On The Job - New York: Heavy Fire Load, Limited Access at Perth Furniture Store

Jay K. Bradish recounts a multiple-alarm fire that destroyed a furniture store where delayed notification and limited access to the heavy fire load hindered firefighting operations.


On March 20, 2008, a multiple-alarm fire destroyed a furniture store on Route 30 in Perth, NY. Delayed notification and limited access to the heavy fire load in the basement hindered firefighting operations, but training, pre-planning and attention to fireground safety helped lead to a successful...


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On March 20, 2008, a multiple-alarm fire destroyed a furniture store on Route 30 in Perth, NY. Delayed notification and limited access to the heavy fire load in the basement hindered firefighting operations, but training, pre-planning and attention to fireground safety helped lead to a successful outcome.

The one-story, wood-frame building was constructed in the 1970s with a wood-truss roof with composition shingles. The building also had a full basement. Each area was comprised of 7,500 square feet. The basement (used as a storage area) was accessible from ground level at the sides and the rear. The basement had no windows with a man door at the north and south ends of the building. The front of the building (showroom) was at street level and lined with full-length display windows. No fire protection or detection systems were present in the building.

The Perth Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to reported "smoke in the building" at the House of Furniture at 4179 Route 30 at 4:21 P.M. Responding on the first alarm were Engine 12-1-1, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Engine 12-1-2, a 2,000-gpm pumper; Tanker 12-2-1, a 1,500-gallon tanker with a 1,250-gpm pump; and Tanker 12-2-2, a 2,300-gallon tanker with 22 firefighters under the command of First Assistant Chief Michael Quinn.

Upon arrival, Quinn was informed that the building had been evacuated of two employees and two customers. Finding smoke on the first floor, Quinn immediately requested mutual aid from the Broadalbin Fire Department for Tanker 2-2-1, a 1,800-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; Water Supply Truck 2-4-2, a 1,500-gpm pumper; and Engine 2-1-2, a 2,000-gpm pumper. Perth Engine 12-1-1 was positioned in the parking lot in front of the store. Perth Engine 12-1-2 laid a 300-foot, four-inch line from Engine 12-1-1 to a nearby creek and set up to draft to supply water to the fireground engine. It was determined that the fire was in the basement and a four-member crew led by Captain Kurt Opalka advanced a 200-foot, 1¾-inch attack line through the main door on the west side. A second crew led by Second Assistant Chief Jamie Rossi began a secondary attack on the south side of the building, advancing a 200-foot, 1¾-inch foam line.

There were two service doors in the basement used for furniture deliveries, one 42 inches wide and the other a seven-foot overhead door. Both doors were locked from the inside and crews had to force entry. Opalka's crew made entry into the basement, where the firefighters encountered heavy smoke and intense heat. Upon entering the basement, Lieutenant Scott Friedlander used a thermal imaging camera in an effort to locate the fire; there was a 640-degree temperature reading on the camera. Another two-member crew advanced a 250-foot, 1¾-inch attack line to the overhead door on the south side of the building where Rossi and Captain Paul McNeil were advancing into the basement.

As additional firefighters arrived on scene, backup crews were assigned to both of the initial crews. Interior crews were experiencing high-heat conditions and zero visibility because the basement had no windows for ventilation. Additional mutual aid was requested from the Hagaman Fire Department. Hagaman Engine 5, a 1,500-gpm pumper; and Tower 9, an 85-foot platform tower ladder with a 2,000-gpm pump, responded with four firefighters. Several firefighters, led by Deputy County Fire Coordinator Bruce Heberer, breached a large hole in the rear concrete-block basement wall in an attempt to vent heat and smoke for the interior crews. By the time this was accomplished, the fire was well advanced and conditions were continuing to deteriorate. Quinn ordered the evacuation of the building, approximately 15 minutes from the time the first crews entered.

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