During this time, however, little headway appeared to have been made by the initial suppression efforts, and the magnitude of the fire continued to grow. The overall fire ground tactics were shifted to a more “defensive” posture (exterior operation) and the battalion chief gave the order to “back your lines out.”
However, before suppression crews could exit form the interior, a sudden partial collapse of the truss roof occurred, trapping six fire fighters. An intense fire immediately engulfed the area of the collapse. One trapped fire fighter was able to escape through an opening in the debris. The other five died as a result of the collapse. This incident and several others before and since, provide important lessons to the fire service regarding the fire ground hazards of wood truss roof assemblies.
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Following is an excerpt from the New York Times article:
Demers contended that Chief Williams, primarily because of the volume of fire on the rooftop, should have ordered nine firefighters out of the garage within 7 minutes of his arrival. The order to pull out was given at 3:34 p.m., about 30 minutes after his arrival, the report said.
- “This radio message was not acknowledged by any companies,” the report said.
The roof collapsed at 3:36 p.m. Three firefighters were hit by burning debris and killed, four escaped, and two, Lieut. Richard R. Reinhagen and Stephen Ennis, took refuge in the tool room.
- At 3:39 p.m., Lieutenant Reinhagen began to radio his location and appeal for help, the report said.
In one of the major communications flaws cited by Mr. Demers at the fire scene, all departmental communications were transmitted on a single channel, or frequency. Consequently, Lieutenant Reinhagen’s appeals for help were intermingled with orders for deploying men and hoses and instructions to arriving companies.
- “You have to hurry, we’re running out of air,” Lieutenant Reinhagen said at 3:42 p.m.
Headquarters then radioed to Chief Williams: “Expedite on that, they’re running out of air.” The transcript did not show any response from Chief Williams.Over the next 6 minutes, through 3:48 p.m., Lieutenant Reinhagen made 10 more calls. None was answered. For three of the minutes, bells indicating depletion of his air tanks’ supply were ringing repeatedly. At one point, a civilian who overheard the ringing on a radio scanner called fire headquarters to tell officials of the noise.
At 3:49 p.m., the Lieutenant radioed: “Chief, this is Lieutenant Reinhagen. I’m still stuck back in the right rear of the building in the closet. We are out of air in a closet. We’re out of air.”
“What’s your location?” Chief Williams said. The response was inaudible and the Chief began ordering water from a truck.
At 3:50 p.m., the Lieutenant got the Chief directly and repeated that they were “stuck in a closet” and “out of air.”
- “Stuck in a closet?” Chief Williams asked.
Twelve seconds later, the Chief Williams asked: “Where you at?”
- “Right there in the closet,” came the response.
- Fourteen seconds later, Lieutenant Reinhagen radioed again: “Help. The right rear. Out of air. Anybody out there? Stuck in the closet, right rear. No air. Help.”
The Lieutenant was asked if he was on the first or second floor. “First floor, underneath the collapsed ceiling,” the Lieutenant said at 3:52 p.m. It was his last transmission. Firemen eventually punched a hole through an exterior wall about 10 feet from the tool room, but saw only a mass of flame, Mr. Demers said. The burning timbers were leaning against the tool room, he said, but neither fireman was burned.
Learn from the past so we don’t repeat it. Remember- NO MORE HISTORY REPEATING EVENTS!