On The Job: New Jersey

ELIZABETH FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief : Thomas McNamara Personnel: 267 career firefighters Stations: 7 Apparatus: 7 engines, 3 ladders, 1 heavy rescue, 3 ambulances Population: 125,000 Area: 12 square miles   On Dec. 21, 2011, the...


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ELIZABETH FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Thomas McNamara

Personnel: 267 career firefighters

Stations: 7

Apparatus: 7 engines, 3 ladders, 1 heavy rescue, 3 ambulances

Population: 125,000

Area: 12 square miles

 

On Dec. 21, 2011, the Elizabeth, NJ, Fire Department was challenged with a stubborn fire in a large warehouse that required the response of more than 55 fire units from five counties. Although the fire was ultimately contained, it challenged the local fire departments and burned for a record 57 days before being totally extinguished.

The City of Elizabeth, which has had a career fire department since 1902, covers a 12-square-mile area, of which more than half is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority property includes the fuel-tank farm for Newark Liberty International Airport, Terminal A and half of Terminal B. Most of the Port Authority-operated property is the Elizabeth portion of the Port Newark/Elizabeth Marine Terminal, which handles about 2,500 ships a year.

 

Initial alarm

At 12:03 P.M., Elizabeth Engine 6 and Ladder 3 responded for a car fire at 891 Newark Ave. Engine 6 saw nothing showing from the street and decided to investigate inside the building. The company proceeded into Peacock Alley and drove more than 1,000 feet inside the building and found a heavy smoke condition. The smoke was coming from a heavily involved car at the first-floor rear. This initial alarm set the tone for the entire incident.

The captain of Engine 6 upgraded the alarm, bringing two additional engines, a Ladder, Rescue 1 and an additional chief. Engine 6 stretched a 1¾-inch hoseline and attacked the fire. Engine 8 was directed to supply the fire department connection to feed the standpipe/sprinkler system from the Newark Avenue side. The fire was quickly contained, but not entirely extinguished due to a gasoline-fed fire. Engine 6 switched the longer pre-connected hose to an outlet that could deliver foam onto the fire for final extinguishment. As a precaution, Engine 5, a foam pumper, was ordered to go to the rear to better access the fire if more foam or water was needed.

There was a huge amount of smoke inside the first floor. Ventilation became the focus and ladder companies set up five fans to remove the smoke. One sprinkler head activated above the car fire. The sprinkler was shut down, the head replaced and the system restored. Ladder 3 remained on the scene ventilating the basement area.

 

The building

The building at 891 Newark Ave. was part of a large complex, used most recently as a warehouse. The main part of the structure was built in1917 by the Duesenburg brothers to manufacture engines for the military during World War 1. The first mass-produced aircraft engine, the V-12, was built there. After the war, the building was eventually purchased by William Durant, who expanded the complex to manufacture the Durant car. Durant joined General Motors in 1933 and stopped production of his namesake vehicle that year. Soon afterward, the building housed its most famous resident and become the home of Burry Biscuit. Burry Biscuit baked Girl Scout cookies, Fudge Town cookies, crackers and ice cream sandwich wafers. For 40 years until 2006, Burry Biscuit employed up to 900 employees, working around the clock.

The portion of this complex where the fire was located had two sections. The fire originated in a four-story section with a basement and was of heavy-masonry construction. Heavy masonry is poured concrete and rebar foundation, columns, floors and roof. Between the columns are block curtain walls and/or windows. It measured 550 by 320 feet and was attached to a four-story, on-slab heavy-masonry building measuring 1,600 by 220 feet. Attached to this was a three-story, ordinary structure measuring 450 by 1500 feet.

 

The upgrade

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