Detached Residential Garage Fire…Explosion!

Detached residential garage fires are common. When you hear that over the radio, odds are you’re going to a working fire, as it usually takes time to get going before anyone sees it – or a civilian in the garage either intentionally...


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Detached residential garage fires are common. When you hear that over the radio, odds are you’re going to a working fire, as it usually takes time to get going before anyone sees it – or a civilian in the garage either intentionally (uncommon) or unintentionally (common) was the cause of the fire.

History tells us that when we are dispatched to a garage fire, literally anything may be inside. Simply put, civilians fill their garages with whatever they don’t want in their homes, and more. Specifically, a residential garage fire can be like responding to a ticking bomb – and that is what the firefighters in Pennsville Township, NJ, found in February 2006.

Thanks to Chief Larry Zimmerman, Chief Jeff Hoffman, Deputy Chief Jerry Brown, Captain Cliff Boxer and Firefighter/EMT Chris Hagan for their help with this month’s close call. Additionally, thanks to the Pennsville Township Police for their assistance.

Pennsville Township is in southwestern New Jersey, adjacent to the Delaware River in Salem County. Pennsville is about 26 square miles and has a population of approximately 14,000. The Township is mostly suburban, but contains two chemical plants, a power plant, numerous strip malls and several interstate highways. The township is protected by two fire companies: Pennsville Fire & Rescue Company, led by Chief Larry Zimmerman and Deepwater Fire Company, led by Chief Jeff Hoffman. Both fire companies are also responsible for responding in the event of an emergency at a nearby nuclear power plant. Both fire companies run about 400 calls per year, a large portion of which is mutual aid, and have about 30 volunteer firefighters each.

This account is from Deputy Chief Jerry Brown, the incident commander:

On Feb. 10, 2006, at 2:19 A.M., Pennsville Station 5, Deepwater Engine 7, Salem Engine 6, Pennsville EMS and Woodstown FAST 12 (a rapid intervention team) were dispatched to a reported working garage fire at 11 Georgia Road. Initially, there was confusion as to the location of the fire because the detached garage was directly behind 11 Georgia Road on Harvard Road. Pennsville EMS Ambulance 5-8 arrived first, as it is staffed 24 hours a day, and reported a well-involved structure fire with exposures. The stand-alone garage measured 24 by 24 feet and was set up as a motorcycle workshop. The garage was about 20 feet from the house and a light wind was blowing toward the house from the garage. Exposures included the house, numerous 25-pound propane tanks stored outside the garage, three 40-foot-tall pine trees and a heating oil tank next to the house.

As the first-arriving officer on Quint 5-6 (staffed with a crew of five), my primary concerns were establishing a water supply, protecting the exposure house and ensuring that no one was inside the house. The house was on the C side of the garage and was a serious concern, as the vinyl siding had already started to melt. I established Harvard Road Command and had my crew deploy the first handline to the house for exposure protection. As Rescue 5-9 (with a crew of three) and Engine 7-1 (staffed with five) arrived, I ordered them to place a second handline in service and search the house with a thermal imaging camera for fire extension and to ensure everyone was out.

At about this time, a large explosion occurred, mainly blowing out the B side of the garage, which was where the handline crews were operating. After the explosion, I checked with the other officers on scene to make sure that no one was hurt or missing. There were no injuries and everyone was accounted for. Engine 7-1 also deployed a three-inch line with a 500-gpm monitor on the A side for extinguishment of the garage. Engine 6-1 was initially used as a rapid intervention team until Woodstown arrived.

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