New London, Conn., Submarine School of Navy Loses a Building by Fast-Spreading Fire

THE headquarters of Rear Admiral James Fife, Commander of the Atlantic Fleet submarine force, located at the U. S. Submarine Base at New London, Conn., were destroyed by fire during the early morning hours of February 11, 1948. The destroyed building housed all the records and communications of Admiral Fife, valuable equipment used during the war in the submarine school, and was a barracks for about 75 men attached to the Admiral’s headquarters.

The two top floors of the three-story brick building as well as the roof were destroyed while the first floor and basement received heavy water damage. It is believed that many of the records stored in filing cabinets and safes will be salvageable.

Men on watch in the building discovered the fire and the first alarm was received at the Submarine Base Fire Headquarters at 1:05 A.M. Firemen under the direction of Fire Chief Leno Vescovi responded and found the fire in the ceiling on the second floor and gaining rapid headway up into the third floor. Chief Vescovi ordered a second alarm sounded, this alarm bringing all available fire fighting equipment on the Base to the scene. Lines were quickly laid and an attempt was made to confine the fire to the section of the third floor where it had broken through from below. However after a half hour struggle the fire continued to spread, completely involving the third floor and a part of the second.

At 1 :35 A.M. switchboard operator Leo McCarthy on duty at Fire Headquarters in New London received an appeal for assistance from Chief Vescovi. Chief Thomas H. Shipman was notified and he ordered Engines 1 — 3 — 5 and 6 and Truck 2 to proceed to the base, a run of over 5 miles for most of the companies. At 1:39 A.M. a call for additional assistance was sent to the Borough of Groton fire department, and three pieces of apparatus were soon speeding to the scene.

Water was poured into the building from ground lines on all four sides, from the roof of an adjoining building, from ladders, and from a ladder pipe on the aerial of New London’s Truck 2. Despite this heavy concentration of water, the fire continued to burn stubbornly, and as hour after hour passed more and more firemen were forced to leave their hose lines and go to nearby buildings to treat frostbitten hands and feet.

Firefighting operations were seriously handicapped by deep snow drifts and a temperature of 1 degree below zero. Water turned to ice immediately and the entire area was soon thickly coated, making ground and ladder work extremely hazardous. After a six hour battle the fire was gradually brought under control, but streams were poured into the structure until noon, nearly 12 hours after the first alarm.

Engines 3 and 6 of the New London fire department were ordered back to the city shortly after 5 A.M. when it was apparent that the fire would be confined to the one building. The Groton apparatus left the base about 8:30 A.M. after 7 hours of duty and Engines 1 and 5 and Truck 2 from New London returned to their quarters about 10:30 A.M. after being in service for 9 hours. Firemen from the submarine Base department were on duty at the scene for the remainder of the day.

A Navy board headed by Capt. Jesse L. Hull started an investigation of the fire the following day, but as yet no announcement has been made of its findings.

Fire Fighting Operations

Fire fighting operations were under the direction of Capt. Frank W. Fenno, Base commanding officer; Chief Leno Vescovi of the Submarine Base Fire department: Chief Thomas H. Shipman, Fire Marshal James A. Wood, and Assistant Fire Marshal Earl N. Rose, all of the New London fire department; and Chief Herbert P. White and Deputy Chief Raymond Fogg of the Borough of Groton fire department.

Loss has been estimated by Capt. Fenno to be about $70,000 on the building and close to $200,000 on the contents for a total loss of approximately $250 000.

Lines Still Wetting down Northeast Sections of Headquaters Buildings, about Six Hours after Start of Fire.Ice-Coated Ladders ond the Shell of the Three-Story Building Destroyed by Fire on February 11 at the U. S. Submarine Base, New London, Conn. Firemen Worked in Below-Freezing Temperatures to Extinguish the Fire.

Photo Courtesy “New London Day”

View of One End of Building. Truck 2 of New London Fire Department in Foreground. Picture Taken about 7 A.M.

Navy Reports on Operations

The schedule of operations at the fire set forth by the District Fire Marshal of the Navy is as follows:

1:04 A.M. — Fire detected by fire watch on first floor who smelled smoke, called radioman, and notified fire department by telephone.

1:04 A.M. — Housewatchman at fire house immediately transmitted appropriate fire alarm box number on circuit. Fire department responded with one 1,000 gpm pumper and one 750 gpm quad, each with five civilian firemen.

1:08 A.M. — Fire department arrived at Building #138 and found fire on second floor. (Temperature 4 below zero, practically no wind). Stretched two 2 1/2-inch lines to building, each with wye to two 1 1/2 at buildings; one l 1/2-inch line taken up ladder and in window on fire floor, other 1 1/2-inch line taken up outside stairway and in on fire floor. One and one-half inch lines backed up by 2 1/2-inch lines as soon as possible.

1:09 A.M.—Fire Chief, Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, all of whom reside on Station, arrived. Fire on second floor observed to be serious. Fire Chief transmitted second alarm bringing 500 gpm pumper, with one civilian fireman and fourteen man enlisted fire party from fire house.

1:14 A.M.—Fire fighters driven out of fire floor and forced to fight fire from outside. Difficulty experienced with partitioning. Fire spreading rapidly on combustible materials and wall and ceiling paint, floor wax, etc., vaporized by heat. Building evacuated. Three 2 1/2-inch lines set up on roof of adjoining building to cover exposure.

1:19 A.M.—Outside aid called front New London Fire Department which arrived in approximately 25 minutes with four pumpers and one aerial ladder truck.

2:00 A.M. — Approximately twenty 2 1/2-inch lines operating on fire through combined efforts of Naval, Groton and New London fire companies.

4:45 A.M.—Fire under control, i.e., no further danger of spreading to other structures (outside fire companies begin returning to Groton and New London).

New York Tenement Fire

An idea of what the largest fire department in the world is up against in lighting dwelling fires in many of its tenement areas may be had from the accompanying i lustration of a 3-alarm fire at 229 West Sixteenth street, Manhattan.

The structures involved, and the location, are better than average; and weather conditions, too, were favorable, yet the fire gave firelighters plenty of hard work before being controlled. Had it been in the early morning hours, many lives might have been lost.

The fire, starting from undetermined causes in the basement of the 5-story brick tenement at 229 West Sixteenth, raced up the usual dumbwaiter shafts to mushroom on the top floors and threatened to spread to the adjoining dwelling at No. 231. It was discovered by two third-floor tenants in No. 229, who found smoke coming from their dumbwaiters, and telephoned an alarm. This was at 2:07 p.m. One reported an explosion, which was accompanied by a rush of smoke and gases. Both women fled to the street. Before the fire was controlled, fifty persons were routed from the structure. One 85-year-old woman, an invalid, a 75-year-old victim of paralysis and several children were carried to the street by tenants aided by firemen.

The problem of laddering and ventilating such structures, and of preventing extension of the fire across interior courts and light shafts is evidenced in the illustration.

Here is the chronological response to this fire.

2:07 P.M. 5-7-567, 7th Ave. and 16th St. E 3, L. 12, Batt. Ch. 7

2:08 P.M. Box 574 8th Ave. and 17th St. E 18, 14, 72; L 5; Div. Ch. 2; Batt Ch. 6

2:17 P.M. 2-2-569 2nd Alarm E 1, 24, 5, 26, 30; L. 3; Res. 1; W. T. 2 (Locating E 76/3, 56/1, 40/18, 53/5, 32/30; Ll/5, 18/3).

2.32 P.M. 3-3-569 3rd alarm; E 16, 33, 13; L 24; Batt. Ch. 3 (Locating, E 15/33; L 4/24.

4:10 P.M. 9-569-21: (searchlight unit).

New York Tenement Fire Fought Under Handicaps Starting in basement, early winter fire extended via vertical shafts to mushroom on top floors, driving fifty to Street. Note how double parking on one way street complicated firemen's task.

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