Pulverized Coffee Starts Big Fire
Embers Drop in Elevator Shaft Spreading Blaze Throughout Four-Story Wholesale Produce House
THE fire described in this article of the series on administration occurred in a building typical of a great number found in medium sized and large cities throughout the country.
This fire took place in a city of approximately 70,000 population located on the Atlantic seaboard.
The department in this city is made up of 7 engine companies, all motor equipped. and 2 truck companies. each possessing a city service ladder truck, motor propelled.
Response to Alarms
Response to alarms as follows:
First alarm, Engine Cos. Nos. and 2 and Truck Co. N0. 1. Second alarm. Engine Cos. Nos. 3 and 4 and Truck No. 2. Third alarm. Engine Cos. .Nos. and 6.
The remaining engine company is left in service for answering alarms while other apparatus is engaged at large fires, This remaining engine company, Engine Co. No. 7, is only summoned by special call and then only when it is urgently needed, such as when a conflagration is developing,
The water supply in the neighborhood of the fire building was fair but the pressure was not sufficient to give hydrant streams.
Seven hyd rants were immediately available only one of which, No. 4, would be unsatisfactory for more than a single small stream, this hydrant being attached to a 4-inch dead-ended main.
Occupancy of Fire Building
The general layout of the building in which the fire occurred as well as surrounding buildings is shown in the sketch herewith.
It might be mentioned at this point that the department held the fir e to the one building, which, in view of the conditions, speaks very well of the efficiency of the department.
The fire building was a wholesale produce house, and on the fourth floor were carried on various processes such as coffee roasting, sugar pulverizing, spice grinding and extract compounding.
In addition to the above named processes large quantities of sugar, beans, paper containers, extracts, coffee and rice were stored thereon.
The third floor was occupied by groceries, clothing, tool supplies and, in a separate room, approximately 100 cases of rifle and revolver ammunition.
On the second floor was approximately one carload of egg crates (knocked down), cereals, canned goods, starch and small printed press with incidental equipment.
The ground floor was occupied by offices, canned goods in storage, egg case shooks, soaps, beans and sugar, while in the basement there were approximately two carloads of matches, sixty bales of excelsior, canned goods, beverages and the usual boiler room.
The building itself had one pronounced defect which was largely responsible for the spread of the fire. This was the open elevator shaft in the center running from the basement through to the top floor.
This shaft had open grill-work of wood on three sides and on the fourth side had only wooden gates which dropped down to prevent passers-by from falling into the shaft.
At the time the fire occurred there was a strong wind blowing from the southeast, tending to drive the fire toward the large cold storage plant directly north of the fire building.
The fire started about 11:30 on a Saturday morning, when all departments on the fourth floor of the building were busily engaged. It is believed that pulverized coffee dust in the air ignited from an exposed direct current motor commutator which was sparking badly. At any rate there was a flash in which several employees were badly burned. All, however, managed to reach the stairs alongside the elevator and got to safety to the street below. On their fast trip downward they spread the alarm and the building was cleared out. The explosion ignited a large quantity of crate tops standing near the elevator shaft and which had been recently dumped there.
Before the fire department had arrived (and no efforts were made to extinguish the fire in the meantime due to the extent of the blaze on the top floor) the fire had involved these packing case tops, and fire had dropped down the elevator shaft. It is also quite certain that fire dropped from the fourth to the third floor igniting clothing on the third floor around the elevator shaft.
When the department arrived the top floor was completely involved and the fire was also burning on the third floor.
How the Fire Was Fought
The captain responding with the first alarm noted the extent of the fire and immediately transmitted a second alarm.
The assignment of companies on the first alarm was as follows: Engine Co. No. 1 at hydrant No. 1 and a single line
stretched by way of the ladder to the top floor of the fire building at the rear. The ladder was placed by truck Co. No. 1 coming in on the first alarm assignment.
Engine Co. No. 2 was placed at hydrant No. 7 and a single line stretched by way of fire escapes to the top floor.
When the first company arrived on the second alarm (Engine Co. No. 3) it was placed at hydrant No. 6 and a single line stretched to the roof of the Harvester warehouse alongside
the fire building. This line operated from the roof of the Harvester building into the fire.
Engine Co. No. 4 was placed at hydrant No. 5 and a single line stretched up the stairway in the fire building to the third, floor where fire was fast spreading.
This last line was laid with the assistance of members of truck Co. No. 2 who arrived on the second alarm.
At this time the fire chief reached the scene and immediately transmitted another alarm bringing in two engine companies which respond on this alarm.
Engine 5 was placed at hydrant No. 2 and a single line stretched to the third floor by way of a ladder at the rear of the fire building.
Engine Co. No. 6 was placed at hydrant No. 2 and a single line stretched to the top of the Harvester building to assist one line already in operation at this point.
Despite the best efforts the companies on the scene were able to put forth, the fire soon involved the third floor and the condition of the fourth floor with its heavy load made it advisable for all lines to withdraw from the floors below. All efforta were confined to handling the fire from the outside hut it continued to spread until the top floor gave way, tearing down a part of the third floor. This spread the fire to the second floor and the ground floor.
It was a matter of a few minutes until the entire building was fully ablaze.
From this point on the department confined its efforts toward preventing the spread of the fire to adjourning and adjacent buildings.
In this it was successful, for the two lines operating at the rear of the fire building were able to prevent the fire from spreading to the ice plant shown on the diagram. Other lines operating on the South Street side were able to prevent fire from entering the three-story Harvester warehouse.
As it was, the four-story produce building and loading platform to the east were destroyed but no other building was appreciably damaged.
The Editor’s ideas on the handling of this fire will be given in the next issue of this journal.