The Stories Behind The Stories Part 3

Harvey Eisner recalls major incidents covered by Firehouse® Magazine and shares recollections of how the information was obtained.


To Hell And Back. I interviewed Elizabeth, NJ, Firefighter Lathey Wirkus (now a captain), who had suffered severe burns to his hands at a fire where a child was reported trapped on Feb. 13, 1988. Caught inside the fire room for about 30 seconds after flashover, Wirkus had to be hospitalized in...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
To Hell And Back.

From his size-up, Wirkus figured there was a window on each wall. He made it to a window, but it contained an air conditioner that he could not climb over. He tried running to the adjacent wall and hit it directly between the two windows. He landed on his back, lying on his SCBA. He looked up from the floor and saw the flames change direction. He thought the fire had to be going for the air, so he got up and dove in the direction of the flames. He went through a window and landed on a porch roof. A firefighter was standing on the porch roof and was just starting to vent those windows when he saw Wirkus.

Wirkus had been wearing full protective compliant clothing, including a Nomex undershirt, but his best pair of gloves were wet and he had been wearing his backup pair when the incident occurred. Wirkus spoke during Firehouse Expo seminars in Baltimore and Charlotte, describing his experiences and how he survived the flashover.

8_01_harvey6.jpg
Photo by Harvey Eisner
The Jersey City fire building becomes well involved. Fire started to burn across a bridge connecting a block-long warehouse to the original fire building.

Jersey City Warehouse Fire. A partially occupied warehouse threatened several nearby exposures in Jersey City on July 15, 1987. I arrived at the fire involving a heavy timber warehouse and parked around the corner adjacent to the building that was located across the street from the fire building. The fire was burning from floor to floor. A pedestrian bridge connected the fire building to the warehouse across the street. Companies were directed to check the bridge to make sure that the fire could not extend across it to the exposure.

As the fire grew in size, units were hastily withdrawn from the front of the building due to the intense radiant heat. The fire started to burn across the top side of the bridge to the exposure. Units inside were unsure if they could hold the fire from entering the exposure. That's when I decided to move my car about two blocks away upwind. The building became fully involved, the fire was held to the exposures and then the building collapsed.

K-Mart Warehouse Fire. A fire in a one-story, 1,250-foot-long and 1,000-foot wide K-Mart distribution warehouse in Falls Township, PA, caused $113 million in damage on June 21, 1982. The fire burned for seven days. The center, one of 10 located across the country, served 382 stores from Maine to Virginia. The building was fully sprinklered, but the fire overwhelmed the system. Aerosol cans spread the fire as they rocketed. The fire was the most costly to strike a single building up to that time. The building was rebuilt to nearly twice its original size.

8_01_harvey8.jpg
Firehouse® File Photo
The fire in the K-Mart distribution warehouse caused $113 million in damage.

The fire occurred on a Monday. On Tuesday, I traveled to Cherry Hill, NJ, to write a story about that department's mobile air cascade unit. While I was in Cherry Hill, firefighters told me about a fire in Pennsylvania the day before that caused over $100 million in damage. I told them there was no such thing. On Wednesday, I traveled to the New York State Chiefs show. John Paige, then the editor-in-chief, told me that the fire chief from Falls Township, PA, was attending the show when he was notified of the fire. He responded from upstate New York.

On Thursday, while I was trying to reach any firehouse in Bucks County to confirm reports of the fire, officials called the magazine and said they were still fighting the fire and asked that someone come to the scene and interview them. I traveled to the scene, passing a seven-alarm fire on the way. When I arrived, a portion of the warehouse was still burning. Companies from Pennsylvania and New Jersey were being rotated at the scene.

I was escorted into the rubble and shown where the fire had started. Units initially were backed away from the building. There was no reason to call dozens of engines because even the best streams only reached 100 to 200 feet into the 1,250-foot-wide structure.

This content continues onto the next page...