Tanker Tunnels Way to Fire
CHIEF DAVID G. TONNESON
A railroad trestle fire, in addition to the normal difficulties of extinguishing heavily creosoted timbers and pilings, gave the Fort Montgomery, N.Y., Fire Department a problem in gaining access to the area.
Within two minutes of the alarm for our all-volunteer department at 4:16 p.m. last July 8, the first responding apparatus, TA 183, a 1,650-gallon tanker, was on the road. Fortunately, this was our smallest unit because it was difficult to get to the Penn Central trestle at the mouth of Popolopen Gorge, where Popolopen Creek enters the Hudson River. TA 183 had to go to Fort Montgomery Marina and drive south on the railroad tracks through a tunnel for a quarter of a mile to reach the trestle.
After reaching the north end of the trestle, TA 183 put a 1 1/2-inch line and a booster line into operation to cut off the fire and protect a pile driver. Fanned by a 30-mph wind off the Hudson River, there were flames along some 200 feet of the trestle, and a crane was burning near the southern end of the structure. At the north end, a welding machine and an assortment of acetylene and oxygen tanks were involved in fire, and the welding machine soon blew up.
Engine 37, which had followed TA 183, prepared to set up a drafting operation, which was complicated by the fact that its priming pump was out of order. However, booster tank water was dropped into the pump and suction hose, and the pump was primed. Two 2 1/2-inch lines from Engine 37 were stretched to a deluge set placed on the trestle, and a line from this engine supplied TA 183.
Meanwhile, Engine 38 went 3 miles south on Route 9W to a spot where it could get on the railroad tracks near Iona Island as traveling along the tracks was the only way to reach the south end of the trestle. This round-about approach to the fire took about 15 to 20 minutes. Engine 38 then began drafting at the south end of the trestle and supplied two 1 1/2-inch lines and two high-pressure lines.
In response to a request, a fire tug from the Hudson River Reserve Fleet at Jones Point arrived, and her fire fighting equipment was manned by five Fort Montgomery fire fighters led by Assistant Chief Frank Tonneson. However, after about 20 minutes, the tug’s suction became clogged with mud and she had to stop.
The attack on the fire continued with the deluge set and the hand lines. After the flames were knocked down, one of the 2 1/2-inch lines to the deluge set was used as a hand line and the other was reduced to a 1 1/2-inch for overhauling. We also used our department launch to get under the trestle to complete extinguishment.
The last Fort Montgomery apparatus left the fireground at 10:15 p.m., 6 hours after the alarm. About half the trestle and the pile driver were saved. The trestle was being repaired, and it was thought that sparks from a welder’s torch might have started the fire.