Editor’s note: Warehouse fires are common across the country. This story was written before the Worcester, MA, fire; it is not being included here to upstage Worcester or any other fire, but to educate our readers as to the problems and hazards associated with these serious types of...
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Companies responded to reported fire in an old, vacant furniture factory located in the mill district of the city. As the first engine arrived, members observed fire showing from two windows on the third floor of the six-story mill building. The building measured approximately 400 by 600 feet.
The fire was in the front of the building, which faced a four-lane street. The first-arriving captain ordered an aggressive interior attack by the first-alarm companies.
The first-due chief had fought many a fire in the city’s old, vacant mills, factories and warehouses. While responding to this fire, he knew from his experience that several critical factors had to be in his favor if the offensive operation was to be a success.
As the chief arrived, he observed the first-due ladder making forcible entry to a door at the street level about 15 feet to the left of the burning windows. The first-due engine had taken a hydrant approximately 100 feet up the street. The company began stretching a mobile 21¼2-inch hoseline and was preparing to enter the building.
When the ladder completed entry, the members notified the chief that there was an interior stairwell right inside the door that they had forced open. From the street level, the fire appeared to be close to the top of the stairwell.
The chief knew that, with a little bit of luck, the companies could safely and successfully contain this fire with their offensive attack. How could he be sure? What factors had to be identified and ascertained?
- Building access. The companies had to be able to access the structure in a relatively short period. Any delay in getting into the building could cause the fire to grow beyond their ability to handle it with an aggressive offensive attack. Even in vacant buildings, many of the doors are very well secured. Although one door may be open and provide access to the building, it may be remote from the area of the fire and provide no advantage for an offensive operation.
- Floor access. Once in the building, the companies will have to locate an interior stairway to stretch their hoseline to the fire floor. If a stairwell is close to the door that the ladder company has opened, the offensive operation is still a viable option. However, if the fire is in a remote area of the floor or a great distance from the stairwell, myriad problems and issues will have to be anticipated and considered. What are the smoke and heat conditions? How far is the hoseline stretch? Do we have sufficient hose on the floor? How long will it take us to get the hoseline operational? Do we have sufficient personnel to complete the task? Most importantly, can we operate safely?
Once we have gotten to the fire floor, are the smoke and heat conditions severe? This may be an indication that the fire has progressed beyond our ability to handle it offensively. If we are not able to put water on the fire quickly because of a lack of hoseline, insufficient personnel to get the line in service or the fire being located remote from our access point, the delay may force us into a defensive operation.