On The Job - Ohio: Machinery Malfunction Sparks $10 Million Factory Fire in Forest Park

Chief: Trish Brooks
Personnel: 29 career firefighters, 38 part-time firefighters
Apparatus: Two engines, one aerial, three ALS units, one reserve engine, one reserve medic unit
Population: 27,000
Area: 7.5 square miles

A four-alarm fire in Forest Park, OH, on March 2, 2005, caused by a machinery malfunction destroyed a Faxon Machining Inc. manufacturing facility, causing $10 million in damage.

The original building was constructed in 1996, with five additions made since then. The one-story, U-shaped metal building contained 65,000 square feet of space. A flat metal-deck roof covered the original fire building. No fire protection or detection systems were present in the manufacturing area. Smoke alarms were present in the office area only. The company is in the business of precision drilling and machining of parts for industrial uses.

Firefighters were faced with several challenges during the incident: A 3,000-gallon oil pit that was flush with the floor quickly overflowed with the water from the fire attack and spread the oil and fire through out the entire 65,000-square-foot floor of the manufacturing portion of the building. A limited foam supply of 30 gallons was initially available, but was not sufficient to extinguish the fire, requiring the response of the county foam supply.

The Forest Park Fire Department and automatic mutual aid from the Village of Greenhills Volunteer Fire Department were dispatched to a reported structure fire at 7:53 A.M. Forest Park Engine 42, with a crew of three; Engine 43, with two firefighters; Ladder 42, with a three-person crew; and Medic 42, with one member, responded under the command of Captain Dan Seiller. Greenhills Quint 48 responded with a crew of four. Prior to the arrival of the fire department, all employees had evacuated the manufacturing and office areas of the building. The temperature at the time of the fire was 27 degrees, with a wind-chill factor of 16 degrees.

Seiller requested a second alarm while enroute at 7:56. Woodlawn Fire Department Quint 96, Springdale Fire Department Engine 90 and Ladder 2, and Greenhills Engine 48 responded.

First-due Engine 43 arrived on scene at 7:57, and Firefighter Chris Arnold reported heavy smoke. Employees informed Engine 43's Fire Apparatus Operator Maria Burns that a mono bore drill machine, located 50 feet inside the overhead door near the A-B corner, was on fire. Two firefighters from Engine 43 and one from Ladder 42 stretched a 2.5-inch attack line to the seat of the fire from side B. Engine 42's crew stretched an additional 2.5-inch line into the building as a backup line.

Ladder 42's aerial was raised to the roof and the remaining two crew members started opening the roof. These firefighters operated two 14-inch saws, cutting six ventilation holes in the roof of the main fire building. The roof sector advised command that the roof structure had become unstable. Due to the interior pressures created by the fire, the metal-deck roofing was lifting up off of the supports. Spot fires were also occurring through the roof. Interior operations lasted only several minutes due to rapid fire spread and the report from firefighters on the roof.

Seiller requested a third alarm at 8:04. Colerain Fire Department Engine 25, Evendale Fire Department Engine 40 and Tower 40, and Springdale Township Fire Department Engine 75 responded. A minute later, crews were ordered out of the building and off the roof. Both of the 2.5-inch attack lines were backed out of the building and placed into operation in defensive positions at the overhead doors on sides B and D. Ladder 42 firefighters continued opening up the building, as there was no visible fire venting to the exterior.

Springdale Engine 90 laid a supply line from a hydrant to the courtyard on side D and set up to relay pump to Ladder 42, but the hydrant was later found to be frozen. Springdale's crew proceeded to the C-D corner of the building to cut off the interior fire spread. The crew gained access to an interior roll-down door to stop the fire spread. The door could only be partially closed, so firefighters placed a portable monitor beneath the door to stop the fire spread to the attached addition.

Woodlawn Quint 96 was originally assigned to pick up Engine 90's hydrant, but command reassigned the unit to be positioned on side B. This unit opened up side B and placed its aerial device to the roof. Due to the instability of the roof, no roof operations were attempted on side B. Quint 96's aerial master stream was later placed into operation, supplied by Forest Park Engine 43. Next-due Engine 25 was ordered to pick up the hydrant for Engine 90. Fairfield Ladder 2 laid a supply line from Engine 42 to the C-D corner in the courtyard. This unit later supplied the portable monitor and the attack line that Engine 90 was supplying.

Colerain Engine 25 laid a supply line and picked up Engine 90's supply line from the frozen hydrant and relay pumped to Engine 90. The four-member crew from this engine was assigned to assist Quint 48 with side C operations. These crews opened up the rear of the structure and operated numerous handlines and portable monitors on side C. Evendale Tower 40 and Engine 40 were positioned mid-way of the building on side B. Tower 40 was set up for aerial master stream operations, supplied by Quint 48. These firefighters opened up side B.

The Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Unit responded with Foam 100, carrying 880 gallons of 3-6 percent foam and Haz-Mat 300 with 14 personnel assigned to contain the oil runoff. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also responded and monitored the runoff and the smoke plume.

Seiller requested a fourth alarm at 8:47. Sharonville Fire Department Tower 87, Glendale Fire Department Engine 45, Mount Healthy Fire Department Engine 7 and North College Hill Fire Department Tower 78 responded.

It was determined that the structural fire was extinguished and the remaining fire was contained to the oil pit at 11:34. Two crews entered the structure with 2.5-inch foam lines. Once at the seat of the fire, firefighters quickly extinguished the oil pit fire and the remaining spot fires in the surrounding machinery. The oil pit fire was extinguished at 11:44 A.M. Mutual aid companies were released at 1:23 P.M. The last Forest Park unit left the scene at 3:50 P.M.

A two-day investigation by the Forest Park Fire Department, the Ohio State Fire Marshal's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) determined that the cause of the fire was accidental due to a machinery malfunction. No injuries were reported by firefighters or civilians. Total damage to Forest Park Fire Department equipment, including turnout gear and hose, was over $23,000.

Forest Park had never dealt with an incident of this magnitude, making accountability difficult. Seiller, a newly appointed captain who had served as a lieutenant for five years, was the first officer to arrive on the scene and assumed command. Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett assisted Seiller with incident command, since the Forest Park fire chief and two assistant chiefs had been called away to attend an Ohio Fire Chiefs legislative meeting at the Statehouse in Columbus. Since the fire, the incident was critiqued and training on the incident command system has been completed.

A special thanks to Fire Chief Trish Brooks, Lieutenant Mark Miller and Fire Investigator/Safety Officer Jim Smith for their assistance in preparing this article.

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.