3 – Alarm Fire in 5 – Level Omaha Shopping Center
John S. Savage photo
From Information Supplied
Chief Arson Investigator
The lack of sprinklers on the top floor of a five-level shopping center, false ceilings and the absence of fire walls were among the problems encountered when the Omaha, Neb., Fire Department fought a three-alarm fire that caused damage estimated at $5 million.
The Center shopping center was built before Omaha adopted the 1955 NBFU Fire Prevention Code, so a sprinkler system and fire walls could not be required to protect the restaurant and bowling alley on the fifth floor. The only three sprinkler heads on that floor were over an escalator, and the first notification of the fire was given by an ADT water flow alarm when these heads opened. The fire originated in the Clink Lounge, a bar between the Sky Lanes bowling alley and the Cimarron Restaurant.
The alarm was received at 2:05 a.m. last October 17, and three engines, an aerial and a district chief were dispatched to the shopping center, which had a pre-fire plan. The district chief reported “smoke on the third level” upon arrival. A check of the building showed extensive fire on the fifth level. The only windows on this floor were on the east and south sides. Some of them had already broken out, others were breaking, and the fire was burning freely and extensively.
The structure was 284 x 216 feet, slightly irregular on the fifth level, with approximately 305,000 square feet. It had brick walls, steel floor and roof framing, and a metal roof deck with a covering of asphalt and stone. In addition to the occupancies mentioned, there were 30 retail shops and 25 offices in the building.
Initial attack made
The district chief ordered hand lines into the fifth floor and to the fourth floor roof. When he reached the roof, Captain William C. McDonnell requested a second alarm at 2:15 a.m.
Meanwhile, Engine 33 laid two 2 1/2-inch lines to the fire and hooked up at a hydrant at Frances and 41st Streets. Engine 40 stretched parallel lines from the sprinkler Siamese to a hydrant on Center Street, and Engine 41 laid two 2 1/2-inch lines from Engine 40’s hydrant to the east side of the building and pumped hand lines from that position. Ladder 41 raised its aerial to the west side of the roof and placed two ground ladders on the south side of the building. There was no exposure problem as the shopping center was far from any other building.
At this time there were two hand lines working inside the fifth floor and two others operating from the roof into windows of the bowling alley.
The response to the second alarm included two engines, an aerial, a rescue squad, a special equipment company (Engine 15), another district chief, an assistant chief and a division chief.
The fire now had partially vented itself through the roof and was continuing to mushroom through the fifth floor. The men from Engine 15 were ordered to the roof to ventilate in an attempt to check the mushrooming and channel the fire travel upward. All available men were ordered to assist in setting up hose lines, and salvage operations were started.
Second alarm operations
Responding to the second alarm, Engine 30 laid two 2 1/2-inch lines from the south side of the fire to a hydrant at Frances and 42nd Streets, and Engine 2 stretched parallel 212-inch lines from the southeast corner of the building to a hydrant on 40th Street near Frances Street. Ladder 2, positioned on the east side of the shopping center, raised its aerial for access to the roof and set its fly ladder pipe to assist ventilation. The pipe was fed by Engine 2 and later by Engine 3, also, when it came in on the third alarm.
Acting Assistant Chief Timothy Tvrdik, who responded to the second alarm, ordered a third alarm at 2:29 a.m. This brought in Engines 3 and 24 and off-shift personnel. Confinement was still a problem at this time, but progress was being made because of the effectiveness of the ventilation efforts on the roof. Two power saws that Engine 15 carried were a big help in ventilating.
Salvage operations were a paramount concern at this point because of the amount of water being played on the fire at the top floor, and all available men were assigned to salvage operations. They made a maximum effort to protect valuables on the lower floors.
Engine 24 stretched a 2 1/2-inch line to Engine 2 at a hydrant, and the men manned hose lines and did salvage work. Engine 3, positioned on the south side of the building, took water from Engines 30 and 33 and pumped five hand lines and one line into Ladder 2.
At 3:19 a.m., a crack was noticed at the southwest corner of the building. The area was roped off and a security guard was posted.
Aerial used as standpipe
Two still alarms were sounded, the first at 3:26 a.m. and the second at 4:00 a.m., for Engine 34 and Ladder 25. All Omaha aerials carry water thiefs, and in this instance Ladder 25, spotted on the north side of the building, was used as a standpipe for hand lines on the fourth level roof. Engine 34 hooked up to a hydrant at 42nd and Center Streets and supplied two lines into Ladder 25 and a hand line.
Extinguishment was accomplished after ventilation efforts became successful and more hand lines had been moved in for interior fire fighting. In addition to the three 100-foot aerials that were used, 214 feet of ground ladders were raised to gain access to the roof. There was no water supply problem as all mains were either 6 or 8-inch with 50 to 100 psi on them.
This fire showed the need for more material for salvage work. There were about 13,000 square feet of salvage covers available for this building with 305,000 square feet of space. Therefore, the purchase of sheet polyethylene in quantity to supplement salvage covers has been recommended.