Inadequate water pressure dooms Long Island hotel

Inadequate water pressure dooms Long Island hotel

Heavy streams from turret pipes and ladder nozzles were unable to save the hotel once fire had involved it. Delayed discovery and poor standpipe pressure permitted its spread—FDNY photo by Heffernan & Hellriegel

IN ITS SUNNY HEYDEY, the Nautilus Hotel at Atlantic Beach, N. Y., cast its shadow on the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Yet when it burned on March 14, water supply was a major problem.

Built around 1929, the Nautilus was a seven-story building, approximately 170 x 100 feet. A two-story penthouse on the roof provided living quarters for the employees. Construction was brick on steel frame, and interior partitions were wire lath and plaster on fiber board. There was considerable wood trim within the building. Three elevator shafts, an interior fire tower and a stairway were masonry-block-enclosed. Two laundry chutes Were sealed off at all floors with the possible exception of the second floor.

A standpipe system, supplied by city main and fire department connection, covered the floors from one through seven. When the building was erected, a sprinkler system was installed in the basement, supplied by city main and fire department connection. Later, to comply with the multiple residence law, a sprinkler system was installed to cover the penthouse, seventh-floor corridor and stairway. This system was supplied from an 8,000-gallon roof tank. It is reported that, at the time of the fire, this tank was empty and that a battery-operated H.A.D. system was not operative.

The fire is believed to have started in the penthouse apartment of a night watchman, and apparently was caused by an electric heater that had no switch or thermostat. There was no one in the penthouse area at the time, and the fire was not discovered until three workmen several blocks away noticed it. They called the fire department and hurried to the hotel to warn its occupants. The workmen and several hotel employees attempted to extinguish the fire with standpipe hose from the seventh floor but the pressure was inadequate.

The Inwood Fire Department received the alarm at 8:55 a.m. Thirty men responded with four pumpers (two 1,000 gpm, one 750 gpm and one 500 gpm); an 85-foot aerial ladder, an emergency-floodlight unit and an ambulance. Following standard operating procedure as set up in prefire planning, a mutual aid call for an aerial ladder and pumper from Lawrence-Cedarhurst was sent out immediately.

Fire was found involving two apartments on the seventh floor and in the sixth-floor ceiling. The Inwood fire fighters stretched two standpipe lines from the seventh floor and one 2 1/2-inch line up the aerial ladder. They failed to obtain operating pressure in the standpipe system, and gradually increased the pressure on the pumper to 350 psi without success. An attempt to improvise an exterior standpipe line using 3-inch hose failed because orders to support each coupling with roof ropes were not followed.

The fire’s spread on the seventh floor and roof endangered the crews operating there and they were ordered to back down. It was planned to make an inside stand on the fifth floor. While the situation was being sized up, the ballroom and lobby on the second floor burst into flames. All personnel were then ordered out of the building.

Meanwhile, after Lawrence-Cedarliurst was called to the fire, calls were sent out for mutual aid from other departments in the Nassau Third Battalion. Woodmere responded with a 100-foot aerial; Valley Stream, one 100-foot aerial and one 1,000 gpm pumper; Hewlett, one pumper, and Lawrenee-Cedarhurst, two more pumpers.

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Early in the battle against the blaze, at 9:19 a.m., a request was transmitted for an increase in the city water pressure. When the firemen were ordered out of the building, portable deluge sets were put in operation surrounding the hotel. This required water to be relayed to the south and east sides of the building. At least one of the hydrants nearest the hotel was on a dead-end main, and water pressure continued to be a problem.

Principally to obtain help with the long relay stretches needed, a call for mutual aid from New York City was sent through Nassau County Coordinator Peter Lynch at 11:18 a.m. This was the first call for help under a mutual aid agreement between the New York Fire Department and the Nassau County Fire Commission, which became effective January 1, 1960. A similar mutual aid pact between New York and Westchester County, became effective March 7, 1960.

The New York City dispatcher transmitted Box 700 D, one of three dummy boxes, which actually designate rendezvous points for companies responding on mutual aid calls to Nassau County. The assembly point in this case was the quarters of Engine 314 in Rosedale. The five engine companies designated to respond were supplied with necessary fittings for operating in Nassau County and, with a battalion chief in command of the convoy, were escorted to Atlantic Beach by Nassau County police. Fire Commissioner Edward F. Cavanagh, Jr., and Chief of Department George David of New York also responded.

Two of the New York companies operated portable turret pipes on the fire while the other three companies relayed water to them. Shortly after he arrived on the scene, Chief David ordered a second alarm transmitted for the special box, bringing five more engine companies to the fire. All of these units hooked up to more distant hydrants and relayed water to the companies closer to the blaze.

Despite the efforts of the various Nassau departments and the mutual aid from New York City, the initial handicap of the inadequate water pressure could not be surmounted, and the hotel was gutted.

Editor’s Note: The editors are grateful to Fire Chief Jess Mistero of the Inwood Fire Dept, for information on which this article is based. As first deputy chief, he worked at the fire, and was recently elected chief.

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