TWO GENERAL ALARM FIRES GIVE PASSAIC FIREMEN HARD WORKOUT
Mony Firefighters Overcome by Dense Smoke; Neighboring Communities Send Help
PASSAIC, N. J., was recently the scene of two general alarm fires, which occurred within a week, causing damage unofficially estimated at $1,250,000. Within the past two months, two other fires caused damage estimated at between $700,000 and a million dollars, and took four lives.
The series of destructive blazes began on April 19th, when a general alarm fire destroyed the roof and fifth floor of the five story Tudor Court Apartment House, destroyed or damaged 96 apartments and 13 stores, and caused almost a million dollar loss. On May 4th, a mother and three children died in a flash fire which swept a downtown tenement house.
On the afternoon of June 4th, the Arrow Electric Company, the largest electric appliance store in Passaic, was swept by a million dollar general alarm fire, which also destroyed two textile factories and three other stores, and caused smoke or water damage in 27 other stores.
The company occupied an “L” shaped store on the ground floor of a two story brick and frame building at the corner of Hoover Avenue and Monroe Street in the heart of downtown Passaic. Beside the Arrow store, the ground floor also contained a delicatessen, men’s clothing shop, and women’s dress shop. The second floor contained two textile establishments engaged in the manufacture of women’s clothing. The building was not sprinklered and it did not contain any interior fire walls, or fire resistant sub divisions.
The fire was discovered by an offduty fireman, James Greely, and an offduty patrolman, Vince Sawicki, who were headed for police headquarters in Greely’s car. As the car was stopped in the afternoon traffic of downtown Passaic, the patrolman spotted smoke seeping through a cellar door in the Arrow Building. Both men jumped from the car, the fireman ran a block to the nearest street box and pulled it at 3:13 p.m. The patrolman entered the building and warned the occupants to get out.
As Fireman Greely pulled the box, employees of the Arrow Store saw smoke coming from an electrical outlet. They were telephoning the fire department. as Engines 1 and 3, Truck 1, and the Emergency Squad rolled up in front of the building.
Firemen found the fire in the cellar of the Arrow Store, on the Hoover Avenue side. When the cellar doors were opened, a burst of smoke and flame greeted firemen. The air conditioning system, which was located in the basement continued to function, and carried smoke and heat to the rest of the building. Unable to enter the Hoover Avenue side of the cellar, firemen tried to force a side entrance, but their way was blocked by a steel door, and an acetylene torch had to be used to cut through it. Here too, a large volume of dense back smoke kept firemen from penetrating more than a few feet into the structure. By this time the smoke had banked up against adjacent buildings and filled the entire area around the Arrow building so densely, that operations became slow and hazardous. At 3:16 a second alarm had brought Engine 6 and Truck 1.
Despite reinforcements, the fire soon spread to large stocks of phonograph records and a 1,200 gallon oil tank in the basement. After this, the fire spread through vertical openings to involve the first and then the second floor, where it fed on a quantity of cloth and barrels of dyes and chemicals.
Photo by Russell Ztto
Photo by Russell Z_____to
Heavy machinery on the second floor caused it to collapse, as did the roof of the building. Still there was very little actual fire visible, but the dense smoke soon created a pall which spread over the East side of Passaic and neighboring towns. Thousands of people attracted to the scene by the smoke and an “on the spot” radio broadcast of the fire, soon created a traffic jam in Passaic which was described as the worst in the city’s history.
At 3:33, a third alarm brought Engine 4 and Turret 1 to the fire, and a minute later a general alartn was sounded, bringing Engines 2 and 5, and all off duty firemen to the scene. In addition, the Passaic Fire Department requested aid front neighboring communities. Clifton sent Engines 1 and 5, with Chief John Zanet. Garfield sent Engines 1, 2, 5, and the Emergency Squad. Later in the afternoon, Wallington, Lodi, and Paterson sent men and apparatus to the fire.
(Continued on page 532)
(Continued from page 509)
Firemen concentrated on keeping the fire in the Arrow Building, and out of exposures.
The worst of the exposures was the four story Simmon Electric Co. building, seperated from the Arrow Building by only a 3 inch brick wall. Firemen kept several lines on the wall throughout the fire, but despite their efforts, part of the wall collapsed during the early evening, and the building suffered heavy smoke and water damage. One wall of the Arrow building bulged out about a foot, and cracked badly enough to cause men and equipment to be moved. The wind, though gentle, changed direction frequently from Fast to est and added to the firemen’s woes, as dense smoke rolled through the streets for blocks.
During the height of the fire, some 20 odd streams were being directed into the fire. Four of these were heavy streams from deck pipes, each being supplied by two or three 2 1/2 inch lines. The remaining streams were from hand lines in the streets and on adjacent roof tops. Twelve firemen, including Passaic Fire Chief William Coffey, were knocked out by the dense smoke. By 5:00 P.M. firemen thought they had the blaze licked, but it flared up again shortly after 5, and it was 6:30 before it was finally brought under control.
Despite this, firemen were unable to contents, the Simon Building, and 27 midnight, out of town companies were released, and a few Passaic Companies were returned to quarters. Overhauling continued all night and well into the next day. Two Engines were still on the scene the next morning.
Damage to the Arrow building and contents, the Simon Building, and 27 other stores which suffered smoke damage, was unofficially estimated at between $750,000 and a million dollars.
On Saturday evening, June 11, 1951, another general alarm fire destroyed three stores and damaged two others on Lexington Avenue only two blocks from the Arrow building, and only a block from Fire Headquarters. The stores destroyed were the Silver Rod Cut Rate Drug Store, Vogue Millinery Shops and Rogers Clothing Company. The Larkey Clothing Company and Nadler’s Dept. Store both suffered heavy smoke and water damage.
Dense smoke, which handicapped firemen at the Arrow fire, presented the same problem at this fire. Thirteen firemen were overcome and two were hospitalized with smoke poisoning.
The fire broke out in the cellar of the Silver Rod Store and was discovered a few minutes after the store had closed, by two policemen who turned in an alarm by radio at 9:10 P. M.
Firemen who arrived on a first alarm found smoke coming from Rogers’ store, the milinery and drug store. At first the fire appeared to be in the Rogers’ store and firemen lined into this store. However, when the other two were opened up, the fire was found in the basement of the Silver Rod Store. At this time a second alarm was sounded, and firemen tried to enter the basement through the store and through holes cut in the sidewalk, but the dense smoke and beat prevented an entry. Lines were also taken through an alley to the rear of the building and up aerial ladders to the roof of the building. All attempts to use interior lines were prevented by the dense smoke.
At 9:58 P.M. a general alarm brought all Passaic apparatus and off-duty firemen to the scene. Companies front Clifton and Garfield were also summoned, ington and Lydhurst was sent to Pasington and Lyndhurst was sento Passaic to cover in empty Passaic stations. The fire was brought under control at 1:30 AM. Sunday, but overhauling continued until 3:30 P.M.
Many of the injured firemen were the same who were hurt in Monday’s fire. Fire Chief Coffey, who returned to duty Saturday, after being on sick leave since Monday, was again put off duty during Saturday s fire. Total damage to the five stores involved is expected to reach $350,000.