On The Job: New York

 

On Friday, May 7, 2010, a “once-in-a-career fire” destroyed a vacant, 87-year-old furniture factory, a 99-year-old vacant warehouse and an occupied manufacturing plant and offices in downtown Salamanca, NY. Investigators determined the fire was deliberately set and six juveniles were charged.

Firefighters were challenged by a rapidly spreading fire, limited water supply, limited apparatus and manpower on the initial response, 10-mph winds gusting to 45 mph and a severe-thunderstorm warning. Before the fire was brought under control, apparatus and manpower from 26 departments responded to the scene. In all, 43 fire departments and law enforcement agencies were involved at the scene or on standby.

The four-story plant and warehouse occupied more than 470,000 square feet. The two vacant buildings were originally built for the Fancher Furniture Co. in 1911 and 1923 and constructed of heavy timber and brick. In the early 1970s, the plant employed 800 workers and shipped products worldwide. In 1997, it was sold to Philadelphia Furniture Co., which continued operations until 2008. During the two years before the fire, the building fell into disrepair and was frequented by juveniles and vagrants. Also destroyed in the fire were the main offices of Luminite Manufacturing Co., built in 1923.

Initial Operations

The Salamanca Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire at Philadelphia Furniture Co. at 100 Rochester St. at 5:28 P.M. Responding on the initial alarm were Salamanca Engine 1 and Ladder 6 with a total of seven firefighters. The two companies arrived at 5:35 and firefighters found heavy fire on the east and southeast sides of Plant 3. Mutual aid was immediately requested from the Great Valley, Little Valley and Seneca Nation of Indians volunteer fire departments. Salamanca Engine 1 was positioned just east of the plant and supplied with a four-inch supply line from a hydrant on a small water line. Salamanca Ladder 6 was positioned at the southeast corner of the building and supplied with a four-inch supply line from Engine 1.

Firefighters advanced a 200-foot, 2½-inch attack line with a smooth-bore nozzle into the plant and initiated an interior attack. This line had little effect on the rapidly spreading fire and the crew was forced to withdraw after three minutes. After the crew evacuated the building, the deck gun on Engine 1 and Ladder 6’s ladder pipe were placed into operation. Salamanca Engine 2, an advanced life support (ALS) ambulance and two support vehicles also responded.

Numerous mutual aid units were requested prior to 6 P.M. Killbuck Volunteer Fire Department Engine 1, Great Valley Engine 2, Little Valley Ladder 6, Seneca Nations Engine 1, Cattaraugus Ladder 6, a District 4 rapid intervention team, Limestone Engine 2, Ellicottville/Great Valley Ambulance 8 and Ellicottville Ladder 6 responded. Several small grass fires ignited in the area from flying embers and were extinguished by mutual aid departments.

Exposures Protected

Two exposures, Salamanca Lumber and McHone Industries (a company that specializes in the design, manufacturing, fabrication and finishing of tubular-steel products), were endangered from radiant heat and flying embers. Cattaraugus Ladder 6, Olean City Ladder 164 and Ellicott-ville Ladder 6 were assigned along with engine company support to protect the two exposures.

To supplement the municipal water system, a 1,500-foot, four-inch supply line was laid to the Allegheny River. Engines drafted from the river to supply the supply line and 15 tankers were used to shuttle water to three dump sites established at the scene.

Cattaraugus County Fire Coordinator Chris Baker requested mutual aid station coverage at 8 P.M. The Derrick City, PA, Volunteer Fire Department responded to Limestone with one engine and crew. The Rew, PA, Volunteer Fire Department responded to Limestone with a tanker and crew. The Eldred Township, PA, Volunteer Fire Department responded to the Town of Olean with an engine and crew. Baker requested the Cherry Creek, Ellington and Forestville volunteer fire departments, all in Chautauqua County, NY, to be placed on standby at their stations at 8:16 P.M.

The fire was declared under control at 3 A.M. on Saturday, May 8. A severe thunderstorm passed through the area early that morning, forcing firefighters to scale back operations until the storm passed. The last Salamanca unit left the scene at 3 P.M. on Wednesday, May 12.

More than 200 career and volunteer firefighters battled the fire using aerial master streams, deck guns and numerous handlines. Four firefighters suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The two adjacent businesses, Salamanca Lumber and McHone Industries, were also damaged by the fire.

Arson Suspects Charged

An investigation by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Cattaraugus County Fire Investigation Team, Salamanca Fire Department Investigation Team and Salamanca Police Department determined the fire was the result of arson. Six juveniles between the ages of 12 and 15 were arrested. Each one was charged with fourth-degree arson, first-degree reckless endangerment, second-degree criminal mischief, second-degree burglary and third-degree assault. Damage was estimated at more than $3 million.

Successes – The vacant buildings had been pre-planned several times and the fire department was aware that the sprinkler systems were not operational. This was factored into how the fire was fought. Firefighters used tabletop drills, flow tests, and on-scene ladder and defensive drills in pre-planning. No one was seriously injured despite the large-scale firefighting operations.

Problems – Firefighters were faced with several problems fighting this fire. The vacant building was unmonitored and provided the location for vandals to start the fire and allowed the fire to grow unnoticed. The inoperable sprinkler system let the fire spread rapidly, necessitating defensive firefighting operations. The municipal water supply in the area was limited due to small water mains. A supply line from the river and tanker-shuttle operations were needed to provide an adequate water supply to fight the fire. Winds pushed the fire through the buildings and spread burning embers that ignited small grass fires that needed to be contended with.

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