Firefighters in Dunkirk, NY, faced numerous challenges — among them, insufficient manpower on the initial alarm, a municipal water system that could not meet the incident's flow demands, overtaxed communications, heavy snow and rapidly forming ice — when they responded to a downtown...
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At the height of the fire, four aerial master streams, three portable monitors, three deck guns and two 2½-inch handlines were in operation. It was estimated that 7,500 gallons of water per minute was being applied to the fire.
Loeb declared the fire under control at 3:56 A.M. on Thursday, Feb. 25. All mutual aid departments were released by 7 A.M. The last Dunkirk engine left the scene at 5 P.M. on Sunday, Feb. 28, nearly 96 hours after the initial alarm. A watch line was left in place on a hydrant and was used intermittently until 11:25 A.M. on March 2.
More than 150 career and volunteer firefighters operated 16 engines, four aerials and four rescues at the scene. Nine hydrants on the municipal water system and two drafting relays from Lake Erie supplied over 3.7 million gallons of water for firefighting operations. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. No civilians were injured. At the time of the fire, the temperature was 33 degrees and dropped to 24 degrees with light winds that night. During the rest of the incident, temperatures ranged from 21 to 37 degrees with winds up to 14 mph. Two feet of snow fell during the incident.
The Chautauqua County Fire Investigation Team conducted a five-day investigation into the origin and cause of the fire. It was determined that the fire was caused by an electrical short at the main service disconnect in the basement below Chautauqua Works, on the C side wall near the C/D corner. The building and its contents were destroyed, except for a few historical items recovered from the Masonic Temple.
- Successes — Thirty-two children and four adults evacuated the building without injury. Firefighters were able to search most of the fire building and all of the D exposures before interior operations were abandoned. The D exposure sustained water and smoke damage. Cooperation between all mutual aid fire departments was very good.
- Problems — Dunkirk firefighters were faced with several problems throughout the incident. The building did not have a lock box. This delayed initial entry into the building. Initial manpower staffing was not adequate for the deep-seated fire and the size of the building. Most firefighters had a lack of experience in fighting a fire in this size commercial building.
The municipal water system could not supply the necessary water flow after requirements passed 6,000 gpm and some of the distant mutual aid companies did not have the proper adapters necessary for Dunkirk hydrants.
Command was overwhelmed with the number of individuals trying to report there. Communications were difficult during the incident due to heavy radio usage. Fuel suppliers for apparatus took too long to get to the scene once requested. Rapid ice buildup created hazardous conditions for firefighters.
JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.
ON THE JOB: NEW YORK
DUNKIRK FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief: Keith D. Ahlstrom
Personnel: 27 career firefighters, eight volunteer firefighters (combination fire department)
Apparatus: Three pumpers, one aerial, one reserve pumper