Use of Big Streams, Mutual Aid Quell Jersey Lumberyard Fire
Bob Bartosz photos
A massed attack with heavy streams extinguished a four-alarm fire of suspicious origin in a lumberyard in Blackwood, N.J. The necessary number of aerial apparatus and pumpers for mounting the master stream attack was provided through activation of the Camden County mutual aid plan.
The New Deal lumberyard on South Blackhorse Pike covered 8 to 10 acres. It included a large frame lumber shed, five buildings and open lumber storage areas.
An 83-year-old watchman made his round at 3 a.m. last April 6 and returned to his apartment above the sales store. When he awakened shortly after 4 a.m., he smelled smoke and went to investigate.
At the same time, Gloucester Township policemen on patrol radioed an alarm when they saw flames roaring 50 feet above the roof of a one-story cinder block warehouse and extending to other buildings. They then rescued the watchman’s wife from her apartment. In doing this, the three officers suffered smoke inhalation and had to be sent to a hospital.
Extra company dispatched
Thomas Boswell, former chief of the Blackwood Volunteer Fire Department, was on duty in the Gloucester Township Police/Fire Communication Center and received the radio report of the fire location and extent from the police. He alerted the Blackwood and Blenheim units to respond at 4:40 a.m. and then he also dispatched Chews Landing, a second-alarm company, making a total of six engines and one ladder truck on the first alarm.
Blackwood Chief Ray Peters found heavy fire showing from a plywood warehouse and also a second major fire burning at the west end of the yard in open lumber storage and extending into the open end of a 125 X 500-foot frame lumber shed.
Peters immediately sounded a second alarm at 4:45 a.m., bringing in Glendora, Glenloch and Lambs Terrace with six engine companies, one ladder company and a rescue unit. He followed this with a third alarm two minutes later for the Blackwood Terrace, Runnemede and Erial Companies.
Peters directed his Blackwood fire fighters into the front of the yard off the Blackhorse Pike, where rolling fire was cutting off the 25-foot main roadway of the yard and flames were licking up against the big frame shed. Initial efforts were directed toward using the roadway as a fire break to save the shed.
Chief Richie Joseph and Blenheim, Lambs Terrace, and Erial units were assigned to the south side to attack the fire in the one-story cinder block buildings from the leeward and also to cover homes on this side, where a 10-mph northwest wind was driving heat and embers.
Chews Landing Chief Frank Wagner and Glendora were given orders via radio to take the north side of the fire and work into the lumber shed. They breeched the fence to stretch 2 1/2-inch lines inside the shed.
Glenloch and Blackwood Terrace were directed to the west side, where it was necessary to stretch lines by hand between dwellings, over an old railroad spur and through the,yard fence to attack the fire in the open lumber storage and at the shed end which was already heavily involved.
All the buildings in the yard were interconnected and the fire traveled rapidly from one to the other.
Fourth alarm struck
Faced with a rapidly spreading fire threatening conflagration proportions, Peters sounded a fourth alarm at 5 a.m., and ordered the Camden County Mutual Aid Plan activated. Responding on the fourth alarm were Runnemede, Bellmawr Park and Bellmawr, which brought a 50-foot elevating platform.
As the Bellmawr platform rolled it, it was assigned a position near the rear of the warehouse, and Chief Ray Simpson was informed on arrival at the fireground that Blenheim, Erial and Lambs Terrace had 2½-⅛⅛ lines waiting to supply the platform. In service above the warehouse, the platform was momentarily threatened when flames broke through the roof. Hand lines were directed to the basket to protect the men, and the ground operator quickly moved the basket out of danger.
Simultaneously with the activation of the county mutual aid plan, County Coordinator John J. Plaskett responded to the scene and set up a command post across the street from the buildings. Chiefs Beeby of Battalion 21 and Baker of Battalion 22 moved into the Gloucester Township alarm room to coordinate activity there with Dispatcher Boswell, who is also deputy chief of Division 2.
At 5:02 a.m., a special call was sounded for Stratford’s 100-foot ladder truck, and at 5:12 a.m., another special was transmitted for Eagle of Pine Hill with another 100-foot ladder and pumper and Pine Hill with a 1500-gpm pumper.
The rapidity of the fire’s spread, the radiated heat endangering nearby exposures, and flying brands and sparks capable of causing new fires were problems that had to be quickly controlled to prevent the fire from developing into a conflagration.
Aerial platforms, ladder pipes and deluge guns were concentrated on the leeward side of the fire to provide heavy, long-range, effective streams. Hand lines were used to enter buildings and to advance along the roadway to protect the large frame shed.
Runoff water used
Water damage was not a problem. In fact, units were able to use runoff water that collected near the back of the yard in a 12-inch-deep pool. Captain Charles Miller of Blackwood set up a 500-gpm portable pump and drafted from the pool to supply two l’/s-inch lines.
The fire was declared under control by Peters at 7:42 a.m., and he released a major portion of the equipment within the next few hours. At 7:50 a.m., the county aid plan dispatched Mount Ephriam, Lindenwold, Ashland and Gloucester City No. 3 to the fireground to supply additional manpower required to complete overhauling as some volunteers in the responding companies had to leave to go to work.
There was no water problem during the fire. The Garden State Water Company, a private concern, put extra pumps into service and maintained pressure throughout the blaze.
Only one fireman suffered an injury, a puncture wound of the foot.
Conclusions drawn were as follows:
- The first officer on the scene must be quick in sizing up conditions and sending for help.
- All lumberyards have roadways used for loading and unloading. These must be used as fire breaks to prevent fire from extending.
- Do not hesitate to breach a fence to facilitate stretching in.
- Remember that lumber on one side will be stacked evenly, but the opposite side may have uneven ends that will afford quick travel to fire. Be prepared to attack from both ends of piles.
- Be prepared to stop fires in piles with transverse strips of wood between layers for drying.
- Heat, if not quickly controlled, will soon develop a lumberyard into conflagration possibilities. Move quickly with heavy streams for control. Make use of elevated streams from ladder pipes, aerial platforms, water booms, or nearby rooftops.
- Keep in mind the placement of companies on the leeward side of the fire. These streams are most effective, although approach is more difficult from this side.
- In overhauling, be wary of collapsing piles. Officers must exercise care to prevent injuries to their men.