Fire Destroys Century-Old Beckley Buildings

BECKLEY FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief: Billie Trump Personnel: 41 career firefighters Stations: 3 Apparatus: 2 pumpers, 1 aerial, 1 regional response truck, 1 hazmat rescue, 4 staff/support vehicles Population: 18,000 Area: 12 square miles...


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BECKLEY FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Billie Trump

Personnel: 41 career firefighters

Stations: 3

Apparatus: 2 pumpers, 1 aerial, 1 regional response truck, 1 hazmat rescue, 4 staff/support vehicles

Population: 18,000

Area: 12 square miles

On Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, a three-alarm fire destroyed two buildings in downtown Beckley, WV. Firefighters encountered extreme cold and wind as they worked to prevent the well-advanced fire from reaching nearby exposures.

The buildings were built in 1912 of Type III ordinary construction. The two-story building of origin was 40 feet wide by 90 feet deep with a basement. The second building was three stories high and measured 45 feet wide by 90 feet deep, also with a basement. The buildings had wooden roofs covered with asphalt and rubber roofing. One building was vacant and the other contained four businesses – the printing shop Kopy Xpress and the Trio Consignment shop, which shared the first floor of the building; and the Mize Law Office and Sellards Real Estate, which occupied the second floor. There were no fire protection or detection systems in the buildings.

This was not the first time a major fire struck that location. On April 14, 1912, a fire that started at the same corner destroyed 30 buildings in a two-block area, including the fire station. Wooden buildings were dynamited to stop the fire spread.

Initial operations

The Beckley Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire at 108 South Heber St. at 5:22 P.M. Responding on the initial alarm were Engines 1 and 3, Ladder 2 and Command 1 with eight firefighters commanded by Captain Ed Wills.

Engine 1 arrived first and reported heavy smoke conditions with some flame visible on side C. Engine 1 was positioned on South Heber Street, side A, for the initial attack. Engine 3 was also positioned on South Heber Street. Ladder 2 was positioned at the intersection of South Heber and Neville streets, at the A/B corner of the building. Engine 1 was supplied with a 100-foot, five-inch line from a 1,500-gpm hydrant on South Heber Street. Ladder 2 was fed by a 100-foot, five-inch line from a 1,500-gpm hydrant at South Heber and Neville streets. There were no civilian life-safety issues as the businesses were closed for the holiday.

Two firefighters stretched a 200-foot, 2½-inch line from Engine 1 and entered the front of the building. Two other firefighters stretched a 200-foot, 1¾-inch attack line from Engine 1 in through the front door as a backup line. Firefighters encountered heavy smoke and significant heat on the first floor. No flames were visible and the large amount of clothing and clothing racks in the consignment shop impeded hoseline progress toward the rear of the building. The fire was in the basement extending to the first floor. The two interior crews were forced to withdraw within seven minutes as conditions deteriorated rapidly.

An attempt was made to make entry into the building from the rear (side C) by firefighters with a 1¾-inch attack line. Conditions were untenable and Wills initiated defensive operations. Wills requested a second alarm at 5:32 P.M. At 5:40 P.M., defensive operations were initiated. Tower 1 responded to the scene, manned by returning off-duty personnel. This unit was positioned at the corner of Main and South Heber streets and set up for aerial master stream operations. It was supplied by a 300-foot, five-inch line from a 1,500-gpm-plus hydrant at Main and Fayette streets. Tower 1 was able to flow 1,000 gpm.

Wills requested a third alarm at 5:44 P.M. Although there was no formal request for mutual aid, neighboring departments offered assistance. The Beaver Volunteer Fire Department responded with an engine and a Snorkel with six firefighters to stand by at Berkley Fire Station 3. An additional six firefighters responded to the scene. The Lester Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene with an engine and three firefighters.

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