On The Job: New York City

Sunday, April 11, 2010, was a beautiful spring day in Manhattan. Temperatures during the day reached a pleasant 76 degrees and that evening was promising to be mild as well. At 10:15 P.M., the FDNY Fire Alarm Office at MetroTech in Brooklyn began...


Sunday, April 11, 2010, was a beautiful spring day in Manhattan. Temperatures during the day reached a pleasant 76 degrees and that evening was promising to be mild as well. At 10:15 P.M., the FDNY Fire Alarm Office at MetroTech in Brooklyn began receiving calls reporting a structure fire at 285...


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Sunday, April 11, 2010, was a beautiful spring day in Manhattan. Temperatures during the day reached a pleasant 76 degrees and that evening was promising to be mild as well. At 10:15 P.M., the FDNY Fire Alarm Office at MetroTech in Brooklyn began receiving calls reporting a structure fire at 285 Grand Ave. near Eldridge Street. Units were dispatched and quickly rolled to the scene.

Newspapers later reported the building had a history of neglect and more than two dozen open violations for hazardous conditions, including lead paint and missing smoke detectors. Throughout the winter, the building had been plagued by boiler problems and residents might have delayed calling the fire department when smoke was first smelled, believing it to be the oil burner again.

Grand Avenue is in the section of lower Manhattan known as Chinatown. A historic neighborhood, Chinatown is nestled between Little Italy, north of Canal Street, and what is considered the Lower East Side just east of the Bowery. Chinatown is a true working-class neighborhood bustling with activity and filled with people. It is a tightly packed, yet sprawling neighborhood. The historic section of Chinatown centers at Mott, Bayard, Pell and Mulberry streets and is filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. Fish and fresh produce are found along Mott Street between Grand and Hester, and along Grand Street.

First-due FDNY units found the reported address of 285 Grand St. to be a six-story brick commercial/multiple-dwelling building with stores on the first floor. A working fire was evident and a 10–75 signal was transmitted two minutes after companies were dispatched. The first-due pumper, Engine 9, prepared for operations and stretched a 2½-inch hoseline. The first hydrant proved defective, so two lengths of four-inch hose were immediately stretched around the corner to a good hydrant on Eldridge Street, securing a source of water.

Ladder 6 began searching the building for trapped occupants and the seat of the fire. The stairs leading to the upper floors were filled with people fleeing the heavy smoke on the upper floors and these occupants were directing firefighters to locations above. The officer of Engine 9 quickly checked the second floor and found heavy smoke, but little heat. He believed the fire was possibly below him and returned to the hose to await confirmation of the fire's location from the search teams before committing the first attack line.

An extra engine and ladder were requested at 10:25. Initial size-up reports were given as: heavy smoke conditions, trucks were opening up and that the exact location of the fire was yet to be determined. As the search continued, civilians were being removed down fire escapes and through the interior stairs. Command was also receiving reports of smoke issuing under pressure from the corner building. Units were sent to that location, 92 Eldridge St. No fire was found in this building, but extremely heavy smoke was present in the shafts and rear of the structure.

Reports to command continued stating that searching companies were encountering extremely heavy smoke and high heat, but still could not locate the specific areas of fire. The chiefs in the street knew they had a difficult and dangerous fire on their hands with many occupants still inside their apartments. A second alarm was transmitted at 10:34. This would make a total of eight engine companies, six ladder companies, a squad company and a rescue company at work or responding to the scene.

The first floor of 285 Grand St. was a fish and fresh produce store with five floors of occupied apartments above. Next door, at 283 Grand St., a novelty store with a steel roll-down gate locked in place occupied the first floor with five stories of apartments above it. Truck companies moved in on the roll-down gate, forcing the locks and raising the gate to reveal a raging fire in the novelty store.

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