Fire in Polystyrene Warehouse

Fire in Polystyrene Warehouse

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A two-alarm fire in a warehouse full of polystyrene in Frederick, Md., underscored the need for Fire fighters to be aware of combustible materials that are stored in their communities.

The warehouse was a former railroad freight shed, one story high with wood studs, steel siding and a pitched roof. It was between two railroad tracks and had loading docks on both sides. The 40 X 100-foot building had steel roll-up doors with positive chain drives along the loading docks and wood doors to the office area.

Polystyrene raw materials in 55-gallon cardboard drums and large boxes were stored in the warehouse by a local factory along with finished polystyrene products stacked to the ceiling, which hampered fire fighting.

Polystyrene is produced by polymerizing styrene and is a thermoplastic resin that can be made into film, molded articles and foam. Easily ignited, it emits heavy, black smoke, as well as clumps of unburned carbon. The ignition temperature, not readily determined for all polystyrene, is believed to be in the range of 320° to 495°F. The raw material, known as beads, has both ignition sensitivity and explosion severity described as “strong.”

First-alarm response

The fire was discovered about midway in the warehouse last August 19. Three engine companies and a ladder company responded to the first alarm. All fire stations in the City of Frederick have paid drivers and volunteer fire fighters.

The first-arriving engine companies noted heavy black smoke coming from t he eaves. The smoke color was indicative of an oil-based product.

The first-in engine company stretched 2 ½-inch attack lines to the south side of the building and hooked up to a hydrant with a 5-inch sleeve. In this area, water supply is excellent and is on 8 and 10-inch mains. The second and third-in engine companies laid lines to the north side of the structure. The ladder truck, before the arrival of the officer of the firstdue engine company, committed itself to a location which was useful only for ladder pipe operation.

Shortly after fire fighting operations began, a second alarm was sounded for manpower and additional pumping capacity. This brought two pumpers and a fill-in of stations vacated in the city by county companies through a mutual aid agreement.

Roll-up doors forced

Entrance to the building was made through wooden office doors and by using hydraulic ram rescue equipment to raise the metal freight roll-up doors enough to get inside and roll them up.

Fire fighting efforts were confined to the use of 2½ and l 1/2-inch lines with exception of one master stream, which was less than effective because of the position of the ladder truck from which it was operated. Knockdown and eventual extinguishment was easy once the building was entered.

During the fire, nine volunteer firemen sustained carbon monoxide poisoning, strains, burns and cuts. None was considered serious. Two men were treated and held at the local hospital for observation.

After the fire was extinguished, a monumental job of overhaul was accomplished with equipment borrowed from local contractors and the City of Frederick.

Information gathered for this report was supplied by Lieutenants Robert Young and John E. Wisner, Jr.

Smoke rolls under eaves as fire sweeps old warehouse filled with polystyrene in drums and boxes.some idea of the amount of overhauling required can be gained from the quantity of materials on the ground.

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