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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The fire spread to the roof of the adjacent building at 112 South Heber St. This was a three-story building with a full basement of ordinary construction that shared a party wall with the original fire building. Crews from Ladder 2 and Tower 1 were assigned to this building. Crews were ordered to periodically check the interior wall of the building for evidence of fire spread. When the roof of the building became involved in fire, defensive operations were initiated. Ladder 2 operated an aerial master stream at the A/B corner of the buildings as Tower 1 operated an aerial master stream at the B/C corner. Firefighters placed two 2½-inch lines in operation on side A. Additionally, a 2½-inch handline was in operation on the C/D corner. Numerous 2½-inch lines were advanced to individual floors of the apartment building to provide additional exposure protection. These lines were wyed into 1¾-inch handlines. Wills declared the fire under control at 11 P.M. Mutual aid units were released at 2 A.M. on Jan. 3.

 

Conclusion

The origin of the fire was in the basement of 108 South Heber St. on side C adjacent to the alley behind the building. The temperature at the beginning of the incident was 19 degrees and fell steadily during the night. Winds were constant at 5 to 10 mph with gusts to over 40 mph. Wind chills were in the single digits. There were no civilian or firefighter injuries. Damage was estimated at $600,000 to 106-108 South Heber St. and $550,000 to 112 South Heber St. nThis fire demonstrated that the incident commander can be quickly overwhelmed by circumstances. Even when weather conditions are marginal, large fires attract large crowds, so a police presence is vital. A fire in the basement or first floor can rapidly involve the entire building and with the configuration of the building, ventilation is extremely difficult. Because of this, interior attacks may have only limited success and must be closely monitored for the safety of firefighters. Initial placement of apparatus is critical.

 

Lessons Learned

PROBLEMS

• Collapse zones – Because of the close proximity of other buildings, it was difficult to set up effective collapse zones.

• Icy weather – The extreme weather conditions made it necessary to continuously flow water. This led to ice buildup on the street and fireground. Ice buildup on the aerial ladder made it necessary to stop operations to chip ice away to maintain function and stability of the ladder. The extreme cold and wind also caused considerable problems with rehab for the firefighters. The county commission opened the county courthouse so firefighters could rehab in a warm environment. Several local businesses contributed food and drinks because of the extended nature of the response.

• Construction – Type III construction is subject to fire spread, especially in older buildings that have undergone multiple renovations. Older buildings are also limited in ways to effectively ventilate for interior operations.

SUCCESSES

• Exposures – Three buildings were in close proximity to the fire building. An apartment building with more than 40 tenants, a federal courthouse and Internal Revenue Service office complex and the new county judicial annex were exposures to the fire. When it became apparent that because the fire was so deep seated and well advanced before the fire department was notified and that the fire building was untenable, the focus was shifted to defensive operations and protection of the high-value exposures. The exposures suffered only minimal damage from heat.

• Pre-planning – The fire department pre-plans all commercial buildings and does target hazard assessments for special hazards. Hydrants are checked twice a year to ensure adequate water flows. Large-diameter hoselines are used to supply elevated master streams. Post-incident critiques are done on fires to glean useful information for future planning.

• Inspections – The fire prevention bureau does plan review and inspections for new buildings and buildings that are being renovated.

• Staffing – Members of the department are issued pagers so they can be aware of and respond to situations that require additional manpower.

• Training – Safe and effective tactical decision-making and safety are emphasized.

—Jay K. Bradish