Commercial Building Fires

Since my last article there have been quite a few fires in commercial building fires throughout the country.


Since my last article there have been quite a few fires in commercial building fires throughout the country. One New Jersey fire department lost an apparatus when the fire blew out the front windows, nearly incinerating a couple of firefighters working on the opposite side of the apparatus. FDNY had a fifth alarm the other day and almost lost a probationary firefighter who became separated from his company. A "Mayday" transmission was issued and the lost firefighter was found severely overcome by smoke.

In light of these recent fires, I felt obligated to write about commercial fires. In this month's article, I have given you a real fire situation that was faced by responding units a few years ago. See if you can identify some of the size-up warning signs.

At approximately 4 a.m. engine company 63 responded to an alarm reporting smoke seeping from a building located at 352 Third Ave. The engine officer had been working in the company for 5 years and knew the building was an ordinary construction building that sold furniture and bedding material. It was an early Monday morning and our area was experiencing a severe rainstorm accompanied with strong gusty winds.

Upon arrival the engine officer was faced with heavy smoke issuing from five of a seven-store taxpayer (strip mall). All of the stores were secured closed with heavy rolled down security gates making it extremely difficult to determine the exact location of the fire. Heavy smoke was now visible over the roof area and other units were now arriving. The engine officer, realizing the importance of calling for additional help early, quickly transmitted an additional alarm.

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Photo Courtesey FDNY Archives

The officer ordered the engine chauffeur to hook up to the nearest hydrant and had his three firefighters stretch a 2 ?" hose line. At this time the roof firefighter determined the location of the fire and began to vent the roof. Once the door to the fire occupancy was opened, the 1st to arriving ladder company began there vent enter and search procedures. Now knowing the location of the fire, Engine 71 positioned their hose line in front of the store, off the sidewalk and charged it. Before entering the store, the nozzle man bled the air out of the line. The Incident Commander ordered all front windows of the building to be vented.

The engine team momentarily hesitated before entering the store, allowing the products of combustion to exit through the front door. They entered low and to the side of the doorway putting themselves out of the path of the venting combustible products. Once inside, the engine company got themselves oriented which direction was the rear of the store and the approximate width.

The truck company located the fire in the rear basement area and relayed the information to the engine. The entrance to the basement was through a trapped door located 75 feet from the front door. A wooden open tread stairs provided access to the basement. Crews encountered heavy heat but were not able to see any visible fire. There was no possible ventilation in the rear and all openings into the basement had been bricked up. Crawling toward the rear basement entrance, the engine company team started to experience extreme heat but still was unable to see any visible fire. Still at this stage of the incident, no water had been applied to the fire.

The entire taxpayer was unoccupied and had been closed since 9 P.M. Saturday night. Approximately 50 feet from the entrance the engine officer removed one of his gloves and extended above his head. He immediately withdrew his hand due to the severe heat condition. At this point in the advance one member of the attack team's SCBA vibralert started to go off. The Engine officer made a command decision and radioed to the incident commander that conditions were deteriorating and his team was running out of air.

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