Berkeley Firehouse Destroyed

Berkeley Firehouse Destroyed

Firemen quickly called for aid when unable to use own apparatus and equipment.

Photos courtesy of the Berkeley Fire Department.

Fire, which began during interior fueling operation, virtually destroyed firehouse, containing engine and aerial ladder. Incoming units brought fire under control. Intense heat of gasoline-fed blaze buckled aerial ladder.

Firehouse and 2 first-line units lost when gasoline ignites during refueling

In a fast-moving gasoline-fed blaze in Berkeley, California, firemen suffered the loss of two first line-units as well as virtual destruction of their station. Fortunately, no lives were lost, although one fireman still bears scars from attempts to fight the rapidly spreading fire.

Berkeley’s Station Number One on Channing Way, in the western industrial section, was built in 1928 to house one pumper. It had been modified in 1955 to permit tandem storage of a 65-foot aerial ladder on a straight chassis. On Sunday, February 7th, it contained, in addition to the 1950 aerial, a 1955 1250-gpm Class A Pumper. A Fire Prevention Division sedan was parked outside.

Of the seven men on duty, six were on the apparatus floor, performing normal morning housekeeping duties. At approximately 10:45 A.M., as one fireman was filling the pumper’s tank from an inside gasoline pump, he suddenly felt extreme heat behind him. Turning instantly he noted the pump was a mass of flames. Simultaneously, the other men on duty noted a whooshing explosion and then realized they were all confronted by an explosive gasoline-fed blaze.

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Berkeley Firehouse

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Within seconds, as the pump continued to disgorge fuel. Station One’s apparatus floor became a blazing inferno. Immediate attempts to fight the blaze were unsuccessful, the men were fortunate to escape safely. One man jumped to safety from the second floor living quarters. On duty firemen were denied access to the gasoline pump switch as well as to their alarm office’s direct phone by the raging flames. A fireman gave the alarm by using a nearby residential telephone since the nearest alarm box was about two blocks away.

Cause of fhe fire

Although investigation failed to positively pinpoint the fire’s cause, it is believed that a washing machine solenoid switch may have been the source of ignition. There is also some feeling that the gasoline hose may have been damaged from repeated flexing at or near the point of attachment to the pump. In any event, Chief Porter has suggested that shut-off switches be remotely located so that a gas pump can be shut off even though it and a considerable portion of the surrounding area may be involved in flames. Pumps should be located outside of stations. Fueling procedures should include one man equipped with an extinguisher as a stand-by observer.

Following the disaster, Chief Porter was faced with the immediate problem of providing protection for the West Berkeley area which includes residential, as well as light and heavy industrial exposures. Neighboring departments offered assistance: Emeryville, by assigning an engine company to cover Berkeley’s Engine #1 response area from their own station located 1.3 miles south; Richmond loaned a spare city-service ladder truck.

Subsequently, Berkeley immediately reactivated a spare engine, and within two weeks had secured and rehabilitated a building to be used as temporary quarters until a more permanent arrangement could be made. This released Emeryville from the responsibility they had so cooperatively assumed. Contracts were let for two Diesel powered units, one 1250 pumper and one 85-foot aerial, to be delivered in the fall. Cost of the replacement of these two units will be completely defrayed through the full insurance coverage that the City of Berkeley carries on all fire apparatus.

Plans for a new Station #1 are well underway. Chief Porter’s problems were complicated further by a planned doubling up of fire companies in existing stations awaiting completion of a new Station #2.

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