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...


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At the same time as the evacuation, fire vented itself through an exterior wall opening on the south (C) side of the building. It was decided to leave Engine 1 in the collapse zone until Quint 5 was set up and operating to protect the C-side exposure. Before Quint 5 was operating and Engine 1 could be moved, a partial collapse of the east wall (side B) at the third and fourth floors occurred near the south (B-C) corner of the building. All firefighters were accounted for, and the handline exposure protection was discontinued. Engine 1 was abandoned at this time.

Engine 3 was repositioned east on Girard Avenue to the A-B corner of the building out of the collapse zone. A portable monitor supplied by Engine 3 was set up in a parking lot across the street from the front of the building. Quint 5 was positioned off the B-C corner of the building to protect the C-side exposure. This unit operated its elevated master stream and a handline to protect the exposure.

Quint 4 was positioned in the parking lot on the B side of the building for possible roof ventilation, but this was not attempted due to the rapid collapse of this side of the building. Quint 4 placed its ladder pipe into operation to protect the east B and north A exposures. The crews of Quint 3 and Engine 2 operated Quint 3’s ladder pipe and several handlines to protect the west (D) exposure building, located only 10 feet from the fire building. As the fire progressed, six collapses and several explosions occurred.

Kennedy declared the fire under control at 5:42 P.M. Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries. There were no civilian injuries. Engine 8 sustained $251,000 worth of damage in the collapse. Quint 5 received $5,000 in damage and had to have its right side repainted and the aerial device tested.

An investigation into the fire was conducted by the Middletown Fire Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The cause of the fire remains undetermined, although it does not appear to be criminal in nature. Damage to the building was estimated at over $1 million.


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.