Fla. Shopping Center Fire Hit With Aggressive Attack

Fla. Shopping Center Fire Hit With Aggressive Attack

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Photo by Robert Cross

Fire totally destroyed two businesses and heavily damaged two others at a shopping center in Goldenrod, Fla., a suburb of Orlando. An aggressive interior attack was especially effective in limiting the losses, but fire fighters later had to be ordered outside. The roof collapsed shortly afterward.

Investigators determined that the fire was arson.

The shopping center was a one-story concrete block structure with a metal deck roof sitting on steel bar joists. Food World, a large grocery store, occupied the large center section of the complex. Several smaller businesses were located on both sides.

Some fire walls present

Running west to east, Food World and Art-Co Paint and Pool Supply were separated by a concrete block fire wall that extended above roof level. Art-Co and Home Medical Equipment were separated by a one-hour-rated partition consisting of dry wall over 2X4 studs which extended to the roof.

The section occupied by Home Medical Equipment and Wicker One Imports, however, was originally one business. The partition placed between these businesses consisted only of 1/8-inch wood paneling over 2X4 studs. This partition extended only to the suspended ceiling. Wicker One and H & R Block were divided by a concrete block partition extending to the roof. A suspended acoustical tile ceiling created a 4-foot cockloft above all occupancies.

At 2:52 a.m. last July 11, a telephone call reporting smoke coming from the Aloma Shopping Center, located at the corner of Aloma and Lakemont Aves., was received by the joint communications center serving the GoldenrodDommerich, Killarney, and Lockhart Fire Departments. First-alarm response consisted of Goldenrod’s Engine 4 with three men, Engine 2 with two, Medic 611 with two, and Winter Park’s Engine 21 with three. Winter Park responds jointly with Goldenrod units to all alarms from the shopping center. Deputy Chief T. V. Tanner and Assistant Chief M. C. Floyd also responded.

Open door in rear

Engine 4 arrived in four minutes, and its officer reported heavy smoke showing from the east end of the shopping center. The crew proceeded to lay a 5-inch supply line from a hydrant located just east of the complex and in front of Wicker One Imports. Two 1 3/4-inch hand lines were advanced into the section occupied by Wicker One Imports and Home Medical Equipment after entry was gained by forcing the front doors.

Engine 2 arrived and assisted with this operation. Engine 21 arrived and laid a 2 1/2-inch supply line from Engine 4 to a position at the rear of the shopping center behind the involved section. Its officer reported fire showing through an open door at the rear of Home Medical Equipment. A 1 1/2-inch hand line was advanced to that position.

Mattresses and magnesium wheelchair wheels were burning in Home Medical Equipment, where most of the fire seemed to be located.

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Officers of the crews inside the stores quickly determined that the heat from the fire had melted roof tar which dripped onto the suspended ceiling. There it combined with fire gases to provide fuel for a very hot and stubborn cockloft fire above Home Medical Equipment and Wicker One Imports. The ceiling above Art-Co Paint and Pool Supply was quickly pulled and checked for extension. None was found, although the store was quickly filling with heat and smoke. H & R Block was also checked, and a smoke condition existed there also.

Floyd realized an immediate need for roof ventilation and relief for the men inside the structure. A large shipment of HTH (chlorine granules for swimming pools—an oxidizer) had also been received that day by Art-Co, which in addition to the paint, thinners and other flammables located in the store created a serious exposure hazard. Master streams would be needed.

A second alarm was called for at 3:09 a.m. The response consisted of Winter Park’s Tower 1 with two men, Maitland’s Engine 3 with four men, Seminole County’s Engine 221 with two, and Goldenrod’s Engine 12 which would be manned by five off-duty personnel. All departments represented on the scene were paid departments.

Upon arrival, Tower 1 was assigned to roof ventilation but had to wait for the arrival of Engine 221 for a saw to cut through the heavy roof materials. Two 2 1/2-inch supply lines were laid to Tower 1 from Engine 4. Engine 12 is equipped with a 55-foot telescopic water tower/ aerial ladder with a preconnected waterway to a remote-controlled monitor nozzle. This unit was placed in front of Home Medical Equipment. Engine 221 set up and relayed to Engine 12 through a 5-inch hose from a hydrant on Aloma Ave. Engine 3 arrived and its crew provided much needed manpower.

Tar stuck to saw

Due to the delay in obtaining a saw to cut through the roof and mechanical problems caused by the hot tar sticking to the saw’s moving parts, roof ventilation was not completed until 3:30 a.m. Fire was still heavily involving the cockloft area, and fire fighters inside the structure were being hampered by the dripping tar, heavy smoke and extreme heat.

Realizing that roof collapse was imminent, Floyd withdrew all personnel and set up an exterior attack with master streams. Engine 12’s ladder monitor was used to sweep the front windows of the stores and hit the ceiling areas. Tower 1 operated its stream above the roof, and Engine 21 set up and operated a deluge gun at the rear of the stores. The roof collapsed shortly thereafter and pulled in the front and rear walls of the involved section.

Floyd declared the fire under control at 3:40 a.m., but crews remained on the scene all night and part of the next day. The investigation revealed that multiple fires had been set in Home Medical Equipment.

Joint response on the first alarm, the quick call for mutual aid, an aggressive interior attack, a close check on exposures, and the eventual pullout and use of master streams successfully prevented the fire from extending beyond the two stores and prevented any injuries to fire fighters. Art-Co Paint and Pool Supply received heavy smoke and water damage, H & R Block had smoke damage, and Food World and the other stores in the shopping center were undamaged by the fire.

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