Fire Spreads as Small Streams are Used

Fire Spreads as Small Streams are Used

Failure to Employ Heavy Streams Permits Flare to Ignite Frame Sash and Door Factory—How Fire Was Fought

THE fire described in this article of the series on Administration is one which occurred in a western city.

The fire is of particular interest in that it involved a chemical plant in which were stored chemicals both extremely dangerous from the standpoint of life as well as property destruction.

The population of the city in which the fire occurred is approximately 250,000. The water supply is excellent, particularly in the neighborhood of the fire, there being large size mains on all four streets surrounding the fire area as well as a liberal supply of hydrants.

Pressure at the hydrants in this particular location ranged around 50 pounds, which pressure fluctuated very little during the course of the fire.

Description of Plant and Surrounding Exposures

Fig. 1 shows the chemical plant in which the fire originated as well as the buildings to the west of the plant.

Fig. 2 shows a layout of the fire area including location of hydrants, and exposure buildings.

Referring to Fig. 2 building A was a two story brick building occupied as a laboratory.

On the ground floor were offices on the Smith Street side while to the rear of this building on the first floor were laboratories and chemical storage. Included in the chemicals stored were about 20 barrels of ammonium nitrate.

On the second floor of building A were located the various appliances used in performing chemical experiments, such as are commonly found in laboratories of this type.

Building B was occupied by apparatus for chemical reduction, including stills, ovens and other devices. Building B was of two stories, brick construction. Buildings A and B were connected by a fire door which was held open by a fusible link and which promptly closed after the start of the fire in building A but not until the fire had passed through and entered building B.

Building C was used entirely for storage, a large part of the first floor and almost the entire second floor being filled with barrels of chlorate of potash.

Building D was used as a chemical factory and contained among other things quite an assortment of dangerous acids, including nitric acid, sulphuric acid, picric acid, and also two containers of potassium cyanide on the second floor at the rear.

The occupancy of the surrounding buildings are indicated in Fig. 2. Possibly the most dangerous of all exposures was the sash and door plant of two story frame construction directly across Wyburn Avenue from the fire.

To the rear of the chemical establishment was a three story shoe manufacturing plant made up of a number of separate buildings and provided with a fire wall only bordering mi the chemical plant as shown in Fig. 2.

The Fire Department

The fire department in this city includes the following:

Twelve engine companies, seven of which are equipped with triple combination automobile pumping engines and 5 with tractorized steamers, each of these latter companies having an automobile hose car equipped with a deck gun. (There are two tractorized steamers in reserve.)

Four hose companies, two of them having deck gun and all being equipped with combination chemical and hose car; 10 ladder companies, two being equipped with aerial trucks and 8 with city service trucks; one water tower company.

The response to alarms in the particular section in which this fire occurred is as follows: First alarm: 3 engine companies, 1 hose company and 2 ladder companies.

Second alarm: 2 engine companies, 1 hose company and 2 ladder companies.

Third alarm: 3 engine companies and 1 ladder company.

The balance of the apparatus is “special called,” including the water tower company.

To simplify the explanation in the following paragraphs the numbers of the companies responding on the various alarms will be taken as follows:


Engine Co. No. 1—triple combination truck.

Engine Co. No. 2—triple combination truck.

Engine Co. No. 3—tractorized steamer with hose car having deck gun.

Hose Co. No. 1—having automobile combination chemical and hose car with deck gun.

Ladder Co. No. 1—equipped with aerial ladder truck.

Ladder Co. No. 2—equipped with city service truck.


Engine Co. No. 4—equipped with tractorized steamer and having deck gun.

Engine Co. No. 5—triple combination car.

Hose Co. No. 2—automobile combination chemical and hose car with deck gun.

Fig. 1.

Ladder Co. No. 3—city service truck.

Ladder Co. No. 4—city service truck.


Engine Co. No. 6—tractorized steamer with automobile hose wagon having deck gun.

Engine Co. No. 7—tractorized steamer with automobile hose wagon having deck gun.

Engine Co. No. 8—triple combination car.

Ladder Co. No. 5—city service truck.

The Fire

The fire started at 3 o’clock on a summer afternoon at the point marked by a star in building A. At the time of the fire a strong wind was blowing from the north.

The exact cause of the explosion was never known owing to the fact that the men working at that point of the plant and engaged in performing the work died without recovering consciousness.

Fig 2.

But other workmen in the plant stated that immediately after the explosion, fire was burning in building B although the fire door between buildings A and B had closed in the meantime.

An attempt was made to extinguish the fire with hand extinguishers but due to the fact that there were quite a number of empty barrels present and that the fire seemed to burn with exceeding intensity nothing was accomplished.

In the meantime an alarm had been transmitted by fire alarm box located directly across the street from building A and until the arrival of the department nothing was done to check the fire.

The employees were ordered out of the buildings at once, after closing what doors they could in the face of the rapidly spreading fire.

When the department arrived building B was fully involved on the ground floor and fire had _____xtended to the second floor

Eire had also entered building C and the fire doors had closed thereafter.

Engine No. 1 stopped at hydrant No. 1 and stretched in a single line to building B. This building was taken rather than building C as the fire had gained considerable proportions and it was thought that due to the large open area, more effective work could be done.

Engine 2 was located at hydrant No. 6 and stretched a single line into building A, using a 1 1/4 inch tip and made quick work against the fire in the laboratory. This stream kept in operation in building A until several of the men collapsed from gas and the company had to retreat, Gas had apparently gone to the upper floor as well; there was an _____en stairway leading to the upper floor from the ground floor in building A.

It was subsequently discovered that the large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in building A was giving off what is commonly known as “laughing gas.”

The remaining members of this company continued to operate from the street into building A.

Engine 3 connected to hydrant No. 7 and stretched a single line by ladder to the second floor of building A, operating from the ladder and taking no chance on going into the building. Fire at this time was burning quite briskly in on the second floor of building A and it required the attention of this line (using 1J4 inch nozzle) to stay the progress of the fire.

Hose Co. No. 1 upon rolling in stretched a second line from engine 1 at hydrant No. 1 into building B, going by ladder to the second floor which was now well ablaze.

The Battalion Chief in charge of the first alarm assignment at this time concluded that the task was too much for the first alarm apparatus and transmitted a second alarm.

Shortly after transmitting this alarm a great flare occurred from building C. sending white hot flames out onto the street. So intense was the heat that the men operating the two lines from engine Co. No. 1 had to drop their posts and retreat to safety. This threw the two lines out of service temporarily.

Members of the hose company withdrew the lines by pulling them back toward the engine, although the heat was so intense that it was almost unbearable to the men at engine No. 3. The lines however were eventually brought back to a point of safety and the men operating these lines rejoined their company and put the lines in operation to cover the sash and door factory as well as wet down as best they might on the fire.

The great heat, making it necessary for the men to operate at a distance, cut down the effectiveness of the 1 1/4 inch streams to such a point that they accomplished little in covering the exposures.

As a matter of fact, before the arrival of any of the second alarm companies the sash and door factory was burning at several points along its front.

Members of Ladder Cos. Nos. 1 and 2 opened up for the fire department at the various points desired and also placed ladders. Just before the arrival of the second alarm companies members of the ladder companies assisted in stretching lines from engine Co. No. 2 to operate in covering the sash and door factory and also wet down the front of building B.

Upon the arrival of engine Co. No. 4 on the second alarm, fire had gone through building B and both floors were now fully involved; both floors of building C were also fully involved as also was building A.

The fire chief arrived about the same time as engine Co. No. 4 and took command of the situation.

(Continued on page 306)

Pyromaniac Thought Responsible for N. Y. Fire The fire department officials believe that a pyromaniac was responsible for the two-alarm fire at Thirty-Sixth street, New York City. The apartment building was being wrecked to make way for a new office building. It was feared for a time that sparks would settle on the public school building across the street and the children were lead out of the school by the teachers. Note the old method of leading up a line of hose through a well of fire escapes. The new method as now being taught to the New York City probationary firemen is to raise the hose up on the outside of the fire escapes.

Fire Spreads as Small Streams are Used

(Continued from page 292)

Noting the extremely hazardous condition of the plant, in view of its occupancy as well as the dangerous exposures on all sides he transmitted a third alarm without further delay.

The assignment of companies on the second alarm was as follows: Engine Co. No. 4 was placed at hydrant No. 9 and a single line stretched with 1 1/4 inch nozzle to operate in building A. It was the intention of this line to help the other lines already operating in this building to hold the fire, extinguish it and eventually assist in controlling the fire in B. Engine Co. No. 5 was placed at hydrant No. 8 and a single line stretched up Wyburn Avenue to operate on building B as well as help cover exposures across the street. This line was also equipped with 1 1/4 inch tip.

The chief considered that in view of the rapid spread of the fire that it would not be wise to put in service deck guns due to the possible necessity of having to shift them frequently to keep them out of the range of the fire.

Hose Co. No. 4 upon arriving was assigned to stretch a second line from engine Co. No. 3, this line to operate on the fire in building B and also assist in whatever manner possible in covering exposures. A 1 1/4 inch tip was also used on this line.

At this point instead of the flare from building C diminishing it became more and more intense and caused the men operating to the south of the flare on Wyburn Avenue to retreat nearly 100 feet.

This imposed a severe handicap oil the department for streams could not be placed in operation on the fire in building B with any effectiveness.

Also, it cut down the effectiveness in covering the sash and door factory across the street.

The chief of the department assigned truckmen responding on the second alarm to make a survey of the surrounding buildings. They discovered that fire had passed into the basement of building B from A and was burning in stock in the basement of that building.

At this time there were no heavy gases present in the basement of building B, although there was considerable smoke. But the presence of a number of carboys of various acids, their identity not being known at the time, led the officer in charge of the truckmen making the survey to withdraw his men.

The shoe factory on the north of the chemical plant was not seriously endangered up to this point for it was protected from the chemical plant by a 24-inch fire wall, as well as having no combustible materials adjacent to the wall on any floor.

Engine Co. No. 6 arriving as the first company on the third alarm was stationed at hydrant No. 3. This company stretched in a single line and operated into building C. but could not get near enough because at this time an intense flare was beginning to spread from the building over Jay Street. The line, nevertheless, held its position and endeavored to cool down the flames as much as possible by directing the stream at an angle through the windows facing Jay Street.

The survey by the truckmen on the second alarm assignment also disclosed, about this time, the fact that fire had entered the sash and door plant and was burning on both floors in the front of the building. Thereupon the chief directed the assignment of two lines operating from engine Co. No. 1 to work through into the sash door plant from the Jay Street side.

This left building B covered only by lines from the south, which had to be operated at a distance due to the heat being driven down this street by the wind from the north.

Engine Co. No. 7 was stationed at hydrant 5 and stretched in two lines to the sash and door plant on the ground floor, and they had all they could do to hold their own. In the meantime fire was spreading rapidly over the second floor of the sash and door factory and involving a large stock of window frames which had been placed along the walls and near the front of the building on the second floor.

Engine Co. No. 8 was stationed at hydrant No. 10 and stretched a single line to building A of the chemical plant. Then engine Co. No. 3 was directed to assign both of its lines to covering the sash and door plant as well as checking the fire from entering the fur dying plant adjacent to the latter.

The fire continuing in its intensity in buildings C, B, and A of the chemical plant as well as entering building D, the chief transmitted a special call which brought three additional engine companies, a water tower, and one hose company.

These companies were assigned to various hydrants and endeavored to hold the fire from spreading any further in building D, as well as extending to the sash and door plant.

As it was, however, the fire got full control of the sash and door plant and it was found necessary to withdraw the men from the first floor. This building was completely destroyed.

The department, nevertheless, held the fire from extending to the fur dying plant adjacent to the sash and door factory.

It also by careful work prevented the fire from jumping across Jay Street to the wholesale market buildings.

It also held the fire from entering any of the shoe manufacturing plant buildings.

Fire continued to burn in the basement of building D and due to the presence of heavy fumes now being generated, no progress could be made against the fire.

However, the fire was held from rising on the various floors of this building by quick ventilation performed by the various ladder companies and good work by streams.

As fast as fire would enter from the basement to the first floor it was quickly washed out with streams from two sides.

By thus confining the fire the department was able to hold it in buildings A, B, and C, the basement of building 1). By covering exposures the department was able to prevent the fire from spreading beyond buildings A, B, and C of the chemical plant, and the basement of building D of the same plant; and the sash and door factory.

The buildings A, B, and C and the sash and door plant were completely destroyed. Building D was damaged only on the first floor and the basement.

The department deserves credit for confining the fire at this point.

The presence of the large quantity of chlorate of potash made the fire a particularly severe one but one which entails many points of interest.

The Editor’s opinion on the handling of this fire will be given in the next issue of this journal.

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