Delayed Alarm Dooms Stores
A delayed alarm for a grease duct fire plus a common cockloft added up to the destruction of a one-story building housing five stores in Oklahoma City with a loss estimated at $350,000.
An employee of the Britton drugstore at Britton Road and Francis Avenue turned on a deep-fat fryer about 8:15 a.m. last November 28, and in about 10 minutes the grease began to smoke. Two employees tried to turn off the fryer, but the control was stuck in the on position. As one of them grabbed a fire extinguisher, the other went across the street to get a former employee, who went to the store and also tried to turn off the fryer. However, the heat was too great for him to do this because by this time fire was in the exhaust hood and flames were racing up the grease duct. The employee with the fire extinguisher tried a second extinguisher with no better results.
The Oklahoma City Fire Department received a call for the fire at 8:52 a.m., which officials estimated was some 20 minutes after flames developed.
Engine 22, stationed less than two blocks away, was the first to arrive. This company caught a hydrant at Britton Road and Olie Avenue and laid a 2 1/2-inch feeder line to the east door of the drugstore to make the initial attack with two 1½-inch preconnected lines.
Aerial Truck 22, which also responded on the first alarm, took a position on Britton Road and raised its ladder to the roof. Flames were shooting from a vent pipe, so the truck company cut a hole in the roof to determine the extent of fire travel. When this hole was opened up, flames came out, indicating that the flames had spread from the vent pipe to the roof. Another hole was chopped farther away and flames also came out of this hole.
Piercing nozzles were then used on the roof, but they had little effect because there were two ceilings beneath the roof. There was a ceiling about 12 inches below the roof and a dropped ceiling about 3 feet below. The piecing nozzles penetrated the upper ceiling but not the lower ceiling to reach the interior of the stores. Fire traveling between these ceilings engulfed the common cockloft shared by the five stores.
While fire fighters on the roof were trying to cut off the fire with piercing nozzles, the men on the ground switched to 2 1/2-inch hand lines.
Engine 11, the second-in engine on the first alarm, made a reverse lay from the drug store to a hydrant at 92nd Street and Olie Avenue. A pumper from Nichols Hills, a city within the Oklahoma City limits, also responded on the first alarm and took a position on the east side of the building.
Two more alarms
A second alarm was struck at 9:06 a.m., bringing in four more engine companies, a squad, a tanker-pumper and a brush fire pumper. A third alarm followed at 9:10 a.m. bringing in three more engines and another ladder truck. Also, one off-duty shift was recalled. With the third alarm, mutual aid went into operation with apparatus from the cities of Bethany and The Village relocating to Oklahoma City stations. At the same time, Edmond apparatus covered for The Village.
The common cockloft and the lack of fire walls allowed the fire to race through the 50-year-old building. Only ordinary partitions separated the five stores. Fire fighters were hampered by exploding aerosol cans in the drug store that gave a spectacular demonstration but luckily caused no major injuries. Thick, black smoke in the building also hindered fire fighters.
With some 200 fire fighters eventually on the scene, the fire was brought under control at 10 a.m. Four fire fighters received minor injuries. The fire was held to the building of origin, although there was some smoke damage to the adjoining building. In addition to the drug store, the businesses destroyed were the Britton Beauty Shop, Brown’s Department Store, Gordon’s TV and the Richardson Camera Store.
“If they had called us when the fire started,” Chief Byron Hollander of Oklahoma City commented, “it would probably have been just another grease fire like we have every day.”
The effect of the delayed alarm also caused Fire Marshal E.L. Koch to remark, “This points out our failure in educational programs to encourage the public to call the fire department for all fires—no matter how small.”