On The Job - New York: Multi-Alarm Fire Heavily Damages Plattsburgh Hotel

On Saturday, Nov. 5, 2008, a multiple-alarm fire destroyed nearly half of the Comfort Inn and Suites in the Town of Plattsburgh, NY. At the time of the fire, the building was occupied by approximately 120 people. The two-story building was built in 1988 of ordinary construction with a lightweight truss roof. The 100,000-square-foot building contained 112 guest rooms; a Perkins Restaurant and Bakery; Legends Sports Bar and Brew Pub; Court Club health club; Comfort Inn ballroom; and a lobby. The building was equipped with a smoke detector system and a sprinkler system. Fire walls separated the two wings of guest rooms from the rest of the structure.

The District 3 Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire at the hotel at 12:25 P.M. Engines 351, 352 and 353, all 1,500-gpm pumpers, and Utility Truck 358 responded with 14 firefighters under the command of First Assistant Chief Greg Burnell. Under an automatic mutual aid agreement, three additional departments were dispatched at 12:26. The Morrisonville Fire Department responded with Engine 263, a 1,250-gpm pumper; South Plattsburgh Fire Department sent Engine 321, a 1,250-gpm pumper; and Rescue Hose Number 5 from Plattsburgh responded with Air Trucks 291 and 292.

Upon arrival, firefighters observed heavy smoke emitting from the roof of the lobby and pool areas. Restaurant occupants and hotel guests were still in the building. Most occupants self-evacuated upon fire department orders, but firefighters assisted several occupants to safety. District 3 Tower 359, a 100-foot ladder tower with a 2,000-gpm pump, responded at 12:29.

District 3 Engine 351 was positioned at the rear of the structure. Firefighters placed two 200-foot, 1¾-inch pre-connects into operation in guest rooms on the second floor via the balcony. Crews encountered heavy fire upon entry into this area. This engine was supplied by a 300-foot, four-inch line that was laid by Morrisonville Engine 263. District 3 Engine 352 was positioned at the front of the building in the area of the lobby. Firefighters placed a 200-foot, 1¾-inch pre-connect and a 200-foot, 2½-inch pre-connect into operation in the lobby and pool areas.

Firefighters encountered heavy fire in the ceiling of the pool/sauna area. This engine was supplied by a 700-foot, four-inch line that was laid by South Plattsburgh Engine 321. Tower 359 was positioned at the rear of the restaurant and fed with a 200-foot, five-inch line from Engine 351. Engine 353 was positioned in the parking lot and its crew was assigned to interior firefighting operations. A staging area was established in the parking lot in front of the hotel, 150 feet away.

In addition to fire attack operations, crews were needed to search all of the guest rooms to make sure everyone had evacuated the building. This was accomplished in 45 minutes by District 3 and mutual aid firefighters.

Extra Alarms

Burnell requested a second alarm at 12:30 P.M. The City of Plattsburgh Fire Department responded with Engine 282, a 1,500-gpm pumper. This engine was positioned at the rear of the building and placed two 150-foot, 1¾-inch lines into operation for fire attack on the second floor in guest rooms. At 12:33, Burnell called for a third alarm. The Beekmantown Fire Department responded with Engine 128, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and the Cumberland Head Fire Department responded with Engine 181, a 1,250-gpm pumper. Cumberland Head Engine 181 laid a 400-foot, four-inch line to supply Plattsburgh Engine 282. Burnell requested a fourth alarm at 12:41. City of Plattsburgh Tower 289, a 102-foot tower ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump, responded. This unit was positioned at the front of the structure in the middle of the building and set up for aerial master stream operations.

Interior crews operated five handlines in the lobby, pool and second-floor guest rooms for approximately 15 minutes. Fire conditions continued to deteriorate and at 12:45 P.M. the lobby roof collapsed. Second Assistant Chief Steve Fuller ordered all interior crews out of the building. Crews were alerted to evacuate by radio communications and the sounding of apparatus air horns.

Burnell assumed the position of incident commander and assigned the following individuals to positions: Fuller to interior operations in the second-floor guest rooms; Third Assistant Chief Roger Seymour to interior operations in the first-floor lobby and pool area; and City of Plattsburgh Chief Paul Williams to fireground operations at the rear of the building. Additional support personnel from Clinton County Emergency Services also assisted with incident management. County Coordinator Eric Day responded to the county command center to assist with operations; Battalion Deputy Chris Trombley was assigned logistics; Battalion Deputy Greg Timmons was assigned to fireground operations; Battalion Deputy Mike Cahoon was assigned to water supply; and Battalion Deputy Storm Treanor was assigned as EMS coordinator. He assisted the American Red Cross in working with displaced hotel guests.

Defensive Operations

Engine 351 placed its pre-piped deck gun into operation and Tower 359 put its aerial master stream to work in an effort to keep the fire spreading past the firewall at the rear of the restaurant. Engine 352 also placed its pre-piped three-inch deck gun into operation, and City of Plattsburgh Tower 289 put its elevated master streams into operation. This tower was supplied by a 1,000-foot, four-inch line laid by Beekmantown Engine 128, which hooked onto a hydrant and pumped the supply line. Cumberland Head Engine 181 placed a 300-foot, 2½-inch blitz fire attack line into operation in the courtyard area. Engine 181 was supplied with a 500-foot, four-inch line laid by West Chazy Engine 331. Numerous 2½-inch and 1¾-inch handlines were also in operation to control the fire.

At 12:45 P.M., Burnell requested a fifth alarm that brought to the scene Dannemora Fire Department Engine 191, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Keeseville Fire Department Engine 231, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Peru Fire Department Engine 273, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Saranac Fire Department Engine 311, a 1,500-gpm pumper; and West Chazy Fire Department Engine 331, a 1,250-gpm pumper. These units were staged and their manpower was assigned to fire attack and search operation.

A sixth alarm was requested by Burnell at 12:57. Keeseville Tower 239, a 75-foot aerial tower responded and was positioned in front of the restaurant and bar area, where its elevated master streams were put into operation. This tower was fed by a 1,600-foot, five-inch line laid by Keeseville Engine 231, which hooked onto a hydrant and pumped the supply line.

District 3 Fire Chief William Fuller arrived on scene at 1 P.M. After conferring with the incident commander, Fuller assumed the role of interior operations. Five minutes later, Burnell called for a seventh alarm, bringing Chazy Fire Department Engine 152, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and Cadyville Fire Department Engine 135, a 1,250-gpm pumper, to the scene. Chazy Engine 152 laid 1,600 feet of four-inch line and supplied City of Plattsburgh Engine 282 with a second water source. Cadyville Engine 135 was staged and its crew was assigned to fire attack. At 2:01, Burnell requested an eighth alarm. Champlain Fire Department Engine 141, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and Heavy Rescue 147 responded. Engine 141 was staged and Rescue 147 was used for lighting later in the incident.

Seven additional alarms were requested between 2 and 3:40 P.M. to backfill stations for units that were operating at the scene. Departments that responded included Altona, Ellenburg Depot, Willsboro, Jay and Rouses Point, NY, and the Hemmingford and Lacolle fire departments from Quebec, Canada. At 2 P.M., command decided that a supplemental water supply should be on standby in case a problem arose with either of the two municipal water systems from which engines were operating. Five tankers were staged at District 3's Hammond Lane Fire Station, a mile from the scene. Altona's 2,500-gallon Tanker 103, Churbusco's 5,000-gallon Tanker 166, Lyon Mountain's 1,800-gallon Tanker 242, Mooer's 5,000-gallon Tanker 258 and West Chazy's 2,500-gallon Tanker 336 responded. No water supply problems were encountered and the tankers were not used.

Under Control

After several hours of master stream and handline operations, command declared the fire under control at 7:30 P.M. Mutual aid departments began returning to their stations at 8 P.M. The Ausable Forks Fire Department was requested to the scene at 8:30 P.M. to assist with salvage and overhaul operations and remained on fire watch until 7 A.M. The last mutual aid was not released until 9:40 A.M., Sunday, Nov. 16.

Over 100 firefighters operated at the fire. Twenty-three engines; six rescues; three tower ladders; two air trucks and four ambulances responded to the scene. Fire department equipment that was damaged or destroyed included a thermal imaging camera, 200 feet of 1¾-inch hose; 200 feet of 2½-inch hose; two nozzles; boots; gloves; radios and hand tools. The majority of the equipment was lost when the lobby roof collapsed and firefighters abandoned their interior positions. Also assisting at the scene were New York State Police, Plattsburgh City Police, Clinton County Sheriff's Department, Plattsburgh City Water Department, Town of Plattsburgh Water Department, New York State Electric and Gas, and the American Red Cross.

Clinton County arson investigators, New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control arson investigators and private insurance investigators conducted an on-site investigation. County and state investigators determined that the fire originated in the sauna/pool area caused by an electrical malfunction. The insurance company investigation is ongoing at this time. Damage was estimated at $10 million. Areas of the building that were destroyed included the lobby, restaurant, bar, gym, pool and locker rooms. Areas that were damaged were the banquet hall and game room.

The fire consumed approximately 40,000 square feet of the 100,000-square-foot building. Firefighters credit the presence of fire walls in limiting the fire spread to the guest rooms. Even though the building was sprinklered, fire rapidly spread above the sprinklers engulfing a portion of the building. Weather conditions at the time of the fire were rainy with a temperature of 50 degrees.

Value of Training

This complex was located on a five-lane highway at the entrance to a major shopping complex. Traffic caused immense congestion in the area that required the closing of several streets and a major highway. Traffic control by fire police, local and state police alleviated the problem.

Numerous pre-plans for this structure had been developed in the past giving firefighters knowledge of the building layout. Knowledge of and training on hydrants in the area proved beneficial as initial water supply problems were quickly resolved by using hydrants on two different water systems. Continuous training with mutual aid departments allowed for seamless operations. The command structure used by the department and Clinton County along with continuous training with mutual aid departments allowed for seamless operations with the numerous departments involved in the incident.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.