On The Job - North Carolina: Fire Destroys Rocky Mount Furniture Business

On Thursday, May 3, 2007, a second-alarm fire destroyed a furniture store in downtown Rocky Mount. A heavy fire load and building construction features prevented safe entry by firefighters and significantly intensified the speed of fire travel and volume of fire produced.

The one-story, masonry cement-block building, which dated to about 1950, had a metal bowstring-truss roof with a composite and metal covering. The 80-by-150-foot structure was used as a showroom and warehouse. It had no fire detection or protection systems.

The Rocky Mount Fire Department was dispatched to a report of smoke coming from Jeff's Furniture Outlet at 220 Marigold St. at 4:37 P.M. Engine 1, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Engine 5, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Ladder 20, a 75-foot quint aerial with a 1,250-gpm pump; and Squads 1 and 2 with a total of 17 firefighters responded under the command of District Fire Chief Larry Johnson. Upon arrival, it was confirmed that everyone was out of the building. The primary concern at this time was firefighter safety. Due to the type of construction of the building, there was a potential for an early roof collapse. Knowing there was a heavy fire load, no firefighters were permitted to enter the building. (The weather was around 70 degrees with sunny skies.)

Engine 1 was positioned on the A side of the building and hooked on to a hydrant with a 100-foot, five-inch supply line. Ladder 20 laid a 300-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant Marigold and Washington Streets to the B side of the building. Engine 5 was staged at the intersection of Arlington and Hill Streets (C/D corner) and its four-person crew was assigned to firefighting operations. Squads 1 and 2 were staged on side D and the firefighters were assigned to firefighting operations.

Initial attack crews stretched two 200-foot 1¾-inch attack lines and a 200-foot 2½-inch attack line from Engine 1 to the front windows of the building in an attempt to attack the fire without making entry. This proved ineffective and defensive operations were established. A ground monitor was placed into operation on the A side supplied by a 200-foot five-inch line from Engine 1. When the roof collapsed, fire conditions on side A forced the crew to abandon the master-stream device. Ladder 20 was set up for aerial master stream operations and its crew also placed a 200-foot 2½-inch handline into operation.

Johnson requested a second alarm at 4:46 P.M. Responding units included Engine 6, a 1,250-gpm pumper with a crew of three; Ladder 30, an aerial platform with a 2,000-gpm pump and a three-person crew; Support 11, with one crew member; and eight staff personnel. Engine 6 was staged and its manpower was assigned to firefighting operations. Ladder 30 laid a 400-foot five-inch supply line from a hydrant to the D side and was set up for water-tower operations. Support 11 refilled self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottles. The second alarm also provided six support personnel from the training and fire marshal staff who filled the roles of safety and logistics and assisted in exposure evacuations. At 5:10, the Red Oak Volunteer Fire Department was asked to send an engine and crew to Rocky Mount Fire Station 6 for standby coverage.

Johnson declared the fire under control at 7:04 P.M. Crews remained on the scene until 2:27 P.M. the following day. Damage was estimated at $100,000 to the building and $500,000 to the contents. There were no injuries.

Lessons Learned

The incident demonstrated a significant contrast to fires in residential and other smaller structures where loading typically doesn't severely impact the fire intensity. These factors are critical in predicting the incident outcome and tactical decisions, such as equipment positioning, as well as strategic decisions.

Water supply was limited on hydrant supplying first-in Engine 1. The positioning of the master-stream monitor and low volume of water flow proved ineffective. Engine 1 was repositioned twice during the free-burning phase of the incident.

The incident command system was successful in providing communication, accountability and safety during the incident. The incident command system and recent National Incident Management system (NIMS) training and drills contributed to effective inter-agency (fire, EMS, law enforcement, utilities, county fire and American Red Cross) teamwork during the incident. This enabled firefighters to contain the fire to the structure of origin.

Chief officers and engine company personnel are trained in building construction design and features and firefighter safety. The department mandates the use of the incident command system on every incident. Due to roof construction and interior contents, senior chief officers directed crews to take a defensive posture on arrival when everyone was confirmed out of the building. The furniture business occupied an old building that command immediately recognized as unsafe for interior operations.

All personnel were involved in a complete critique of the incident and reinforced in departmental policies on firefighter safety and apparatus placement. Additional emphasis of fire loads and building construction effects should be made during routine strategy-and-tactics sessions.

The most significant challenge was minimal unused resources to provide response to the remainder of the City of Rocky Mount. This challenge was reduced by calling on mutual aid from neighboring county departments. The City of Rocky Mount enjoys an excellent working relationship and mutual aid agreements with emergency responders throughout the region. All area agencies support each other without hesitation during times of emergencies.

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.