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At 3:55 P.M., the captain of Ladder 3 upgraded the incident back to a full alarm assignment. As the tour commander, I responded via the alley into the rear to Ladder 3’s location. When I arrived on the scene, heavy smoke was showing from several windows of the basement below the location of the previous car fire. Looking up four stories to the roof line, heavy smoke was rolling along the connecting section of building to the main building. Instantly, I was hit with two thoughts: first, we’re going to be here until morning; and second, I’m going to need at least four alarms.
The occupancy, floor area and volume of smoke all called for 2½-inch lines at a minimum. The closest hydrant, however, was 1,200 feet down the single-lane alley. Do I really want to wait 15 minutes for the supply and the attack stretch to happen before getting some water on this? I knew the sprinkler system was operational, so the quickest way to get water deep into this basement would be pumping the fire department connections (FDCs).
I assigned my first two engines to pump the sprinkler connections in the front on Newark Avenue. Engine 1 used a yard hydrant to supply Engine 7 and we began a long stretch of 2½-inch hose into the Delta-side alley. Second-alarm companies completed that long hoselay and kept the hose to the side and the alley access open. A third alarm was transmitted at 4:12 P.M. and the fourth alarm at 4:19. The third and fourth alarms consisted of mutual aid units from Essex and Union counties. Due to the alley restrictions, a staging area was established at the mouth of the driveway/alley near North Avenue.
With water supply to the rear established, two engine companies paired up to stretch 2½-inch hose 350 feet into the basement full of stock. Rescue began removing bars from the windows, and with a rapid intervention team standing by and strict instructions to stay in contact with the hose, Elizabeth Engine 7 and Newark Engine 19 disappeared into the heavy smoke. About 15 minutes later, they returned. With 300 feet of hose and a 100 feet of utility rope tied to the end, they could not locate the fire. Sprinklers were operating overhead and a thermal imaging camera showed high heat at the ceiling, but the firefighters could not determine the source. The sprinklers seemed to have no effect and the smoke kept getting worse.
The Delta-division supervisor placed several monitors in operation flowing into the basement windows. After meeting with a representative from the building and receiving a floor plan, a set of stairs to the basement was located not far from the apparent seat of the fire. A quick recon in heavy smoke found the door at the bottom of the stairs to be locked. I assigned three more engines (one as a rapid intervention team) and a ladder company to force the door and complete a stretch from the alley.
After operating saws in almost zero visibility, the door yielded, but opened only about six inches before hitting an eight-foot-high stack of plywood. Even so, the inside of this door was clear of smoke and was not the seat of the fire. The companies were withdrawn and I received reports of a nearby floor sagging. I took a quick look at a concrete floor sagging in the center about four inches with cracks issuing smoke. This signaled the end of offensive operations at about 6:30 P.M. and I quickly followed up by a getting a personnel accountability report (PAR).
Earlier, Elizabeth Ladder 1 made the roof and reported heavy smoke venting from the center of the roof. The company also located a six-separation between the fire building covered with flashing. They removed 300 feet of the flashing and smoke vented out of the crack. Other ladder pipes were set up in the Alpha/Bravo corner, the Bravo/Charlie corner and the Charlie Delta corner. A fifth alarm was called to augment the defensive operations and bring a second water supply more than 1,000 feet to the Bravo/Charlie corner. Although there were large volumes of smoke, little fire was visible and the ladder pipes seemed to have no effect on the fire.
Around midnight, an attempt was mounted to flood the basement with high-expansion foam. Elizabeth’s new Marine Response unit with high-expansion (HiEx) foam capabilities responded, and Middlesex County mutual aid augmented the foam supply. This attempt proved difficult due to the heat and smoke blowing out the window. The application tube blew out of position and eventually began to melt. Despite this, firefighters persevered and eventually filled the window to the ceiling with foam. However, looking through some adjacent windows, we could see that the foam was not moving across or any deeper into the building.