Fire Department Reports on the N. Y , N. H. & H. Railroad “Cur” Fire

ON Saturday, Nov. 18th, 1944, shortly before 9:44 A.M., a freight train hauling cars through the New Haven “Cut” between Chapel and Fair Streets, adjacent to one of the main arteries of the city, in some manner piled up and upset a tank car containing 10,141 gallons of gasoline, rupturing the tank, over which several other freight cars piled and immediately caught fire.

This accident occurred in the hightension zone. The wires carried 11,000 volts and were part of the electrified system operating between Cos Cob and New Haven. The crash pulled down the high voltage wires, which ignited the flowing gasoline.

An alarm of fire from Box 314, located at Union and Fair Sts. at the south side of the “Cut,” was received at 9:44 A.M., closely followed by Box 26, State and Chapel Sts., at the north end of the “Cut.” Because of the close proximity of both boxes, the first box, located at Union and Fairs Sts., was transmitted.

On the west side of the “Cut” was an elevated viaduct, a private right of way for trolley cars, but accessible for other vehicles in case of emergency. The viaduct was about 35 feet above the tracks in the “Cut” and gave an excellent overall view of the situation to the Fire Department upon their arrival. On the extreme west side of the “Cut,” adjoining the viaduct, were several mercantile buildings which faced on State Street, the rear of these buildings completing the enclosure of the “Cut.”

Wires Endanger Men

The Deputy Chief, upon arriving, observed the high-tension wires arcing against the rails, and his first thought was the safety of the men. All men were ordered out of the fire area until official word had been received that the current was shut off. This delayed operations for about eight minutes, but the absence of water for this period was not a serious factor because there were no immediate exposures: however, the intense heat from the burning gasoline was increasing at a rapid pace, and fanned by a stiff easterly wind the fire threatened the rear of the buildings on the west side of the “Cut.” Three deck-guns were located on the viaduct and heavy streams were direted on burning wood freight cars adjacent to the fire, and a water curtain was formed to cool off the high temperatures in the rear of the mercantile buildings.

A second and third alarm were sent in, and seven Engine Companies and three Hook and Ladder trucks responded, together with the Chief, Deputy and Battalion Chief, and a total of 50 officers and men.

Subsequently official word was received that the high voltage current was “Off,” and all companies reporting in were ordered to line-in with fog nozzles and descend into the “Cut” by ladders which were placed by the Truck Companies.

Three 2 1/2 Fog nozzles,* six 1 1/2″ Fog nozzles,* together with three deckguns and two 2 1/2″ straight streams were used to extinguish the fire. Three of the 1 1/2″ Fog nozzles used the six-foot applicators, while all other Fog appliances used the high-velocity head only. When the Fog nozzles went to work, the three deck-guns on the viaduct were shut down.

Fog Nozzles Effective

The fire originated between two bridges about 600 feet apart. The “Cut” was about 300 feet in width. The flowing gasoline was approaching the underneath area of the Chapel Street bridge when the first Fog nozzle went into action. The flowing gasoline was immediately extinguished, and the men proceeded to fight the fire from this point, advancing their Fog appliances until the entire lee side of the fire was protected by water-fog.

After fifteen minutes of operation with Fog, it was apparent that the fire had already reached its peak; in 25 minutes the burning gasoline was confined to an area of about 30 feet in diameter; and in 40 minutes the burning gasoline was extinguished. Only two small flash-backs occurred during the entire operation. No injuries were reported.

A steel freight car, loaded with merchandise and sealed, toppled over the tank car when the crash occurred, and the intense heat from the burning gasoline warped the only entrance door to the interior of this car. The merchandise inside the car was burning intensely. and the Fire Department used cutting torches to open it. Two torches were used and openings about two feet square were made at both ends of the steel car. Straight streams were used to coot down the burning materials. This operation took about 35 minutes and the fire in the contents of the cars was not entirely extinguished because Railroad officials requested that we leave the area so that their wrecking crew could take over and the main lines be opened for traffic.

Our Department left the scene of the fire about 11:20 A M. One 2 1/2″ line was left with the Railroad workers towet down and cool, for several hours, the smouldering freight cars and debris. Several hundred gallons of unhurned gasoline were left in the tank after extinguishment.

The intensity of the burning was sogreat that heavy steel towers supporting the high-tension wires were twisted and partially removed from their bases. About twenty feet of the heavy rails Were twisted and had to be replaced.

Lessons Learned: (Value of Training)

In June of 1944 the New Haven Fire Department inaugurated a technical training program in Liquid Fire Fighting. Suitable grounds were provided and large open tanks, overhead tanks, enclosed metal buildings, and a crash airplane were erected to simulate the various types of gasoline fires which might be encountered by municipal fire departments.

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*Rockwood S.G.-40 type.

When a Freight Train on the N. Y., N. H. & H. R. R. Buckled in New Haven the Wreckage Brought Down Power Lines Which Ignited 10,000 Gallons of Gasoline in a Wrecked Tank Car. Ensuing Hot Fire Was Controlled by Liberal Use of Fog Nozzles.

New Haven Gasoline Blaze

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Water-Fog was selected as the most efficient appliance for the Fire Department’s work, and the entire New Haven Department was equipped with Rockwood Fog nozzles, both the 2 1/2″ and the 1 1/2″ all-purpose nozzles with applicators.

Every company in the department received training in the use and application of Fog. The men were taught how to fight on oil fire and were then made to extinguish such fires themselves.

This type of fire training proved conclusively the value of practical education for fire departments. By this training the men became adept to handling the equipment provided for fighting oil fires. They had confidence in their equipment, which could not have been acquired by lectures or book learning alone. Thus they were not frightened by the sight of a large gasoline fire and they tackled the job in an efficient, workmanlike manner. Had it not been for the training the firemen had received and the fact that our department was properly equipped with Fog nozzles, New Haven would have been faced with a conflagration involving the mercantile area of our city.

Cause and Damage

The cause of the fire was attributed to a defective wheel flange on a freight car, which derailed the car and upset the tank car and other vehicles. The fire was caused by a spark from the high voltage wires against the rails following the crash.

The loss was estimated at $51,109.96, of which $35,000.00 was merchandise and $16,109.96 capital equipment and repairs. The merchandise consisted of cotton goods and gasoline.

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