On Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008, fire destroyed the International Fiber Corp. plant in North Tonawanda, NY. The company manufactures products to serve food, pharmaceutical, auto and industrial applications. Challenges facing firefighters included plant connections that were not compatible with fire...
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Tonawanda Fire Department units were assigned to the Detroit Street side of the building. Tonawanda Ladder 1, a 100-foot aerial ladder with a 2,000-gpm pump, was set up for aerial master stream operations. This truck was supplied with a 300-foot, five-inch line and placed two master streams into operation. Tonawanda Engine 2, a 1,500-gpm pumper, was positioned behind Ladder 1 and was supplied with a 200-foot, five-inch line from a hydrant on Bridge Street. This engine supplied Ladder 1 with an additional five-inch line and firefighters also placed two 1¾-inch attack lines into operation from this engine. Tonawanda Engine 3, a 1,500-gpm pumper was positioned at the intersection of Detroit and Bridge Streets and placed two 2½-inch attack lines into operation to fight the fire in Warehouse 3.
St. Johnsburg Ladder 20A8, a 105-foot aerial ladder with a 1,750-gpm pump, was positioned south of Plants 2 and 3. St. Johnsburg Engine 20E1, a 1,750-gpm pumper, set up drafting operations at the Placid Harbor Marina and pumped a 1,000-foot, five-inch line to St. Johnsburg Ladder 20A8. Adams Engine 1E1 drafted from the Niagara River and supplied a 400-foot, five-inch line to North Tonawanda Engine 4. Additionally, deck guns were operated by North Tonawanda Engines 4 and 6. A portable master stream was placed into operation into Warehouse 3, supplied by two 2½-inch lines from Tonawanda Engine 3. Frontier Fire Company Engine 5E4 was dispatched to the scene for a relief crew for St. Johnsburg at 12:03 P.M.
With the continued use of aerial and ground master streams and handlines throughout the day, Fritz declared the fire under control at 5:23 P.M. Mutual aid companies continued to operate at the scene until the early-morning hours of Monday, Oct. 20, when they were released.
Approximately 100 career and volunteer firefighters operated eight engines and three ladder companies to bring the fire under control. One firefighter suffered minor injuries. Five aerial master streams, two deck guns, one portable master stream and numerous handlines were also used to extinguish the fire. Several million gallons of water was supplied from seven hydrants on the municipal water system and from two engines drafting from the Niagara River. Weather conditions were sunny with a temperature of 60 degrees at the time of the fire. The last North Tonawanda apparatus left the scene on Oct. 25.
A six-day on-site investigation was conducted by North Tonawanda fire investigators and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The investigation continues at this time. Approximately 60,000 square feet of the facility was destroyed. Damage was estimated at over $2.5 million.
Among the lessons learned:
- Problems — The plant fire department connections were not compatible with the fire department hose couplings, making it impossible to pump into the sprinkler system. Mutual aid companies were delayed in responding due to another ongoing incident in the city causing confusing radio traffic.
- Successes — Calling for mutual aid early provided the resources needed to control the fire. Training with mutual aid departments allowed for seamless operations. Although several buildings were destroyed, five others in the complex were saved.