Shortly after 8 P.M. on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009, the Suffern, NY, Fire Department was dispatched for a reported structure fire at Washington Avenue and Washington Circle in the downtown area of the village. The initial response also included a heavy rescue from the Tallman Fire Department on...
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Shortly after 8 P.M. on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009, the Suffern, NY, Fire Department was dispatched for a reported structure fire at Washington Avenue and Washington Circle in the downtown area of the village. The initial response also included a heavy rescue from the Tallman Fire Department on automatic mutual aid for a firefighter assist and search team (FAST), regional terminology for what is also commonly known as a rapid intervention team (RIT). Less than 40 seconds later, Lieutenant Fernando Salvador enroute to the nearby Volunteer Hose firehouse confirmed a working fire at the Conserv Construction warehouse, a 180-by-130-foot masonry block structure originally built in 1925. Several additions had been constructed over the years, which resulted in not a single fire building but rather four interconnected structures. The roof was a mix of steel beam and wood truss. The fire load consisted largely of construction equipment and supplies, including bottled gases, flammable liquids and tires. There were no detection or suppression systems present, and the initial call came from a nearby business owner.
Arriving units found smoke issuing from a series of metal roll-up doors along the A side (Washington Avenue), as well as from the C and D sides of the structure. Firefighters were advised that that there were no occupants and that the main body of fire was near the C/D corner. Exposures in that area consisted of two single-car garages, several homes, an auto repair shop, a nail and beauty salon, and a 48-foot trailer used for storage. The side-B exposure was a fenced-in lot containing construction equipment. Battalion Chief Michael Stark was assigned responsibility for operations and began a 360-degree survey of the fireground. Deputy Chief Daniel McInerney assumed command.
The first-due Suffern engine (19-Tanker) hand stretched a five-inch feeder line to a nearby hydrant that was supplied by a six-inch main. The crew then began an interior attack through the front door using a 2½-inch line and a two-inch line. Suffern Hook and Ladder's 100-foot aerial platform (19-Tower) also set up on the A side with orders not to commit manpower to the roof. The truck company also began to force overhead doors with the use of a power saw after attempts at releasing them from the inside failed. During the initial phases, firefighters also removed compressed gas cylinders from the machine shop and put them in a safe place.
The second-due engine (19-1250) stretched a five-inch line from another six-inch hydrant and supplied both 19-Tower and a portable deluge set placed in use on side A. Mutual aid was requested from Mahwah, NJ, with Engine 115 (2,000 gpm), Ladder 2 (75-foot quint) and Tower 2 (100-foot aerial platform) responding. Both truck companies were stationed at the B/C corner for eventual elevated master stream operations and fed by Engine 115. Tallman unit 20-Tanker supplied a five-inch line to Engine 115 from a 10-inch main. One Suffern pumper (19-2000) and its 100-foot aerial (19-99) were out of service at the time.
Approximately 17 minutes after arrival, all crews were pulled from the building and a purely defensive posture taken. The amount and burn time of the fire, building construction and narrow aisles of flammables contributed to this decision, as did the lack of headway being made. According to Stark, "You expect that after a while you'll see the smoke color change and water come out the window. This wasn't happening." This strategy was validated 10 minutes later, when several explosions emanated from inside the building and fire brook through the roof. About 25 minutes later, the roof partially collapsed in the rear of the building. It should be noted that interior operations were confined to an area with steel beam roofing and not truss construction.