Lesson Reinforced In Newburgh: Know Building Construction & Hazards
Education and training in building construction and the hazards of truss construction were keys to firefighter safety at a suspicious three-alarm commercial fire in the City of Newburgh, NY. Incident commanders recognized hazardous conditions and withdrew interior crews before a truss collapse occurred 19 minutes into the fire.
The Nov. 15, 2006, fire destroyed the Active Ventilation Products Company, an L-shape building of ordinary and non-fire-protected steel truss construction that was built in 1924. The building was comprised of a 120-by-100-foot two-story warehouse and a 77-by-160-foot, one-story attached factory. The warehouse had a four-on-12 pitch rubber roof, while the manufacturing area had a flat rubber roof. The building was equipped with a six-inch dry sprinkler system.
The Newburgh Fire Department received Municipal Fire Alarm Box 245 at the corner of Liberty and Clinton streets at 1:12 P.M. Engines 1 and 3 and Ladder 1 responded with nine firefighters under the command of Assistant Chief Robert Bain in Car 4. Upon arrival, companies found heavy smoke pushing from the warehouse with flames visible in the upper-east-side gable windows. An employee advised units that all occupants were out of the building, but Fire Chief James Merritt and Deputy Chief Glenn Burres removed one of the company's owners who had reentered the rear of the building.
Engine 1 laid 350 feet of four-inch supply line from a hydrant on Liberty Street to the 3-4 corner of the building on Liberty Street. Engine 3 laid the same amount of four-inch line from a hydrant at the corner of Grand and Clinton streets to a position on Clinton Street. Firefighters hand-laid 100 feet of three-inch line from Engine 3 to a hydrant at the corner of Liberty and Clinton streets for a water supply. Ladder 1 was positioned on Liberty Street (side 4). The crew from Engine 1 advanced a 250-foot 2Â½-inch line to a door on Liberty Street and operated from this position. That engine also pumped two 50-foot three-inch lines to the building's fire department connection. It was later found that the building's sprinkler system was not in operation. The crew from Engine 3 advanced a 250-foot 2Â½-inch attack line to a large overhead door on Clinton Street. The engine's pre-piped Stang gun was also placed into operation into large windows along that side of the building.
Bain requested a second alarm at 1:16. Newburgh Engine 10 and Truck 10 responded with eight firefighters. Engine 10 laid 600 feet of five-inch supply line from a hydrant on Liberty Street to the intersection of Liberty and Clinton streets. Truck 10 was positioned at the 1-2 corner of the building on Clinton Street. Bain then called for mutual aid from several area fire departments. Five firefighters from the Stewart Air National Guard Base responded with Engine 371; the Cornwall Volunteer Fire Department responded with Ladder 402 and six firefighters; and the Goodwill Volunteer Fire Department from the Town of Newburgh responded with Engine 312 and a six-member crew. Responding to Newburgh Fire Headquarters for standby were Orange Lake Volunteer Fire Department Engine 327 and five firefighters and Coldenham Volunteer Fire Department Tower 205, also with a crew of five.
Merritt ordered all firefighters out of the building at 1:22. After all firefighters were accounted for, defensive operations were initiated. Engine 1 supplied two 100-foot three-inch lines to feed the fly pipe on Truck 1. As the fire conditions worsened, a 250-foot 1Â¾-inch handline was used to cool Engine 1 and Truck 1. Bain requested a third alarm at 1:28. Newburgh Engine 11 responded along with all off-duty Newburgh firefighters.
The Stewart Air National Guard crew was originally assigned as the rapid intervention team, but when operations changed to defensive, the firefighters assisted with exterior operations. Stewart Engine 371 laid a 700-foot five-inch supply line from a hydrant at the corner of Montgomery and Clinton streets to side 1 of the building and supplied Newburgh Engine 3 with a 100-foot five-inch line. Cornwall Ladder 402 was positioned at the corner of Liberty and Clinton streets and set up for aerial master stream operations. Newburgh Engine 10 supplied this ladder with 600 feet of five-inch line. Goodwill Engine 312 laid 400 feet of five-inch line from a hydrant at the corner of Liberty Street and Gidney Avenue to a position on Liberty Street, south of side 3. This engine supplied Newburgh Engine 1 with a 400-foot five-inch line. Additionally, firefighters stretched 250 feet of 1Â¾-inch handline to side 2 of the building.
Merritt declared the fire under control at 6:20 P.M. Mutual aid units were released from the scene an hour later. Newburgh units left the scene at 7:56 with a fire watch remaining at the scene until 9 A.M. on Nov. 17.
Newburgh Truck 1 sustained heat damage, burned aerial electric cables and track, and the outer hose jacket burned through, but the inner liner remained intact. Engines 1 and 3 sustained radiant heat damage. The estimated damage to fire department equipment was $4,000. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries. There were no civilian injuries. Damage to the building and contents was estimated at $1.3 million.
Investigators from the City of Newburgh Cause and Origin Team and personnel from the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control Cause and Origin Unit performed a two-day on-scene investigation. On Dec. 29, 2006, investigators announced that the cause of the fire was suspicious and it remains under investigation.
Even though there was no pre-plan of the building, incident commanders had been educated and trained in building construction and the hazards of truss construction, and for this reason they recognized conditions and withdrew interior crews before the truss collapsed. Establishment of collapse zones ensured that no firefighters were injured when the north wall and roof collapsed.
Another factor in the early withdrawal of the interior crews was the fact that the dry sprinkler system was found to be inoperative when charged by the first-in engine company. A lack of water pressure in the municipal water system was initially a problem, but was solved by calling for mutual aid engine companies to lay in additional supply lines.
NEWBURGH FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief James Merritt
Personnel: 63 career firefighters
Apparatus: Two pumpers, one aerial, one boat, one fire alarm truck, two reserve engines, one reserve truck
Area: 4 square miles
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.