Fire walls limit destruction during shopping center blaze

Fire walls limit destruction during shopping center blaze

Mutual-aid forces employ heavy streams in effort to knock down shopping center blaze

—Photo by Will Gainfort

WILLIAM C. PECK

A LARGE MERCANTILE store, occupied by J. J. Newberry & Company, was destroyed by fire the night of September 3, in East Brunswick Township, N. J. Measuring 100 by 175 feet, it was the largest of 22 stores in the Mid State Mall, a shopping center on Highway S-18 in this central New Jersey community. Before the fire was brought under control, eight departments had joined the battle.

The fire was discovered at 11:44 p.m. by a passer-by and the East Brunswick Independent Fire Company No. 1 responded to the telephone alarm with two pumpers and a utility truck and 33 volunteer firemen under the direction of Assistant Chief Louis A. Force. Upon arrival, one 2 1/2-inch and two 1 1/2-inch lines were stretched at the rear of the store, one line being taken to the roof and two lines advanced inside by members wearing self-contained masks. At 11:53 p.m., Chief Force requested the assistance of the Old Bridge and South River departments and minutes later the Brookview Fire Company.

The fire had already entered the inaccessible space between the ceiling and roof and extended through the air-conditioning ducts. The intense heat forced the firemen inside the store to back out and the roof soon became untenable. As fire broke through the roof, a ladder pipe was placed into operation and hand lines were directed into the interior through the rear entrance. The lack of windows at the rear of the store handicapped operations in this area. At 12:25 a.m., mutual aid was requested and apparatus from the Milltown, Sayreville, South Old Bridge, Melrose and New Brunswick departments were dispatched to the scene according to plan.

As the fire was spreading rapidly toward the front of the store, the mutual aid companies organized their attack from the parking lot in front of the shopping center. A second ladder pipe, a portable turret and numerous hand lines were brought to bear. About 1:30 a.m. the roof collapsed and grave concern was felt for the adjoining stores as well as all buildings in the area, including a new 48-lane bowling center. Fire walls on either side of the fire building held, but flames jumped a low parapet and spread to the roof of one adjoining store. Streams directed from an adjoining roof were able to control this extension and only small damage resulted.

The fire was under control by 4:30 a.m. and the first outside companies were released. Members of the East Brunswick Fire Company remained on duty until 4 p.m. overhauling.

The fire building was a complete loss with the exception of a small section of the garden center adjacent to the main store. Water damage was suffered by adjoining stores and smoke damage extended four to six stores in each direction. Factors contributing to the large loss include delay in discovery, lack of automatic sprinkler protection, inaccessible space between the hanging ceiling and roof and the large undivided area.

The investigation into the cause of the fire was headed by Chief Arthur Z. Johnson. It was determined that the fire originated in a room containing electrical equipment for the air-conditioning system, but at this writing the exact cause is unknown.

This was the second blaze in the store within the past two years. On November 13, 1958, employees discovered a fire in the roof of the building near the incinerator stack, later found to be a faulty installation. At that time, fast work by firemen limited damage to a 20-foot section of the roof.

Rescue squads from East Brunswick, South River, Milltown, Sayreville and South Old Bridge treated 15 firemen for various injuries including nail punctures and cuts and for smoke inhalation. Members of the women’s auxiliaries of several of the departments were on hand to serve coffee and sandwiches to the firemen.

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