3-Alarm Fire Hits Abandoned Pier With 600-Foot Shed in Jersey City

3-Alarm Fire Hits Abandoned Pier With 600-Foot Shed in Jersey City

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A spectacular multiple-alarm fire raged through an abandoned pier on the Jersey City waterfront taxing several New Jersey fire departments for several hours and necessitating watchline duty for three days.

At 9:40 p.m. last Sept. 1, the Jersey City fire alarm office received a call reporting a pier fire. While en route, Engine 10 reported a working fire. Companies responding on the first alarm included Engines 20, 9 and 8 and Ladders 12 and 5. The weather was clear, 73 degrees at 10 p.m. with a wind of 5 to 10 mph.

According to Fire Fighter Charles Choffey of Ladder 12, “The fire was burning on about 50 to 75 feet of Pier G on the water side and in about five minutes, the entire pier was involved.”

Fuel storage exposure

The pier and the three-story frame building on it, approximately 200 X 600 feet, were once owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Exposures across a tidal basin included a fuel oil storage facility and a shipyard with a New York City fireboat in dry dock for maintenance.

A second alarm, transmitted at 9:50 p.m., brought in Engines 5, 22 and 17, Ladder 1, Chief John Mullins, Fire Director Raymond Maloney and Assistant Director Neil Moriarty.

A call was made for two New York City fireboats and the Coast Guard. New York Marine Companies I and 2 responded with manpower from Engines 10 and 18. Both boats used heavy stream appliances.

Initial difficulties

The problems encountered by the first-alarm units were:

  1. No water in mains in area,
  2. Shallow draft from tidewater basin,
  3. Poor access roads,
  4. Inaccessible areas,
  5. Flying brands and
  6. Hazardous exposures.

The fuel oil storage facility held 11 million gallons of no. 2 and 6 oil. The intense heat damaged the insulation of one tank and a minor fire started in the adjacent dry dock.

A third alarm at 9:55 p.m. brought companies from Union City, Bayonne, Hoboken and Kearney.

During the fire, several barges broke loose from their moorings and drifted in the Hudson River until Coast Guard craft and tugs from nearby facilities secured them to other piers.

Points to consider

Lessons illustrated at this fire included:

  1. Pre-fire planning for areas undergoing renovation or demolition and with a poor or no supply should be a must.
  2. Communications among mutual aid companies on different radio frequencies can be accomplished by assigning officers with walkie-talkies on a local channel to each outside company.
  3. Company training sessions should stress drafting operations.
  4. Fire prevention inspections should be increased in hazardous areas to enforce code requirements, familiarize fire fighters with the property, and gain the cooperation of owners.
  5. Relief of manpower must be considered during operations at piers and similar structures to reduce fatigue and injuries.
  6. Sufficient manpower must be called early to stretch lines and set up drafting operations.
  7. The use of fireboats with large volumes of water is the best way to control pier fires.
  8. Brand patrol should be started as soon as possible.
Pier fire in Jersey City lights up waterfront, and view of area afterward

Photos by Jim Carey.

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