Firemen Make Excellent Stop at Large Miami Warehouse Fire
Fog, Masks, Breathing Apparatus, Flood-lights, Distributors and Smoke Ejectors Used in Coordinated Night Attack. Fireman Injured in Unusual Ladder Mishap.
SHORTLY before five o’clock on the morning of January 13th, 1951, fireman William A. Long, of Engine No. 2, Miami, Florida, was awakened by the incessant whistling of a switch engine on the Florida East Coast spur track, which crosses N. W. 7th Avenue near 73rd Street. Altho off duty and peacefully asleep in his own home, fireman Long realized that something was wrong on the railroad and hurried out to see if assistance was needed. As he stepped out of his door, however, he knew that in reality he was responding to a fire alarm, because over the roofs of the intervening houses he could see long tongues of flame licking out of the windows on the south side of the large General Mills Company warehouse on N. W. 7th Avenue and 73rd Street.
Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Long ran to his telephone but even as he picked up the receiver he heard the sirens of Engine 9 and Ladder 9 leaving their house ten blocks away on N. E. First Avenue at 76th Street. Two minutes later Captain Stephens of Engine 9 reached the scene and immediately radioed a second alarm.
Radio Proves Worth
No advocate of radio in the fire service could ask for a better example of its value than in this instance. A large warehouse filled with combustibles, and already heavily involved, presented a situation that could only be handled by the prompt arrival of substantial reinforcements. District Chief Ward, responding from his headquarters at Station 2, was still more than two miles away when he picked up the radioed second alarm and turning to your correspondent, who was responding with him, he remarked that undoubtedly the fire was in the General Mills Warehouse.
How much this deduction contributed to the success of the fire fighting operations that followed is hard to say, but certainly it allowed the Chief two or three minutes to review his knowledge of the building, the exposures and the available water supply, and other known factors; certainly, in examining the strategy employed, it would be very difficult, even in retrospect, to see how it could have been improved upon.
On his arrival, Chief Ward found the involved building to be a one story warehouse, 144 ft. wide by 258 ft. deep, constructed of cement block with wood trussed roof of two thicknesses of sheet rock. The building was roughly divided into two parts by a concrete block wall or partition that extended its entire width, about two thirds of the way back. Had this wall been solid it would have formed an excellent fire stop, but unfortunately it was pierced by three sets of ordinary glass windows, above the floor level, a large unprotected opening or doorway at floor level, and five large air vents below floor level. In addition, a wooden elevator housing straddled the wall on the south side and formed a natural channel for the passage of flame and heat from one side to the other. There were no other partitions in the building except a concrete partitioned garage on the north side, a wooden partitioned mixing room on the south side, and the offices at the extreme front, or west side.
Building Stocked with Combustibles
The building was filled almost to its capacity with bagged feed, principally citrus pulp, baled hay, cork insulation and various refrigerating and agricultural equipment. Five large trucks were also housed in the building at the time of the fire.
The fire apparently originated near the south wall, about thirty feet from the back or east end of the building. As first-due firemen arrived flames were already pouring out of windows on the south and east side and through the roof and elevator housing on the south side, in the vicinity of the concrete partition. A quick size-up showed that the fire had already communicated through this partition to the western part of the building, which had an area of 25,000 square ft., more than twice as much as the eastern part, where the fire had originated. Five doorways on the south side and three on the north side allowed access to the building, but all were protected by heavy metal doors, which required considerable time to open.
The author, Hugh H. McNair, who has been a frequent contributor to FIRE ENGINEERING, is widely known for his knowledge of and advocacy of water fog and wet water in fire attack. At present residing in Florida, Hugh is reported to be giving his vocation and avocation full swing, his time alternating between the Miami and other Florida fire departments. The editors are grateful to Hugh and to Chief Henry Chase of the Miami Fire Department for this comprehensive, factual account of an outstanding example of fire control.
With Engine 9 and Ladder 9 already on the scene and Engines 2 and 5 and Ladder 6 responding to the second alarm, Chief Ward transmitted a Third Alarm by radio, which called out Hose 2 and Chemical 12. A Fourth Alarm, bringing Engine 1 and Engine 3 and Ladder 2, was radioed in approximately ten minutes later, after the arrival of District Chief Roberts, Acting Chief of Department, in the absence of Chief Chase, who was attending the Memphis conference.
The alarm record was as follows:
First Alarm received by telephone 4:54 A.M.—response Engine 9, Ladder 9 and Chief No. 2.
Second Alarm received by radio 4:59 A.M.—Response Engine 5, Engine 2, Ladder 6, Squad 1, Acting Chief of Department, Chief Mechanic and Assistant Mechanic.
Third Alarm received by radio 5:14 A.M.—response Hose 2, Chemical 12.
Fourth Alarm received by radio 5:24 A.M.—response Ladder 2, Engine 1 and Engine 3.
Fire Department Operations
The first two lines laid from Engine 9 were unable to hold the fire, which was spreading rapidly, and it was not until all the doors had been opened, in some cases necessitating use of cutting torches, and the Second and Third Alarm companies stretched in, that a concerted and effective attack could be made.
As will be seen from the accompanying diagram, Chief Ward, from the very outset, employed what might be described as a double pincer movement on the fire, using both fog and solid streams in a very effective combination.
The first two lines, one a fog and the other a solid stream, attacked the main body of the fire from the south side, while the second two lines, both solid streams, attacked from the north side The fifth line, using fog, attacked the extension of the fire west of the concrete partition from a door on the south side of the building, while the sixth line, penetrating inside the building, made a similar attack from the west, both lines using fog. The seventh line, also using fog, backed up the fifth line on the south side of the building, while the eighth line, using solid stream assisted the third and fourth lines, which were operating on the main body of the fire from the north side.
It is interesting to note that while the fire continued to burn with great intensity in the eastern section for several hours, its extension to the western side was completely stopped by the fog employed in that area, in spite of the fact that the intense heat had already ignited a large area of ceiling and the top of the stock piled in this section. Actually, so successful was this operation that Chief Ward stated that the fire was tinder control forty-five minutes from time of arrival.
While lines 3 and 4 were being advanced into the building on the north side, a series of explosions occurred in rapid succession, the last of which was sufficiently severe to cause the collapse of about seven thousand square feet of roof. Although this increased the intensity of the fire, it also vented the building of considerable smoke, which had previously been very severe, thereby permitting a deeper penetration of the lines working in from the north and west.
At 8:00 A.M., three hours after the discovery of the fire, Chief Ward and the officers and men of A shift were relieved by Chief W. G. DeBerry and the officers and men of B shift. By this time the fire above floor level, altho under control, was still burning stubbornly in the southeastern part of the building. Much more serious, however, was the situation below the floor level. Although the building had no cellar, an air space approximately three feet deep existed below the whole floor area. During the course of the fire, part of the floor in the southeastern area, had collapsed, carrying the fire down into this air space. Untouched by any of the streams operating on the fire, the floor beams and under side of the floor itself became ignited, causing further collapse of the floor in the eastern section. This fire threatened to extend through the air vents below floor level into the western section of the building.
Realizing the danger this presented, Chief DeBerry had a series of holes cut in the floor, over the air vents on the west side of the concrete partition, and inserted a 1 1/2“ fog line through each hole. Subsequently it was necessary to enlarge the holes to permit men, equipped with gas masks and breathing equipment, to descend into this area with both fog and solid stream lines to knock down the fire and prevent its extension into the western section of the building. Smoke ejectors were brought into play to reverse air currents under the floor.
The accompanying photographs illustrate clearly the extent of involvement, the very large floor area exposed and the combustible nature of the contents. In spite of this, the fact that two thirds of the building and its contents were saved is a testimony, not only to the Miami Fire Department, but to the modern methods it employed in this operation. There is little doubt that without the use of substantial quantities of fog, the fire could not have been kept from extending through the entire western section of the building. Again, the successful operation of some of the solid stream lines, as well as some of the fog lines, could not have been effected without the protection of the crews by gas masks.
Two or three very interesting observations can be made from this fire. In the first place, although there was a great deal of involvement, the fire was controlled with only eight 2 1/2″ lines. No deck guns or deluge sets were employed. At least half of these lines discharged fog. The exposed area was protected by a fog curtain and no water damage resulted therein. Contrary to the custom in many departments, heavy lines were not operated on to the exposed stock and, as a result, the only damage to that part of the building or its contents was from smoke and heat.
In the second place, these operations answered the question of the value of the Miami wet water wagons at big fires. When Chemical 12 rolled in, they were immediately assigned to salvaging $20,000.00 worth of trucks in the building. This operation required gas masks, with which all members of this company are equipped. Subsequently they were valuable in operating lines where smoke was particularly dense.
Finally, the fire demonstrated the truism that successful modern fire fighting operations call for the use of cutting torches, flood lights, smoke ejectors, etc., all of which require thorough training of firefighting personnel.
As inevitably happens at fires of this size, there were a number of minor injuries sustained by the fire fighting force and, unfortunately, one of a more serious nature. Fireman John A. Park sustained a fracture of his back when a ladder from which he was operating a line fell. A total of fourteen firemen had to receive treatment for smoke inhalation and eye irritation, due to the smoke given off by the citrus pulp which was particularly irritating. of
A near tragedy occurred when one of the explosions hurled a piece of concrete weighing approximately ten pounds, through the roof of a house five hundred feet away. The concrete projectile crashed through a chair and into the floor, two feet from a child who was sleeping in the room. It is believed that this was a part of the concrete with which the lawley columns were filled. One of these had exploded violently, probably due to the moisture trapped inside when the concrete was poured.
While the origin of the fire has not been officially determined, it is believed to have started from spontaneous ignition in the citrus pulp that was stored in the eastern section.
Although most of the responding companies were returned to quarters by the evening of the 13th, the fire continued to smolder and break out occasionally for three days. This was caused by sufficient heat remaining in the tons of citrus pulp to cause rekindling from time to time. These outbreaks were promptly handled by the watch crews left at the scene.