On the Job - New York: Arson Fire Destroys Downtown Shops in Watertown

Jay K. Bradish reviews operations and mutual aid responses to a $2 million fire.


On March 5, 2004, an arson fire destroyed two downtown businesses and threatened to spread to an entire block of buildings. The fire originated in a two-story, 150-by-109-foot commercial structure that was built in 1900 with a stone foundation, masonry walls, wood floors and a flat wooden roof...


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On March 5, 2004, an arson fire destroyed two downtown businesses and threatened to spread to an entire block of buildings. The fire originated in a two-story, 150-by-109-foot commercial structure that was built in 1900 with a stone foundation, masonry walls, wood floors and a flat wooden roof.

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Photo By Michael Fagans/The Watertown Daily Times
Engines 1 and 4 position hoselines for defensive operations as heavy fire conditions are visible from the rear of the two commercial occupancies. The fire threatened to extend down the street.

WATERTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Daniel J. Gaumont, CFO/EFO
PersonneL: 82 career firefighters
Apparatus: Three pumpers, one aerial platform, one quint, one heavy rescue, two reserve pumpers, one reserve aerial
Population: 26,705
Area: 8.9 square miles

It was nearing 7:30 P.M., and the owner of the store two doors away was inside when a passerby entered and reported the fire, which was called in to 911. The fire building was subdivided into two stores, Max Outfitters at 162 Court St. and the former Eastside Skates at 160 Court St., which was vacant at the time of the fire. Max Outfitters, a clothing store, had been in business under a variety of names at that location for 74 years. Four other buildings were located within the block: Sun-Sational Window Coverings, 168 Court St., a one- and two-story brick building measuring 1,350 square feet; Severance Photo, 170 Court St., a three-story, ordinary-construction building containing 6,023 square feet; Dr. Guitar Music, a two-story brick building of 4,719 square feet; and Second Hand Book Store, a two-story building measuring 2,299 square feet.

The Watertown Fire Department was dispatched by the Jefferson County Dispatch Center at 7:27 P.M. to a possible structure fire with heavy smoke reported in the vicinity of Max Outfitters. Engine 1 and Engine 3, both 1,500-gpm pumpers, and Engine 2, a 1,250-gpm pumper, Truck 1, a 100-foot aerial ladder, and Rescue 1 responded with 15 firefighters under the command of Acting Battalion Chief David Harrienger.

Harrienger arrived on the scene at 7:29, performed a 360-degree size-up and established command on Court Street. Engine 1 also arrived on scene at 7:29 and reported nothing showing at the front of the building on Court Street and continued onto Marshal Place. Engine 1, investigating at the rear of the building, reported smoke showing from the eaves in the rear one-third of the building on the first floor. (There were no life-safety issues at the time of the fire, as the downtown merchants normally close at 7 P.M.)

Harrienger requested Engine 3 to lay a 300-foot five- inch supply line from a hydrant on Court Street to Engine 1, located on Marshal Place at the northwest corner of the row of buildings. Harrienger requested a second alarm at 7:33, which initiated the callback of an off-duty platoon of 19 firefighters and the notification of Fire Chief Daniel J. Gaumont.

The battalion chief, Engine 1 and Rescue 1 all positioned on Marshal Place. Firefighters from Engine 1 under the direction of Captain Donald Howell began to deploy 13¼4-inch attack lines from the pumper while the rescue company searched for a opening to ventilate the structure. The rescue company was unable to ventilate on the roof due to the proximity of power lines. Crews stretching the attack lines from Engine 1 forced two overhead garage doors at the rear of Max Outfitters and deployed lines through the garage to the east side rear of the fire building. The crew from Engine 3, upon completion of laying a five-inch supply line for Engine 1, assisted Engine 1’s crew in stretching attack lines. Truck 1 was positioned on Court Street in front of Eastside Skates.

While this evolution was transpiring at the rear of the building, Engine 2 was positioning at the front of the building and reported heavy smoke and heat in Max Outfitters. Harrienger then requested Engine 3 to lay a 300-foot five-inch supply line to Engine 2 from another hydrant on Court Street. After the crew from Truck 1 forced entry through the front glass door of Max Outfitters, the firefighters assisted Engine 2 in deploying two 13¼4-inch attack lines through the front of the business.

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