Could Fire Have Been Held?
Early Response of Apparatus and Good Water Supply Aided the Department
HERE is the story of a fire which occurred in a isolated building, four stories in height, of brick and joist construction, and despite the efforts of the department crossed a 60-foot street and involved a four-story brick and joist factory engaged in the manufacture of small machine parts. The department was well manned, had plenty of apparatus, and a good supply of water. In addition, an early alarm was sent in, not more than 30 seconds after the fire was discovered. Still, the department was unable to prevent the fire from jumping a 60-foot street and involving the building mentioned above.
It is the Editor’s opinion that the department cannot be criticized too severely for permitting the extension of the fire, for a number of unusual conditions were involved. It is believed, however, that a little better assignment of lines might have been made, and this assignment will be given in the next issue of this journal.
But to go on with the story: The diagram herewith shows the layout of the fire building and surrounding buildings. Hydrants are indicated in the conventional manner. The building in which the fire started is that shown bounded by Broadway, Elkhorn St., 5th and 6th Aves. The building to which the fire extended is directly south of the fire building, across Broadway.
The Fire Department
The city in which the fire occurred has a population, according to the 1920 census, of approximately 85,000. Water supply in the neighborhood of the fire is excellent, all hydrants shown in the diagram being connected to fair or good sized mains.
The department consists of five engine companies, four hose companies, and two truck companies.
Engine Cos. Nos. 1 and 2 each have 750 gallon triple combination machines; Engine Co. No. 3 has a 1,000 gallon triple combination while Engine Co. No. 4 has a 750 gallon triple combination and Engine Company No. 5 a 500 gallon triple combination.
Hose Cos. Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are equipped with combination chemical and hose cars, with deck guns, each carrying 2,000 ft. of hose. Hose Co. No. 4 is equipped with a similar machine with the exception that it did not have a deck gun. Truck Co. No. 1 has an 85-foot aerial while truck company No. 2 has a city service truck.
The response to alarms in the neighborhood of the fire is as follows: First alarm, Engine Companies Nos. 1 and 2, Elose Company No. 1 and Truck Company No. 1.
Second alarm, Engine Companies Nos. 3 and 4 and Hose Company No. 2.
The following companies are summoned by special call only: Engine Co. No. 5, Hose Companies Nos. 3 and 4 and Truck Company No. 2.
Description of the Fire Building
As noted in the diagram, the fire building was fourstorv brick and joist constructed, occupied throughout by an oil coat manufacturer. In the manufacture of these particular oil coats, the garments are cut and sewed before treatment with waterproofing. The first coat of waterproofing consists of raw linseed oil which is applied by dipping the garment in a vat of this oil. Second and third coats are put on by brush.
The fourth coat which is a varnish coat is applied by dipping and brushing. This latter coating is thinned with naphtha. The dry rooms used for drying the garments between coatings were of frame construction which added tremendously to the intensity of the fire once the blaze gained headway.
The basement of the building was used for the storage of linseed oil, naphtha, varnish and cloth.
The first floor was occupied as storage of finished garments, packing and shipping equipment. On this floor were a great number of packing cases, large quantities of garments ready for shipment, and packing material in bulk.
On the second floor the cutting and sewing was done. Here large quantities of waste material had accumulated, due to the fact that at this particular season the factory had been rushed for several weeks with fall orders.
On the third floor the first, second and third coats of oil were applied. There were a large number of open vats of linseed oil, and the floor and woodwork around this part of this building were well soaked with oil.
On the fourth floor the final operation of varnishing the coats was done. On this floor a number of tubs of varnish and containers of naphtha were kept. On the fourth floor also were stored a great quantity of unfinished work, consisting of coats with three coats of oil on them.
The fire started in the basement about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when the force was busily at work. The porters who ordinarily transported the material from the basement to the various floors for operations were all engaged on the ground floor getting finished products ready for shipment before closing time. It is believed that one of the containers of linseed oil sprung a leak and the oil, getting into some rolls of cloth in the basement, saturated the floor and ultimately resulted in spontaneous ignition. At any rate, linseed oil had been found flowing along the floor but due to the rush of work, no time was taken to locate the leak and transfer the liquid. The first evidence of fire was noted by smoke which came from the basement up the hoist shaft.
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An investigation was immediately made and it was found that the linseed oil on the floor was burning, as well as the rolls of cloth in the immediate neighborhood. Telephone alarm was transmitted and one engine company (Engine Co. No. 1) and one ladder company (Ladder Co. No. 1) were despatched. Upon the arrival of the fire department, smoke had gotten so dense in the basement that the department could not enter. Just how far the fire had extended in the basement at the arrival of the apparatus is not known, but a sudden flare just as Engine Company No. 1 was getting its first line in operation indicated that the fire had reached the naphtha stored in the basement.
The officer in charge of Engine Company No. 1 immediately transmitted a first alarm bring out Engine Company No. 2 and Hose Company No. 1.
In the meantime Engine Company No. 1 was stationed at hydrant No, 2 and two lines stretched in on the ground floor, one taking the elevator shaft at the east and the other taking the stairs leading to the basement at the west.
These two lines were placed to hold the fire from rising until additional help arrived. Members of Truck Company No. 1 cleared the building of all employees.
As the balance of the first alarm assignment was rolling in, fire suddenly burst with fury up the elevator shaft which was open from the basement to the top floor. The intense heat kept the line from Engine Company No. 1 away from the shaft and all it could do was to wet around the elevator as well as wet down the ceiling and floor in the immediate vicinity of the shaft.
Engine Co. No. 2 upon arriving immediately stretched in from hydrant No. 3 to the second floor of the fire building, to cover the elevator shaft, but the fire was too fast for them and it had already gone to the upper floors. Hose Company No. 1 was placed at hydrant No. 6 and a single line stretched by ladder to the third floor. Fire was driven back to the elevator shaft on this floor, but it had apparently reached the top floor where the varnish was present in considerable quantity. Shortly after the arrival of the apparatus on the first alarm, the assistant chief who responded, sent in a second alarm and shortly afterward followed it by special call for Engine Company No. 5, Hose No. 3 and Truck Company No. 2.
The fire spread with great rapidity over the top floor, and upon the arrival of apparatus on the second alarm, the fourth floor was completely involved, with fire coming out of the skylight over the elevator shaft.
Engine Company No. 3 was placed at hydrant No. 7 and single line stretched by ladder to the top floor of the fire building. This line had considerable difficulty operating due to the intense heat and the flare which continually came out of the windows on the Broadway side. Engine No. 4 was placed at hydrant No. 4 and a single line stretched by way of ladder to the top floor of the fire building on the Elkhorn street side. Hose Company No. 3 was placed at hydrant No. 10, and a single line stretched to the ground floor of the fire building to assist the line already in operation on this floor in holding the fire from coming out of the elevator shaft and stairway.
Engine No. 5 was placed at hydrant No. 5 and a single line stretched by way of ladder to the third floor of the fire building.
Hose Company No. 3 was placed at hydrant No. 11 and a single line stretched to the second floor of the fire building near the corner of 5th Avenue on Broadway. By the time these assignments had been made and the lines were in operation, it was found that the top floor of the fire building was too far gone to save. Lines operating on the top floor were thereupon brought down to operate on the third floor. They had been operated but a short while when the officer in cliarge noted the dangerous condition of the wall on the Elkhorn Street side, and ordered the men to withdraw their lines from this side of the building. They had hardly done so when the roof dropped in. Other lines were thereupon backed out of the building and positions taken on the street, and two lines placed on the top of the four-story building to the east of the fire building.
In shifting one of the lines to the roof of the machine shop south of the fire building, it was discovered that a large frame shed on top of this building, used as a draughting room was well ablaze. The frame house over the elevator shaft was also afire.
In view of the fact that the employees of the machine shop had gone to the windows to watch the fire across the way, this condition was not discovered until the firemen had gone to the roof.
It was found, shortly afterwards, that fire had gotten into the cock loft of the machine shop and before lines could be shifted to head off this threat, smoke coming out of the cornices on three sides of the building indicated that the fire had gained hold in the cock loft.
Additional lines were shifted to the roof of the machine shop, and were soon getting the fire in the superstructure under way, and were opening the roof and doing effective work on the fire in the “cock loft.
The truckmen cleaning up around the frame house over the elevator shaft in the machine part factory detected smoke coming from below which, upon investigation was found to be rising from the bottom of the elevator shaft. Due to the noise incidental to the fire, this information could not be communicated quickly to the officers on the street, and by the time the truck officer on the roof had gotten to the street and made an investigation the fire was already burning vigorously in the wooden framework around the elevator shaft.
From this point on the exact procedure of the department is not known. The fire, however, gained in headway until the factory engaged in manufacturing machine parts was completely involved.
When the fire was finally brought under control both the oil coat factory and the machine shop were completely destroyed. Fire was prevented from crossing any of the other streets, and even checked from spreading to a gas station across 6th Avenue.
The department did good work in preventing the further extension of the fire, in view of the fact that the wind was blowing from the northeast at about 25 miles per hour.
The Editor’s ideas on the handling of this fire will be given in the next issue.