On The Job - West Virginia: Fuel Load, Water Runoff & Manpower Concerns Test Command At Nitro Tire Recovery Site Fire

Jay K. Bradish details a fire in a multi-tenant commercial building that burned out of control for 17 hours in downtown Nitro, WV.


On The Job — West Virginia By JAY K. BRADISH Fuel Load, Water Runoff & Manpower Concerns Test Command at Nitro Tire Recovery Site Fire On May 4, 2006, a fire in a multi-tenant commercial building burned out of control for 17 hours in downtown Nitro, WV. The fire caused the...


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On The Job — West Virginia By JAY K. BRADISH Fuel Load, Water Runoff & Manpower Concerns Test Command at Nitro Tire Recovery Site Fire

On May 4, 2006, a fire in a multi-tenant commercial building burned out of control for 17 hours in downtown Nitro, WV. The fire caused the evacuation of 1,000 students from Nitro High School, located a block away, and 65 employees of the NAPA warehouse adjacent to the fire building. Over 2,500 residents were ordered to "shelter in place." Route 25, the main highway through town, was closed, making portions of Nitro look like a ghost town.

The 107,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1965 of masonry walls with a concrete floor and ceiling. The roof, referred to as a "tilt up," or "tent," was custom built of concrete to resist an explosion. There were over 50 "tents" making up the roof. The building had one-hour-rated separation walls between the four businesses that occupied the building. These walls were constructed of two-by-fours and Sheetrock. US Tire Recovery occupied approximately 50,000 square feet; 3M Company occupied approximately 40,000 square feet; Rim & Wheel occupied 5,000 square feet; and JMD, a land reclamation company, occupied 2,500 square feet.

Nitro, a suburb of Charleston, the state capital, was built during World War I and expanded during World War II to assist in the war efforts. During these eras, the city saw many nitroglycerin plants established in the city. These plants made explosives for ammunition and bombs. After the wars, many of the plants were converted for use as chemical manufacturing companies. Most of the chemical plants have closed and their operations moved elsewhere, and many buildings and warehouses have been converted to other uses.

With the small size of the Nitro Fire Department - 10 career firefighters and six paid-on-call firefighters - it was necessary to be creative to increase staffing. The neighboring city of St. Albans had the same problem, so in 2000, the Nitro and St. Albans fire departments entered into an automatic mutual aid agreement for response to all possible structure fires. For two small cities that could not afford additional full-time firefighters, it was the perfect solution for placing more firefighters on the scene quicker. It has been standard procedure to serve as each other's rapid intervention teams after arriving on scene and gives first-arriving companies seven to nine firefighters on the initial response. This has greatly improved firefighting capabilities and firefighter safety. Off-duty recall and paid-on-call firefighters provide additional resources.

The Nitro and St. Albans fire departments were dispatched to a reported working structure fire at the US Tire Recovery business at 10:14 A.M. Nitro Engine 853 and Ladder 861 responded with two firefighters under the command of Captain Jeff Elkins. St. Albans responded with Engine 313 and Ladder 311 with five firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Steve Parsons. As Nitro Engine 853 left the fire station two blocks from the fire, Elkins reported a working fire with a large column of black smoke visible. First-in Engine 853 reported heavy fire on the D side of the building with exposure problems. A 50,000-square-foot NAPA Auto Parts distribution warehouse was 30 feet from the D side. Engine 853 was positioned near the A-D corner and supplied by a private hydrant. Hedrick and Parsons were the next two units to arrive on scene. Parsons assumed incident commander duties and Hedrick assumed C-side operations.

Two 2½-inch attack lines were pulled from Engine 853 and an initial attack was initiated from A side, through the JDM portion of the building. At the time, that was where the fire was believed to have originated. St. Albans Engine 313 laid 300 feet of supply line from a hydrant at the corner of 19th Street and Park Avenue to the A side of the building. Parsons requested a second alarm from both departments at 10:23. Mutual aid was also requested from the Institute, Poca and Tyler Mountain volunteer fire departments.

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