquarters were an engine from Schaumburg, an engine from Des Plaines and an ambulance from Hoffman Estates. The ambulance handled two calls while ours were at the fire.
Value of building code
The fire showed the value of a good building code when the fire wall between the manufacturing area and the office held up. Although two fire doors were open, we were able to keep the fire from entering the office. Also, the side yard requirements that provided distance from the building at 2480 Delta Lane had a great deal to do with saving this building. However, the drums outside the building indicated that the zoning ordinance should be strengthened to eliminate this type of danger of fire extension, which also made our operation more difficult.
The manufacturing area roof had 24 skylights, each with an area of about 24 square feet, and it is believed that they all were blown out by the explosion, thereby relieving a great deal of the internal pressure and preventing further exterior wall collapse.
The standard operating procedure of notifying the water company of a working fire and having water company employees respond to multiple alarms proved its value at this fire. The water company men who responded had maps which indicated the location of the 8-inch shutoff valve for the broken sprinkler riser and much water was saved for fire fighting by shutting it off. In addition, these water company employees stretched 2 1/2-inch lines from Engine 115 to Snorkel 127 and from Engine 111 to the monitor on Service 132.