Fire in Chen’s Casino Chases Bridal Party

Fire in Chen’s Casino Chases Bridal Party

Mamaroneck’s fire triangle was completed with a smoky, stubborn blaze that caused heavy damage to the dining room of Tommy Chen’s Casino, 1035 East Boston Post Road, November 17 soon after 8:00 p.m.

The long, squat frame building between the Post Road and an inlet of Long Island Sound, originally known as Lawrence Inn, is a familiar sight to travelers of that highway. The north and main dining section, which seats some 400 persons, was occupied at the time of the fire by about 100 members of a wedding reception for newly-married Mr. and Mrs. Edward Wurst of New Rochelle. Between 50 and 60 guests, together with 30 of the Chen staff were the other occupants.

The odor of smoke was detected for some time and finally observed emitting from the wall in the north end of the room. Some time was spent trying to locate the fire which finally broke through the wall on the other side of the room, which divided the dining and kitchen area. About the same time, fire was noticed in the vast expanse of ceiling. This spread rapidly to involve the entire frame cockloft.

Firemen were compelled to tockle cockloft blaze in Chen's Chinese Restaurant from wall ladders raised under difficulties. Partial initial ventilation was accomplished through windows (upper rear)

Photo courtesy Westchester Publishers, Inc., Mamaroneck Times

As guests fled the building, some employees made a futile effort to combat the fire, using the extinguishers in the place, but with no success. A member of the Nassau County Police, who was present at the time fire was discovered, helped shepherd the diners and members of the wedding party to the exits before the arrival of the fire department, which was called by phone at 8:15 p.m.

The full alarm brought the village’s five companies under Chief Sal Amoruso. Units were put to work according to preoperational plans established by the department. The volunteers faced with heavy smoke conditions and a fully involved attic area, and knowing full well the combustible nature of the sprawling structure, transmitted additional alarms to the county fire control center.

The decorations of bamboo, straw and imitation palms had fortunately been treated with fire-resistant material and where ignited, burned slowly. However, they gave off punishing smoke and odors and it was not until firemen opened up skylights and windows over the dining room that they were able to come to grips with the fire.

The ceiling, which was high for the longest pike poles and hooks, had to be opened from below by means of ladders. While some crews fought the spreading fire in the cockloft, others literally dug it out of walls and partitions.

Sparing use of water held property loss, other than that caused by the fire itself, to a minimum. All band instruments were saved and most of the furnishings were reclaimable. The main dining room, however, suffered heavy damage.

The fire marked the first extensive use of the Village of Mamaroneck’s new fire department radio system. By means of it, the county fire control center of the Westchester Emergency Plan dispatched an engine each from the Village of Larchmont, Town of Mamaroneck and Village of Harrison, as well as an aerial ladder from the latter to cover in at Mamaroneck’s empty fire stations. In addition, as the need for additional illumination increased, lighting equipment was requested of Mt. Vernon, Rye and Harrison.

Chief Amoruso suffered a puncture wound, as did a member of Mamaroneck Hose (Engine 39). Another volunteer received a sprained ankle and several were treated for smoke poisoning.

The fire originated in a partition between kitchen and dining room possibly due to heat convection. The operation, like the near-conflagration of the 4th, which occurred less than half a mile south on the Post Road, necessitated rerouting the heavy traffic and caused some confusion in the area. The fire emphasized the hazards and handicaps to fire fighting operations when large restaurants are wholly or partially surrounded by automobiles of patrons and employees.

Fire department honored

On November 21, tribute was paid the Village of Mamaroneck Fire Department for the excellent “stops” made by the companies. This took the form of a “Certificate of Recognition” by the Kiwanis Club of Mamaroneck. Fire Chief Sal Amoruso, Deputy Chiefs Felix La Polla and Ralph Robins and the captains of all companies accepted the honors for the department at a testimonial dinner.

The certificate commended the volunteers for “distinguished service to our community in the past year,” with special emphasis on “heroic performance of duty during the recent fires at Brewer’s Lumber Yard and Tommy Chen’s Restaurant.”

Observations and conclusions

All three fires emphasize the importance of early discovery and prompt notification of the fire force. There was no watchman, no automatic fire detection and alarm system, no sprinklers at the lumber yard. The area was poorly lighted; there were no yard hydrants and approaches to dockside were difficult.

The two major fires evidenced the wisdom of preplanning for coping with such hazardous occupancies and for periodic drills on the premises.

The lumber yard blaze demonstrated the importance of heavy streams and stream appliances for killing large bodies of fire, and for smaller lines with multiuse nozzles, for protecting exposures where the type of occupancy makes it difficult to operate with heavier hose lines. This fire also attested the wisdom of training in short relay operations and use of ladder streams. Finally, it emphasized the importance of knowledge of tiie tides with relation to pump suction operation. Prcknowledge of tide rise and fall may forestall serious pumping interruptions.

All three fires attested to the advantage of a well-planned and equipped mutual aid control center and of each unit of a fire department being equipped with radio on mutual aid exclusive fire department frequencies.

All fires also illustrated the value of ample respiratory protective facilities and their proper use in emergencies, and of ample lighting generators and accessories.

Snapshots taken by a member of the bridal party show fire breaking through ceiling of big dining room. At left, fire rolls along ceiling in wavesflaming decorations drop to floor to ignite furnishings as Chen's staff watch helplessly

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