Handling a Fire Against Odds
Unexpected Collapse of Building Spreads Fire Through Adjacent Structure—An Unusual Method of Fire Extension
THE fire described in this article of the series on administration has two points of unusual interest: fire was apparently being successfully confined to one building, when the building collapsed, causing the fire to extend to adjacent printing plant; fire subsequently extended front the building in which it originally started to a building to the south by igniting pent house over elevator shaft and thereby causing burning embers to drop to the bottom of the shaft—starting a new fire.
The city in which this fire occurred is located in the eastern section of the country, and has a population of around 65,000.
The fire department consists of four engine companies, two hose companies and two ladder companies.
The equipment of the engine companies is as follows: Engine Co. No. 1. 750 gallon triple combination carrying 1.000 feet of hose; Engine Co. No. 2. 450 gallon triple combination carrying 1,000 feet of hose; Engine Co. No. 3. 750 gallon triple combination carrying 1,200 feet of hose; Engine Co. No. 4, 750 gallon triple combination, carrying 1,100 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose.
Hose Co. No. 5 carries 1,200 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose, as does also Hose Co. No. 6.
Ladder Co. No. 1 is equipped with an aerial ladder while Ladder Co. No. 2 has a city service truck.
The response to alarms is as follows; First alarm, Engine Cos. No. 1. 2 and 3 and Truck Co. No. 1; second alarm. Engine Co. No. 4, Hose Co. No. 5 and Truck Co. No. 2. Hose Co. No. 6 is left in service, and is brought out only by special call.
The water supply in this city is very satisfactory, there being plenty of good size mains throughout the commercial section and with a pressure of 75 pounds at the hydrant.
In the immediate neighborhood of the fire there were sufficient hydrants to take care of all of the engine and hose companies.
The layout of fire building and surrounding buildings is shown in the sketch herewith.
The fire originated in the paper box plant, a five story structure of about 10,000 square feet area. To the north of this plant was a three story printing plant, while to the south of it was a five story machine shop, engaged in manufacturing small tools.
Other buildings in the immediate vicinity of the fire are indicated in the sketch.
The fire building was occupied on the ground floor by packing and shipping operations. Second and third floors were engaged in manufacturing paper containers while the top two floors were largely employed for storage of paper stock.
The excess weight of the stock on the top floor probably had a great deal to do with the collapse of the building and resulting spread of fire.
The combination freight and passenger elevator and the stairway alongside were the only available means for employees of the factory to get to the street.
Fire escapes had been placed at the rear of the plant but were subsequently removed to make room for a new fire tower which was to be built.
The fire occurred at lunch time when the 150 employees were in the lunch room on the third floor. The fire started in the basement and was discovered by a truck driver who was delivering goods to the plant. With the assistance of the two shipping clerks who were assisting him in unloading, he attempted to extinguish the fire but after working at it for a few minutes decided that it was beyond his control and thereupon went upstairs and ’phoned the fire department. The fire department sent out a first alarm assignment consisting of engine companies Nos. 1,2 and 3 and truck Co. No. 1.
Upon the arrival of the department, it was found that the employees were all trapped above the fire, some having gone to the roof and the balance remaining in windows on the third floor. The elevator car was in the basement at the time, and it was impossible to get to it. The fire department devoted all efforts during the first ten minutes toward getting the employees out. and this they did by stretching in two lines from the first engine arriving to protect the stairway while the employees were escorted to the street. By this time fire had risen in the shaft, beside involving the basement, and had extended into the top floor. Engine Co. No. 1, which was placed at hydrant No. 8, had stretched in tw’o lines and these were operating on the ground floor to prevent fire from coming up elevator and stair shafts, as well as protecting stairway to basement in the rear of the plant.
Engine Co. 2 was placed at hydrant No. 7 and a single line stretched to the basement entrance on Belmont Avenue. The fire was too intense in the basement, however, for the stream to enter and it endeavored to operate from the street, but without much effect.
Engine Co. No. 3 was placed at hydrant No. 2 and this line was stretched by way of ladder at the rear of the box factory to the top floor. The windows were covered with heavy wire screen and it was fully ten minutes liefore the department could effect entrance. In the meantime the fire continued to spread over the top floor so that by the time the stream was finally in operation, the men could not enter this floor. Truck Co. No. 1 placed the ladders for engine Co. No. 3 and removed the wire screen over the window on the fifth floor. This truck company also a little later got to the roof of the paper box plant and opened up over the elevator shaft.
After operating for approximately 15 minutes, it was found that the fire was gaining headway and weakening the ground floor at two points. Fire was also increasing in intensity on the top floor, and due to the fact that water was being discharged in on this floor, and increasing the weight thereon, it was thought best to withdraw the men from the ground floor and operate from the street through the window’s.
Second Alarm Turned In
Upon giving these orders, a second alarm was transmitted bringing out engine Co. No. 4, hose Co. No. 5 and truck Co. No. 2.
Hose Co. No. 5 was placed at hydrant No. 9, and a single line stretched to the basement of the five-story machine shop, south of the paper box plant. Finding no fire in the basement, this line was subsequently backed out and brought up to the street floor where it assisted the lines operating on the fire from Belmont Avenue.
Engine Co. No. 4 was placed at hydrant No. 1 and a single line stretched to the root of the five-story machine shop to operate upon the paper box factory roof, where the fire was already breaking through. After operating within the layout of apparatus for ten or fifteen minutes longer, the north wall of the paper box plant, without warning, gave away and dumped onto the three-story printing plant roof a great mass of burning paper and other materials; at the same time the roof of the paper box plant fell through and a little later a part of the fifth story floor collapsed.
This sudden change in the state of affairs took the department unaware. Before lines could be shifted, fire was burning vigorously in the three-story printing shop, on the top floor. All efforts were then concentrated toward holding the fire from gaining headway in this building but without much success. In devoting attention to this end of the fire, the five-story machine shop at the south was forgotten. As a result, the pent house on top of the machine shop took fire from heat driven by the north wind from the paper box plant, and apparently shortly after embers dropped from the pent house down the elevator shaft, starting fire on the ground floor of the machine shop. This fire was not discovered until it was burning up through the entire five story shaft.
From this point on the operations of the department are not fully known. The chief attention was evidently given toward holding the fire from extending beyond the printing plant, northward, in which the fire department was successful.
The machine shop, however, was completely destroyed as was the paper box plant and the three-story plant.
The presence of fairly wide streets and a vacant lot to the west of the fire building helped the department in confining the fire to these three structures.
The Editor’s ideas on the handling of this fire will be given in the next issue.