On The Job – Ohio: Firefighters Narrowly Escape Backdraft at Fire in Converted Tobacco Warehouse

Jay K. Bradish details a fast-moving fire that destroyed a 40,000-square-foot building in Middletown, OH.


MIDDLETOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief: John J. Sauter Personnel: 84 career firefighters Apparatus: Three engines, three quints, three ALS ambulances, three reserve engines, two reserve ambulances Population: 51,000 Area: 25.85 square miles plus 1 square mile of contract territory On Feb...


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

MIDDLETOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief: John J. Sauter
Personnel: 84 career firefighters
Apparatus: Three engines, three quints, three ALS ambulances, three reserve engines, two reserve ambulances
Population: 51,000
Area: 25.85 square miles plus 1 square mile of contract territory

On Feb. 22, 2004, a fast-moving fire destroyed a 40,000-square-foot building that contained three businesses in Middletown, OH. Two firefighters barely escaped from the interior before a backdraft occurred.

Ninety-six of the building’s original windows were replaced shortly before the fire with modern double-paned thermally efficient window units. This masked the interior conditions, as the first firefighting units on scene reported only a wisp of light gray smoke.

The four-story, L-shaped, 118-by-135-foot brick structure was built of typical mill construction with an unprotected heavy timber infrastructure and a flat roof with load-bearing brick exterior walls on a stone foundation. The building was originally constructed as a tobacco warehouse in the 1860s.

The Middletown Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire involving Recker Custom Woodworking at 1210 Girard Ave. at 1:54 P.M. The Engine 1 crew (operating reserve Engine 8), Engine 3, Quint 4, a 75-foot aerial, and an ambulance responded with 11 firefighters under the command of Deputy Chief Robert Kennedy. (Middletown operates out of five stations. All in-service engines and quints are staffed with three persons. Ambulances are each staffed with two paramedics. A deputy fire chief operates alone as the shift commander.)

The owner of the building told Lieutenant Brian Oliver from Engine 1 that everyone was out and that the fire was on the second floor in the southeast area of the building. Engine 1 proceeded to a parking lot on the east side of the structure. Upon arrival at 1:57, Kennedy found a light smoke haze issuing from the first and fourth floors of the southeast portion of the building.

Oliver and Firefighter John Scranton advanced a 1¾-inch line from Engine 1 into the first floor toward the east stairway and encountered heavy smoke and moderate heat conditions. Engine 3 was positioned at the A-B corner and its crew and the crew from Medic 1 operated as one unit and advanced a 1¾-inch line into the first floor through a door on the Girard Street (A side) of the building under the command of Lieutenant Jeff Spaulding. This crew found moderate smoke in this area of the building. A positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) fan was set up in the doorway to aid that crew, but was shut off when the smoke conditions changed to heavy black pressurized smoke. The crew from Engine 3 could advance only 25 feet inside the building before encountering extreme heat conditions. Officers from both crews decided to evacuate the building because of rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Kennedy, observing conditions on the outside of the building, ordered the apparatus air horns to be sounded for evacuation. The crew from Engine 1 had advanced approximately 30 feet inside the building when the evacuation was sounded. Oliver reached the exit door, but found it difficult to open the inward-swinging door due to the pressure inside the building. He also saw debris falling inside the building as he exited.

Immediately after the evacuation, a roll call was taken and all firefighters were accounted for. Kennedy switched to defensive operations to protect the exposures that included vehicles and trailers in a U-Haul parking lot, a vacant two-story house located 100 feet off the D-A corner and the 100,000-square-foot Franklin Box Board Co., located 35 feet off side C and six feet off side D.

Kennedy ordered a second alarm at 2:05. Quint 5, a 75-foot aerial, Engine 2 responded with six firefighters. The second alarm also initiated the recall of off-duty personnel. Quint 3, a 110-foot aerial, responded with off-duty personnel.

This content continues onto the next page...