When we were able to enter the rear door, fire was burning on top of the water. We pushed the fire to the front with a handline and then the fire was pushed back toward us. We stepped inside with a search line. We were waist deep in water. The fire continued to push us out. Bricks and other debris kept falling down. A chief allowed just three of us to work at one time. Sometimes, a ball of fire would come toward us and the lieutenant would say get out. We went in and out and back and forth numerous times. We operated in the rear until they located Brian Fahey. We put Ladder 116’s aerial ladder into the second floor apartment. We had heard a PASS alarm, but it was from a discarded airpack. Brian Hickey sent our company a letter on Rescue 4 stationery and thanked the company for their outstanding efforts on their behalf.
We responded to a box for a hazmat incident. When we pulled up, we were told to take up. This was a few blocks from the hardware store. We pulled up to a red light and a woman came off the curb pushing a baby stroller. She said I think that building’s on fire. Over the front door was a 12-by-12-inch grill pushing smoke. Captain Dennis Murphy had the chauffeur turn the corner and take a hydrant in front of a Baptist church. Getting off the rig, a man standing there tells the captain I’ll show you where the fire is. They walk into a doorway where it leads to the second floor. Right before the captain went in, he said start a hoseline. We stretched a 1¾-inch handline to the sidewalk and held the folds of hose. He radioed back that the fire was not upstairs, but in the hardware store.
We put the hose to the side and went back to the rig and stretched a 2½-inch handline. The chauffeur was told to transmit a “10-75.” Because of the other incident in the neighborhood, no other companies were with us. Firefighter Tim Murphy started cutting the locks on the store with a metal cutting saw. We put the line down to help him push the roll-down gates up. The front door was forced. Other companies started to arrive. The line was charged with water and brought into the hardware store. You could tell the fire was in the basement.
We went past the check-out counter and made a loop in the hoseline and positioned in front of the basement door three to four feet away and stood fast. The captain said hang out here, other companies were coming inside. You could hear popping noises in the basement like sounds you would hear at an electrical fire in a manhole.
As we were standing fast, Chief Bill Seelig came into to talk to Captain Murphy. Seelig said there is a door in the back and we will try to get in from there; if anything comes up, you can take care of it from here. Seelig reported they were still working on the door, it was tough, it will be a few minutes. The electrical popping noises were still audible from the basement. Captain Brian Hickey and Firefighters John Gaine and Brian Fahey from Rescue 4 were inside with members of Ladder 116. Gaine had a thermal imaging camera. He said the floors and walls were hot. The basement stairs had a spring-loaded door.
Suddenly, the door opened up on its own. For a second, a bright-blue flame the size of the door blew past me and the backup man. It was the entire height of the door over six feet in height and as wide as the door. As soon as I put my hand on the nozzle, the fire was gone. Murphy said get the line out from in front of the door and move it to the side a little bit. We moved the line off to the side. The captain radioed what had happened. A couple of minutes later, the same thing happened again. The fire came out again and then it stopped. We backed up so we would be out of the line of fire. We had our masks on the whole time. The smoke level was two-thirds of the way down from the ceiling.
Hickey and Gaine moved into the area on the exposure-4 side. The chief came back in and said they were having a hard time, you may have to go downstairs from here. How much air do you have left, he asked. We all had half tanks left. The chief asked the captain if he thought they had enough air to do it. The chief was going to go outside to coordinate so they didn’t advance and then would give us the green light at that time. There wasn’t any fire coming up the stairs. Murphy started to orchestrate how he was going to have us go down the stairs. He made sure we were all OK. He gave me a nod, are you ready? I looked at him and said something doesn’t feel right. The chief left to go back and a few seconds later the place blew up.