106 Departments Battle Wisconsin Tire Fire

Jay K. Bradish describes a five-day fire at a tire-recycling plant that would become the largest coordinated response in state history.


WATERTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief: Henry L. Butts Personnel: 25 career firefighters, 25 paid-on-call firefighters Apparatus: Four engines, one aerials, one heavy rescue; two tankers, one brush truck; two ambulances, one boat, four command cars Population: 30,000 Area: 101 square miles...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

WATERTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief: Henry L. Butts
Personnel: 25 career firefighters, 25 paid-on-call firefighters
Apparatus: Four engines, one aerials, one heavy rescue; two tankers, one brush truck; two ambulances, one boat, four command cars
Population: 30,000
Area: 101 square miles

On Tuesday, July 19, 2005, a fire at a tire-recycling plant in Dodge County, WI, required the resources of 920 firefighters from 106 fire departments in 10 counties. It took those crews five days to extinguish the fire. This incident would become the largest coordinated response in Wisconsin history.

Watertown Tire Recyclers LLC, located at the intersection of Provimi and Rich roads in the Town of Shield, operated on 12 acres of land. The facility contained three buildings and over one million tires stored in piles ranging in size from three to 30 feet high. Tires were also stored in box trailers. Additionally, several hundred tons of chipped rubber was stored in one large pile. The company processed whole tires by chipping them into pieces and removing the steel from them. The chipped material was sold for use as playground and track material.

The Watertown Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire at the facility at 9:56 A.M. Engine 2, Tanker 8 and Rescue 1 (an ambulance) responded with seven firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Henry L. Butts. While responding, Butts saw a heavy black smoke column from four miles away and requested that Tanker 7 also respond. Butts arrived on scene at 10:04, and observed a 50-by-50-by-35-foot fire burning in a pile of tires that measured 75 by 250 by 35 feet. The fire was located 100 feet to the east of the tire-shredding building.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Officer Barbara Palecek was conducting an inspection of the business at the time of the fire. Butts conferred with Palecek about attacking the fire or letting it burn due to the pollution concern that fire suppression would create. The DNR advised Butts to attack the fire. Butts established command and requested an "all-call page" at 10 o'clock that recalled two off-duty shifts of firefighters and 25 paid-on-call firefighters. Engine 2 was assigned to operations and laid a 300-foot supply line on the driveway from Provimi Road and into a fire lane to stop the fire's progression. Tanker 8 set up at the end of the driveway and established a water supply to Engine 2. Firefighters from Engine 2 and Rescue 1 placed a 2½-inch attack line and a ground monitor into operation from Engine 2. The ground monitor was supplied by two three-inch lines.

Within minutes, the on-scene water supply was exhausted. The heat from the fire was so intense that firefighters could not get within 100 feet of the burning tires. "There were times that it would be dark as night when the smoke blocked the sun," Engine 2 Lieutenant Chad Butzine said. "We were using large amounts of water, but we weren't able to keep a continuous flow of water on it."

Butts struck seven alarms in rapid succession at 10:07. Included in this were mutual aid tankers from Clyman, Ixonia, Johnson Creek, Lake Mills, Lebanon, Lowell, Reeseville and Waterloo; engines from Clyman, Lebanon, Lowell and Reeseville; and aerial ladders from Juneau and Waterloo. The DNR declared the fire a "Hazardous Substance Incident." Four tanker fill sites were established, the closest one being 2½ miles from the scene. All of the fill sites were hydrants on the Watertown municipal water system. Four dump sites were established at the fire scene, each consisting of four portable tanks.

By 10:17, enough off-duty and call Watertown firefighters had responded to the fire station to bring additional apparatus to the scene. Butts requested Watertown Engine 3, Ladder 3 and Squad 1 to respond. Tanker 7 arrived on scene and a portable tank was set up to supply Tanker 8. Tanker 7 dumped its water and began tanker shuttle operations, filling at a hydrant 2½ miles away. Ladder 3 was positioned near Engine 2 and set up to help keep the fire contained to the original area. Ladder 3's ladder pipe was placed into operation, supplied by Engine 2. Engine 3 was positioned in a driveway across the street from the fire and placed its deck gun into operation to protect the home. A portable tank was set up and this engine was supplied by tanker operations.

This content continues onto the next page...