Year Opens With Heavy Demands Made Upon the Fire Service
Fire Plays no Favorites; Losses Heavy in Oil, Mercantile and Industrial Properties
A STAFF SURVEY
FIRE losses, which in 1945 set a fifteen-year record of destructiveness, and incidentally affirmed the predictions of FIRE ENGINEERING, continued heavy in January, 1946, under the impact of bitter winter weather over wide areas, and continued post-war handicaps of shortage of efficient manpower and fire-fighting equipment.
Although not heaviest in losses, blasts and blazes in gasoline and oil plants and storages gave firemen of many municipalities and industries strenuous work in January. Outstanding among these petroleum and other oil installation fires and explosions were those in the Nation’s Capital, Washington: in Bayonne, Elizabeth and Linden, N. J. and in Findlay, Ohio.
FATAL BLAST IN WASHINGTON
One man was killed and three others injured when the Mattingly Brothers gasoline filling station at F’irst and Atlantic streets SE was blasted to rubble by an explosion at about 4:00 P.M., January 6.
The shock, which was felt two miles away, shattered windows in nearby dwellings, blew debris over a city block, ripped down high tension electric wires and, although not followed by fire, caused considerable loss over a wide area.
The .filling station, which boasted eight gasoline pumps, with enclosed racks and oiling pits, was of the type known as the “superservice center.” Under the main section was a halfbasement, containing an air compressor. Firemen expressed the belief that gasoline fumes, seeping into the basement, were ignited by a spark from the air compressor.
A small truck over the oil pit, a panel truck and two automobiles in the driveway were wrecked by the explosion. Diagonally across from the station is the Atlantic Market where plate glass windows were all broken.
Bolling Field Alerted
At Bolling Field, two miles distant front the scene, officers reported the buildings shook and windows rattled, causing many to fear that the blast was on the field. Military police were rushed to the scene and aided police in handling the thousands attracted by the explosion and response of fire apparatus.
Utility workmen cut loose three hightension wires downed by the blast, as they endangered firemen and spectators.
Telephone linemen removed damaged telephone wires. Inspectors from the Washington Gas Co. were early on the scene but reported they were unable to discover any illuminating gas connections in the building, nor did their records show any.
The alarm to the fire department, which called equipment from all parts of the Northeast and Southeast Washington areas, was sent by an operator of the Atlantic Market who pulled a fire alarm box in front of the store. Firemen, directed by Chief Stephen Porter, who were promptly on the scene, stretched lines to extinguish any fire, and searched the wreckage for victims. To date, investigations have failed to disclose the cause of the explosion.
FATAL STANDARD OIL TANKER FIRE
The Standard Oil Co. suffered further losses on January 14 when its 2,000 ton, 523-foot tanker “Pequiot Hill” was rocked by blast, while moored at the piers of the company at Constable Hook, Bayonne, N. J. and took fire, threatening piers and installations.
One seaman died of burns and a steward was reported in critical condition.
Authorities have not disclosed the cause of the explosion, which rocked the vessel shortly after it was unloaded of its cargo of 126,000 barrels of oil. Six of the forty crew members of the ship were aboard when it took fire.
The fire on the tanker, which is reported owned by the National Bulk Carriers, Inc., New York City, was extinguished by the Standard Oil Company’s private fire department with the help of the Coast Guard, which towed the burning vessel to midstream of the Kill Van Kull. The Bayonne Fire Department stood by.
COSTLY CASTOR OIL BLAZE
Nearly 3,000 gallons of castor oil were destroyed in a fire, January 15, which, whipped by a thirty-mile-an-hour wind, destroyed the main production building of the Apex Chemical Company, South First street, a block from Newark Bay, in Elizabeth, N. J., with an estimated loss of $500,000.
Every available piece of fire apparatus in the city was called to the scene, as well as a reported civilian-owned fireboat operated by John Van Pelt. For three hours firemen played heavy streams on the fire, which began at 5:32 P.M., originating, it is said, from unknown causes in the second floor of the four-story wooden building,
Exploding chemicals sent geysers of flame 200 feet in the air and the strong odor of burning castor oil permeated the nearby area.
Standford H. Hermann, vice-president of the firm, who estimated the loss, stated that the castor oil was not for medicinal purposes, but was for industrial uses.
OIL TANKS BURN IN WASHINGTON
Four days after the filling station blow-up, Washington firemen waged a brief hut hectic struggle to confine and extinguish an oil fire which caused considerable damage to the plant of the Standard Oil Co. at 23 I street, SE,.
Firemen of fifteen companies, under Chief Stephen Porter, responding on successive alarms, prevented the spread of the flames to the storage of an estimated half million gallons of gasoline.
The first alarm for the fire—the cause of which has not been determined—was transmitted by a night watchman at the plant, about 2:25 A.M. on the morning of the 10th.
First firemen on the scene said that when they arrived gasoline was flowing in the streets and that the burning gasoline at one place prevented their use of a conveniently located hydrant.
The fire originated in that part of the company yard where trucks are loaded from storage tanks, and spread to an adjoining three-story brick building. It is reported that several explosions occurred early in the fire and flames shot several hundred feet into the air.
Most of the damage centered in the bulk plant building, which was wrecked. This structure was formerly a brick stable, converted into a warehouse. According to firemen, the explosions and source of the high flames came from a number of oil drums stored behind the burning building. An oil truck was also damaged.
FATAL FINDLAY OIL FIRE
Three men are reported to have died, and a number were injured, some severely burned, in a raging fire punctuated by explosions, in tanks of asphalt and oil at the National Refining Company, Findlay, Ohio, on January 16.
At this writing it is not determined whether an explosion preceded the fire or the reverse. It is known, however, that at least eleven tanks were involved, some reported to have contained gasoline, others petroleum and asphalt.
The explosions, starting at 9:30 A.M. shook houses throughout Findlay’s southwest section. Six large tanks were reported to have let go before noon, and at 1:00 P.M. a seventh tank was burning and the company’s superintendent reported that the company’s main plant and approximately fifty other tanks were in danger.
Specially trained Refining Company firemen, aided by the entire Findlay Fire Department, cleared the tank area of workers but failed to reach one man who was reported trapped behind the flames it is said.
Foam in large quantities was liberally used in fighting the fire and when supplies at the plant and in Findlay ran low, additional quantities were dispatched from the Standard Oil and other Refineries in the area and from Toledo and Lima. A foam truck was reported sent to the scene by the Cleveland Fire Department.
The refinery, recently sold to the Midwest Refineries, Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., has been under Navy control since October 5, following a strike of workers. The refinery itself was considered safe inasmuch as the nearest tank was 400 yards distant; however, a tank-like structure used for initial stages of petroleum “cracking” was damaged extensively.
The tanks involved are said to have had capacities of from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels.
The fight to control the flames was waged throughout the day and into the night before all danger to the balance of the tanks and the main plant was considered past.