Delayed Alarm Permits Involvement of Two Buildings Before Arrival of Fire Department

A fire of undetermined origin severely damaged a block of stores in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, on December 27, 1950. The one story building was 165 feet long and 70 to 75 feet deep. It was constructed only two years ago. The outer walls are constructed of cinder block and covered with cement. The roof and floors were wood on wood joists and rafters, supported by steel 1-beams. Interior partitions and walls were wood and plaster board, coated with plaster. The only fire wall in the structure was a parapet separating the Grand Union Supermarket from the rest of the building. This wall stopped the fire at this point. The building had no other subdivisions and was not sprinklered.

Occupancies of the building, located on the corner of River Road and Hopper Avenue, were the Grand Union Supermarket at the extreme south end, not damaged; the Spencer Five and Ten Store, and the Schuttler Bakery, both destroyed; adjoining the bakery, the Centre Paint and Wallpaper Store, badly damaged by smoke and water, and two stores located in the north end of the building, slight smoke and Water damage.

The fire apparently started in two separate places, the basement and main floor of the Spencer store. The basement fire was confined to that point, but the fire on the main floor spread to the area between the hanging ceiling and the roof. From here it traveled laterally to the front of the building and into the adjoining bakery. When the fire was discovered, it had vented itself, the front windows having been blown out and a portion of the roof had fallen in.

The exact time of the start of the fire is unknown; it was discovered after the front windows of the two stores involved had blown out. The fire department received the first alarm at 2:00 a.m. from a call box on the front of Fire Company No. 1’s quarters, located only 100 feet away from the burning stores. Four engines, a city service truck and ambulance responded. At 2:05 a.m. a second alarm was sounded, bringing three pumpers and an ambulance from neighboring East Paterson. The Hawthorne Fire Department, under Chief Dominick Mele, had three engine companies and a ladder company ready to roll on a third alarm, but fortunately they were not needed.

Falling Wires and Extreme Heat Kept Firemen from Operating Close to the Building During Early Stages of the Blaze. Fire Was Stopped Before It Entered the Paint Store at Right

Photo courtesy Russell Sito

Fair Lawn Fire as the First Two Lines Were Put Into Operation

Firemen were severely handicapped in their initial efforts to control the fire. The temperature was 5 degrees above zero when the fire started, and it dropped to 5 degrees below zero within the next two hours. Because of this, the streets, apparatus and men were quickly covered with sheets of ice. Ladders froze to the building, and rungs were covered with ice. One fireman was injured when he slipped and fell about ten feet while descending one. During the early stages of the fire, falling high tension electric lines and telephone cables, together with the extreme heat, prevented firemen from operating close to the front of the structure.

Part of the roof of the Spencer store collapsed before the arrival of the first due company. The frame wall between this store and the bakery also burned out rapidly, fully involving the latter store. Firemen using three 2 1/2-inch lines made a good stop at the wall between the bakery and the paint store. One line each was operated from the front and rear of the building. The third line, equipped with a Bresnan cellar pipe, was taken over the roof and directed into the cockloft over the paint store. Two other 2 1/2-inch lines were used in the Spencer store. A deluge set equipped with a fog nozzle was also used in this store.

The main body of the fire was brought under control in an hour and a half and the out of town companies returned to quarters. About 5:00 a.m., three Fair Lawn engine companies were sent back to quarters, while Company No. 1 (engine and ladder) continued to overhaul. At 7:00 a.m. Engine 4 was special called to pump some five feet of water from the basements. During overhauling, the department’s smoke ejector was used, with good results, to clear the cellars of smoke and fumes. Overhauling continued until 2:00 p.m. when Company No. 1 returned to quarters.

Operations were as follows:

Fair Lawn

Engine No. 1 (first due)

Laid 1,000 feet 2 1/2 inch hose, 300 feet 1 1/2 inch hose. Operated deluge set. three 2 1/2 inch lines, two 1 1/2 inch lines. Pumped 5 1/2 hours, operated 12 hours.

Engine Co. No. 2

Laid 500 feet 2 1/2 inch hose, 200 feet 1 1/2 inch hose. Operated one 2 1/2 inch and one 1 1/2 inch line. Four hours fire duty.

Engine Co. No. 3

Laid 1,000 feet 2 1/2 inch hose. Operated two 2 1/2 inch lines. Pumped three hours. Four hours fire duty.

Engine Co. No. 4

Laid 800 feet 2 1/2 inch hose. Operated two 2 1/2 inch lines. Pumped eight hours. Nine hours fire duty.

Ladder No. 1

Raised 55 feet ladders. Operated floodlights and smoke ejector, overhauled. Twelve hours fire duty.

East Paterson

Company No. 1 covered Fair Lawn Station No. 3.

Company No. 2 covered Fair Lawn Station No. 1. Operated floodlight, supplied manpower.

Company No. 3 returned to quarters after responding.

Water supplies were ample. Water department records show that during the fire an average of 1,500 gpm were used. Damage to the building and contents is expected to reach $150,000. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Fair Lawn Police and Fire Departments and by the National Board of Fire Underwriters.

Fair Lawn volunteers were commanded by Chief Robert Lindsay and Deputy Chief Arch Brown. East Paterson firemen were directed by Chief Martin Speckhart.

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