Reports on Hackensack fire issued by NFPA and IAFF
The National Fire Protection Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters have Independently released studies into the Hackensack, New Jersey Ford auto dealership fire/collapse, in which five firefighters were killed.
The NFPA’s three-day, on-site investigation of the Hackensack incident was undertaken at the request of Hackensack Fire Chief Anthony A. Aiellos by Thomas J. Klein, director of the NFPA’s Fire Investigations Division. Its stated purpose is “to provide technical assistance to the fire department and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, to support local analysis of the incident.” The report makes it clear that the NFPA’s intent was not to “pass judgment on, or fix liability for, the loss of life and property at the firefighter fatality incident….”
The NFPA report provides background on the city of Hackensack and general statistics and daily operating procedures concerning its 100-member fire department; data on the Hackensack Ford auto dealership —building construction (including a description of its bowstring truss roof design ), building materials, dimensions, geography. fire protection provisions, fire load; a chronological review of the incident; a brief discussion of fire origin and the factors contributing to collapse of the bowstring truss assemblies; a “summantime line”; and diagrams of the building. The report also includes an “alert bulletin” from the NFPA Fire Investigations Division addressed to state and provincial fire marshals, metro fire chiefs, and state training directors that points to the dangers of unsprinklered truss spaces containing heavy combustible fire loads.
The IAFF union report, though having much in common with the NFPA report with respect to its coverage of foreground evidence, examines the Hackensack incident from strategic and tactical perspectives, and with a highly critical eye.
The consulting firm of Demers Associates. Inc. of Lunenburg. Massachusetts, headed by company president David P. Demers, P.E.. was commissioned by the IAFF to conduct the analysis. It was prepared by Demers and issued to the public shortly after the NFPA study was made available. Alfred Whitehead, president of the IAFF, says that Demers Associates has no ties to the union.
Along with a strong critique of the Hackensack operation with respect to identification of bowstring truss construction. manpower assignments, fireground communications, and rescue efforts, the Demers report includes an analysis of operations from the standpoint of NFPA fireground safety standards, professional qualifications standards, and protective clothing and equipment standards.
Whitehead, in a strongly worded official statement on the fatalities in Hackensack, states that the purpose of the IAFF report is “to ensure that the details of the incident were brought to light so that future tragedies of this magnitude can be avoided.” He called on the City of Hackensack “to undertake an immediate evaluation of the firefighting capabilities of the department with special attention devoted to the manpower available…and…professional ability of those commanding the department.” The union president, recognizing that “problems faced by firefighters in Hackensack are not unique.” also called on New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean to “appoint a special task force to study the state of firefighting in New Jersey and to recommend a course of action to implement needed improvements.”
Those interested in obtaining copies of the reports can contact the NFPA at Batterymarch Park, Quincy, Massachusetts 02269-9101, (617) 770-3000. and the IAFF at 1750 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, D C. 20006-5395. (202) 737-8484.