On The Job - Indiana

Jay K. Bradish describes firefighting operations at a fire that leveled a four-story warehouse and damaged several other downtown structures


On Sept. 14, 2007, a seven-alarm fire destroyed a four-story warehouse and damaged several other buildings in downtown Richmond. The warehouse was built in the late 1890s of typical brick-and-heavy-timber construction. The flat roof was covered with rubber membrane and tar. The footprint of the...


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On Sept. 14, 2007, a seven-alarm fire destroyed a four-story warehouse and damaged several other buildings in downtown Richmond. The warehouse was built in the late 1890s of typical brick-and-heavy-timber construction. The flat roof was covered with rubber membrane and tar. The footprint of the building was 379 by 221 feet with a full basement. There were no functional fire protection systems in the building at the time of the fire because the owner had disconnected the sprinkler system due to poor maintenance. The warehouse was used for storage of raw materials and finished product for Primex Corp., a manufacturer of plastic sheeting and plastic roll stock.

The Richmond Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire at the Primex warehouse at 535 North 15th St. at 2:34 P.M. Engine 1, an 85-foot aerial with a 1,500-gpm pump; Engines 2 and 3, both 1,500-gpm pumpers; a heavy rescue and Squad 1 responded with 13 firefighters under the command of Battalion Chief Tom Shook. First-in firefighters found heavy fire in the basement. All employees self evacuated upon the arrival of the fire department. Engine 3 was positioned in front of the building on 15th Street and supplied with a 150-foot five-inch hydrant-supply line. Engine 1 was positioned in the intersection of North 15th and North F streets at the northwest corner of the building and supplied by a 100-foot five-inch hydrant-supply line.

Firefighters advanced two 200-foot 1¾-inch attack lines from Engine 1 into the basement. These crews encountered thick, black smoke and high heat. A thermal imaging camera was used in an effort to find the seat of the fire, but the high temperatures melted the lens on the camera. Firefighters were forced to retreat from the basement after 10 minutes due to worsening fire conditions. Firefighters advanced into the first floor and cut a hole in the floor with a chainsaw. A 150-foot three-inch line with a cellar nozzle was placed into operation from Engine 1 in an effort to extinguish the fire in the basement.

While interior firefighters continued operating on the first floor, exterior crews placed a 100-foot 1¾-inch attack line with high-expansion foam into operation in a basement window on the northwest corner of the building. Twenty gallons of high-expansion foam was pumped into the basement window on the northeast corner on the building, but these crews had no luck with the foam reaching the fire. It was later discovered that an interior door had been pushed closed by the pressure of the foam and did not let the foam extend throughout the basement.

Engine 3 firefighters first advanced a 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line to an overhead door on the south side of the building. When firefighters opened the overhead door, heavy black smoke rolled out. Crews encountered zero visibility while inside the building trying to find an opening in the floor that was there due to removal of old machinery. The floor opening was never found and fire extension from the basement ignited plastic product stored on pallets on the first floor. Additionally, a 200-foot three-inch line was advanced to the same location and placed into operation. At 2:49, Shook requested a second alarm. Engines 4 and 6, both 1,250-gpm pumpers, responded with six firefighters who were assigned to firefighting operations.

After the initial interior attack failed to control the fire, it was determined that master streams would need to be deployed. The first ground monitor was placed at the dock area where the initial point of entry was made. This monitor was supplied by a 100-foot five-inch hydrant-supply line. Another ground monitor was set up at the southwest corner and north side of the structure supplied with a 150-foot five-inch hydrant-supply line. The fire continued to spread from the basement north to an abandoned elevator shaft, and south due to wind direction.

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