Firehouse Fires

I'm devastated we're all devastated by this. In one incident, we've lost all of our emergency response apparatus and most of our building. While it's horrible, we are extremely fortunate that no one was injured," Chief Tim Butters of the Burke, VA, Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department said a few hours after a fire destroyed the fire station. Also known as Fire Station 14 in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, the building and apparatus are owned by the volunteer department.

Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Fire & Rescue
Several firefighters had to escape their sleeping quarters after a blaze broke out in the Burke, VA, Volunteer Fire Department's quarters.


Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Fire & Rescue
The fire at the Burke, VA, fire station destroyed the cab on Rescue Squad 14.


At 1:47 A.M. on Jan. 10, 1997, Fairfax County Firefighter Mark Lucas of A shift awoke to the faint odor of smoke in the second-floor bunk room. Opening the passage door to the stairs leading to the apparatus bay area, firefighters found the bay area fully charged with smoke. Captain John Caussin immediately called the Public Safety Communications Center (PSCC) to report the fire.

Nine Fairfax County career firefighters were in the second-floor bunkroom and exited via an outside stairway. Hana Brilliant, a Burke volunteer, was sleeping in the women's bunkroom on the first floor and was awakened by the station tones being transmitted by the PSCC. She found the bay area untenable and was forced to escape out a window, assisted by the engine crew members who had by then come around the building.

Another volunteer, Eric Heitz, sleeping in a satellite bunkroom just off the apparatus bay, also escaped. Once outside, firefighters could see that the heavy rescue truck was fully involved with fire extending into the ceiling and roof area. The entire bay area was now filled with heavy black smoke. Efforts were made to open the bay doors but due to the loss of electrical power they could not be opened. It was only about 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and with no protective clothing the firefighters took refuge in the lobby of a post office across the street.

Responding on the box alarm were Engines 27, 32, 3 and 23; Rescue Squad 26; Truck 3; EMS 5 and Battalion 5. Paramedic Engine 27, with a crew of four, arrived at 1:55 and laid dual 300-foot supply lines from a hydrant on Burke Road to the front of the station on Burke Lake Road. Engine 27 Captain Roger Souders found heavy smoke showing and immediately requested a second alarm. Crew members advanced one 1 3/4-inch pre-connect through the front door into the apparatus bay.

Fairfax County Battalion Chief Chris Hunter arrived on scene at 1:57 and assumed command. He reported that Heavy Rescue Squad 14 was on fire with extension to the building. Engine 32 arrived at 1:59 and was positioned on Burke Road at a hydrant for water supply and charged the supply lines to Engine 27. Engine 3 pumper arrived a minute later and took the rear sector. This crew and the crew from Engine 32 were able to make entry through the overhead door and remove the two ambulances and the brush truck.

Engine 23 was positioned at the front of the structure and pulled another 1 3/4-inch pre-connect to back up the crew from Engine 27. Truck 1 was positioned in front of the building and its crew used power saws to open up the bay doors. Squad 26 firefighters conducted a search of the living quarters. Butters arrived from home and provided operations assistance at the command post but did not take command of the incident. Second-alarm units Engines 8, 22, 35; Truck 8; Medic 32; Light/Air 13; EMS 2; Canteen 8 and Battalion Chief John White were staged in a parking lot across the street from the station. The fire was knocked down in 20 minutes with mop-up operations continuing until 6 A.M.

Fire officials held a meeting at 7 A.M. to develop an action plan to get Station 14 back into operation. Another building on the property that was used to store a cave-in response unit was large enough to house a pumper. A reserve pumper was placed in service at Station 14. A 40-foot house trailer was moved in during the afternoon for living quarters. All utilities and communications were installed within 48 hours. Basic fire suppression and emergency medical services were operational within 12 hours of the fire. The basic life support (BLS) unit using a reserve ambulance is operating out of Station 27 and the rescue squad is operating out of Station 32.

The original Fire Station 14 was built in 1963. The two-story, 150-by-150-foot was constructed of brick and block walls with steel roof trusses and a metal decking roof. Several of the roof trusses were distorted from the heat and the west wall was pushed outward. The first-floor living quarters sustained moderate smoke damage. The second floor had only slight smoke damage due to the swift action by firefighters ensuring that the steel fire door was closed.

The fire destroyed the cab on Rescue Squad 14, a 1991 Duplex/Saulsbury. The box unit was to be remounted by Pierce Manufacturing on a new Quantum chassis. Quint 14, a 1991 Pierce Arrow, sustained heavy smoke and moderate heat damage. The ladder was tested by two independent testing agencies and determined not to have been damaged. This unit was sent back to Pierce for refurbishing. Engine 14, a 1980 Emergency One/Duplex pumper, sustained heavy smoke damage and some heat damage. This unit was also sent to Pierce for refurbishing. Two identical Type III Ford/Excellance ambulances were damaged by smoke and replaced by two new ambulances. Brush 14, a 1960s-vintage military Kaiser jeep, sustained minor smoke damage, was repaired locally and placed back in service. A new fire station is being designed with needed additional space and is scheduled for completion in 1998.

Damage has been estimated at $300,000 to the station and $800,000 to the apparatus. Fire investigators have determined that an electrical malfunction in the chassis of Rescue Squad 14 was the cause of the fire. As a result of the fire, Fairfax County Fire Chief Glenn A. Gaines said an extensive safety review of the fire stations in the county is underway.

"It's a wake-up call; it's hypocritical of us to extol the virtues of fire and smoke alarms and not have them," Gaines said. Of the 34 stations in Fairfax County, 13 are owned by corporations such as Burke's. This was the worst fire involving a Fairfax County station since the Great Falls station burned in the late 1950s. An unoccupied station was damaged by an arson fire in 1993.

Butters pointed out lessons learned by the members of the Burke Volunteer Fire Department:

  • Install sprinklers and smoke detectors in apparatus bays. While the living quarters in the station had smoke detectors, there were no early-warning or suppression systems in the apparatus bay. A sprinkler system with heat detectors or a similar warning system could have kept the fire damage to the apparatus to a minimum and prevented the fire spread to the building. These devices were not required when the station was built but will be installed in the new station.
  • Practice a fire station escape plan. While firefighters teach this concept to the public, knowing exit locations and where to meet outside the station in the event of a fire to account for personnel is important, particularly for detail personnel or other members unfamiliar with the building layout.
  • Review insurance coverage. A review of insurance coverage for apparatus, equipment and buildings should be done regularly with attention to replacement costs. Other issues to include are coverage for costs associated with relocation, temporary offices, quarters, support equipment and loaner equipment.
  • Maintain a complete inventory of equipment. Know what is in the building and on the apparatus. If the apparatus burns up, you must be able to account for what was destroyed and its value. Take photos or videos and store them in a secure off-site location. Photos should include the apparatus and the contents of compartments.
  • Maintain apparatus files. Keep apparatus files current, including maintenance records, in the event a maintenance issue becomes a problem. Be sure you are provided "as built" drawings of apparatus and they are kept in a protected area.
  • Prepare contingency plans. Think through what to do in the event the building and apparatus is rendered unusable. Is there off-site office and storage space for apparatus and equipment? Is there a plan to obtain temporary facilities?
  • Make contingency plans for communications. Keeping staff and members up-to-date on what is happening is critical, especially if there is no central location. Considerations should include a 24-hour hotline with recorded information, broadcast fax and pagers. The Burke Volunteer Fire Department has also established a World Wide Web site on the Internet that contains information on the department's recovery progress:

On Dec. 29, 1996, the Lewisville-Franklin Township, IN, Volunteer Fire Department lost its station and apparatus in an arson fire. At 12:33 A.M., Fire Chief Warren Jones and the department's 17 other volunteer firefighters were awakened by their pager tones and dispatched to a fire at their fire station.

Photo by Bradley Jones
A fire that was deliberately set destroyed the fire station and apparatus used by the Lewisville-Franklin Township, IN, Volunteer Fire Department.


Photo by Bradley Jones
To start a fire in the Lewisville, IN, firehouse, an arsonist poured a flammable solution on the floor in the office area and around the fire trucks in the apparatus bay. The fire destroyed the cement-block station built in 1957.


As Jones left his home a block from the station, he could see the orange glow in the sky. When he and two other volunteers arrived, the fire was already too intense to try to make entry into the station. Mutual aid from Straughn, Dunrieth and Spiceland had already been dispatched but the 10-minute wait "seemed like forever," Jones recalled.

The first mutual aid units from Straughn, five miles away, arrived at 12:43 and accomplished knockdown within 20 minutes. An Indiana state fire marshal arrived on scene at 2:10 and notified Jones at 8 A.M. that it was an arson fire. The arsonist had poured a flammable solution on the floor in the office area and around the fire trucks in the apparatus bay.

The fire destroyed the 60-by-80-foot cement-block station built in 1957. Apparatus in the station included a 1982 grass rig, a 1978 emergency van, a 1964 pumper, a 1972 pumper and a 1983 tanker. Damage was estimated at $500,000.

By noon, volunteer and career departments had heard the news and were calling to offer help to get the department back in service. The Raleigh-Mays Volunteer Fire Department loaned a pumper and a tanker to Lewisville. Other departments loaned a dump tank, bunker gear, hose, nozzles and other equipment. The apparatus is stored in the town's storage barn until a new station is built. Lewisville later purchased a 1968 mini-pumper.

The department also has purchased a 1997 Ford F-350 to replace the grass rig and a 1992 International chassis to remount the 1,850-gallon tank on its burned tanker. A grant for $260,000 was received from the Department of Commerce for a new fire station. Also, a grant from the Build Indiana Fund for $170,000 was received for the purchase of a new pumper-tanker.

On Dec. 15, 1996, members of the Oppelo, AR, Volunteer Fire Department were dispatched at 3:14 A.M. to a fire at their own fire station. Conway County Deputy Sheriff Tim Bridgeman (also a Morrilton volunteer fireman) was on routine patrol when he heard an explosion and saw the fire at City Hall and the fire station. He immediately radioed the alarm in and the Oppelo volunteers were dispatched: "Attention, all Oppelo Fire Department personnel, your station is on fire. Repeat, your station is on fire." Mutual aid from the Morrilton Volunteer Fire Department was also dispatched at that time.

Photo by Dennis Massingill/Petit Jean Country Headlight
The Oppelo, AR, Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched at 3:14 A.M. to a fire in its station and City Hall. It was determined the fire was an arson to cover up a burglary.

As Assistant Chief John Payne and his son Travis, a firefighter, were arriving at the station, Payne radioed, "We have flames showing." Captain Greg Andrews and Firefighter Danny Coffman tried to enter the building through a door on the north side of the station but were driven back by heavy black smoke that was within two feet of the floor. Payne tried entry next and could see that the fire had extended into Bays 3 and 4 from City Hall. Brush Truck 1 was fully engulfed and Tanker 2's engine compartment was on fire.

To ventilate the truck bay, Payne used his personal truck to push the overhead door in on Bay 1. A chain was then hooked onto the door and Payne pulled the overhead door out of the station. This accomplished ventilation as the smoke started to lift but the fire also intensified. Firefighter Danny Coffman drove Engine 3 out of the station.

Payne and his son donned self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from Engine 3 and advanced a 1 3/4-inch pre-connect into the station. As they pushed the fire back into City Hall, Travis Payne left the hoseline and drove Truck 5 through the still-closed overhead door.

At this time, Engine 3's booster tank was about empty and two firefighters started hand-laying a 2 1/2-inch line to a hydrant 300 yards away. Morrilton Engine 4 arrived at 3:24 A.M. with a three-man crew and laid 600 feet of four-inch supply line from another hydrant. Firefighters pulled a 1 1/2-inch pre-connect from this engine and helped knock down the fire. Morrilton's 85-foot Snorkel with a 1,250-gpm pump was staged at the scene.

The fire was declared under control at 3:35. At that point, Payne asked the Morrilton crews to continue mopup operations as the Oppelo volunteers were exhausted.

After making the initial attack, Payne was able to assume his command position. It quickly became evident that this was an arson fire to cover up a burglary. Firefighters reported that the desk drawers were found open, the back door was open and compartment doors on the apparatus were open. On their arrival, Arkansas State Police Sergeant Dewayne Luter and Deputy Sheriff Jackie Cupp of the Conway County Sheriff's Department asked that nothing be moved until daylight.

Payne had originally thought it would take 24 to 48 hours to get apparatus back in service but the department had some apparatus back in service by 11:30 and answered its first EMS call at this time. Morrilton continued to be dispatched on fire calls until 2:30 P.M. on Dec. 16.

The 50-by-100-foot metal structure containing City Hall, all offices and the fire station were destroyed. The damage estimate for the building was $180,000. Apparatus destroyed included a 1985 brush truck, a 1975 tanker and a 1974 attack/service truck. Damaged but able to be refurbished were Engine 3 (a 1974 pumper) and Engine 4 (a 1970 pumper). Bunker gear, hose and miscellaneous equipment were also destroyed. Damage to the apparatus was estimated at $74,000 and $66,000 to equipment.

Photo by Frank Smith
A pre-dawn fire caused more than $1 million in damage to the National City, IL, Village Hall, fire and police station.

The National City, IL, Village Hall, police and fire station were destroyed by fire on March 22, 1996, at 4:30 A.M. Damage was estimated at over $1 million. Assistant Police Chief Donald Hubert arrived first and stated, "We tried to get in and get the fire trucks out but the smoke was too much for us." Fire Chief Charles Schreiber and other firefighters arrived within minutes of the alarm but it was too late to get any apparatus out of the building. Schreiber immediately requested mutual aid from the Brooklyn, East St. Louis, Fairmont City and Caseyville fire departments.

Unable to save the structure, firefighters turned their efforts to a vacant warehouse across the street where embers had ignited the roof. This building was saved. The 60-by-120-foot Village Hall was over 70 years old and originally used as a mule barn. Apparatus destroyed included a 1986 E-One pumper with a 50-foot TeleSqurt, a 1968 American LaFrance pumper, a 1960 American LaFrance pumper and a 1956 Ford pumper.

The East St. Louis and Fairmont City fire departments loaned apparatus and equipment to National City so fire protection could be provided until other apparatus could be purchased. Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Illinois State Fire Marshal's office and National City police and fire departments determined that the fire was electrical in nature. The department has since purchased a 1980 Grumman pumper and a 1971 Ward LaFrance pumper with a 50-foot TeleSqurt to replace the destroyed apparatus.

On Jan. 17, 1997, Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Company 1, in Montgomery, PA, was faced with fighting a fire in its own fire station. The one big difference in this fire as compared to the others in this article is that these volunteers were able to use their own apparatus to fight the fire.

Photo by Patty Miller
An electrical fire caused $164,000 in damage to the station used by Clinton Township Volunteer Fire Company 1, in Montgomery, PA.

A private organization was using the social hall and guests heard a "popping" noise over the main entrance but believed that a light had burned out at 7:20 P.M. As people were preparing to leave at 8:58, they heard a crackling noise in the ceiling and discovered the building was on fire.

Fire Police Captain Brian Hill was driving by the station at 9 P.M. and saw smoke and flames coming from the roof of the structure. He radioed Lycoming County Control, "Station 12 is on fire, dispatch units to the scene, flames coming from the roof." The first alarm included Clinton Township (Station 12) and Montgomery Borough (Station 13). Responding on the second alarm were Muncy Borough (Station 30), Washington Township (Station 21), Duboistown Borough (Station 8) and South Williamsport (Stations 9, 10 and 11).

Station 12 Lieutenant Todd Winder found the roof heavily involved. He immediately requested a third alarm and special-called Ladder 11 from South Williamsport. Another firefighter had already pulled all of the apparatus out of the building.

Winder pulled Tanker 12 in front of the building and with the help of other firefighters put the deck gun in operation on the fire venting from the roof. Crews stretched three lines to the interior and into the attic. Engine 1-12 reverse-laid a five-inch supply line 1,300 feet to supply Tanker 12. Clinton Township Second Assistant Chief Jeff Houseknecht (2-12) arrived at 9:04 and assumed command.

The fire damaged a social room, kitchen and bathroom. Bays were unusable until power was restored two days later. Apparatus were temporarily housed at a car dealership across the street. The fire, which caused $164,000 in damage, was blamed on an electrical problem.

Other Fire Station Disasters

Jan. 1, 1995: Jefferson City, MO Fire caused $50,000 in damage to Fire Station 4. While the on-duty crew was out on a call, the fire started in the kitchen, spread and gutted the station.

Photo by David S. Berger
A pre-dawn explosion and fire destroyed the Silver Lake, WI, Fire Department's station and most of its apparatus on Sept. 3, 1997.


Photo by David S. Berger
Units from nearly a dozen Wisconsin and Illinois departments were dispatched to the blaze.


June 2, 1995: Falmouth, MA A 1 A.M. fire that originated in the electrical system of an engine destroyed the apparatus and sent five firefighters to the hospital. One firefighter was trapped on the second floor of the station and had to be rescued via an aerial ladder. Another engine was able to be removed from the station and with mutual aid the fire was brought under control.

July 3, 1996: Hyder, AK A $1 million fire in the municipal building destroyed the structure and the community's only fire truck. The 12-year-old, two-story building also contained a post office, library, community center and a U.S. Forest Service office. Mutual aid was received from Stewart, British Columbia, to extinguish the fire that burned out of control for 3 1/2 hours.

Photo by Lee D. Hitchcock
Fire isn't the only enemy of firehouses. A tornado damaged a Surf City, NC, fire station in October 1996. The 30-year-old, single-story building is located about 500 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.

July 4, 1996: Sardinia, OH An early-morning arson fire destroyed a fire station and seven pieces of apparatus. The fire in the three-year-old metal building burned out of control for two hours before being brought under control by mutual aid companies.

Feb. 2, 1997: Imler, PA The ambulance garage and social hall of the Imler Area Volunteer Fire Company were destroyed in a $200,000 fire that started in a fluorescent light fixture. Firefighters were able to drive two ambulances out of the structure.

Feb. 8, 1997: Sheldon, NY An electrical fire that started in the cab of a pumper heavily damaged the apparatus and caused moderate damage to a 5,000-gallon pumper/tanker and the station. The Strykersville and Harris Corners volunteer fire departments extinguished the fire. A pumper was loaned to Sheldon from the Warsaw Volunteer Fire Department so that the department could continue providing fire protection. Several other departments also loaned equipment to the department. Over $50,000 in damage was done to the apparatus and the station.

Feb. 16, 1997: Imler, PA The second fire in two weeks destroyed the 60-by-30-foot fire station, three fire trucks and an ambulance. Firefighter Charles Wyles was able to drive one ambulance out of the station but firefighters were unable to save any other apparatus.

March 1, 1997: Alexander, AR A tornado destroyed a fire station and two pumpers in the Saline County Fire District. The cost to repair the district's 1961 American LaFrance pumper and the 1969 Ford Boardman pumper exceeded the value of the apparatus.

March 24, 1997: St. Petersburg, Russia The St. Petersburg Higher Technical Fireman's School was heavily damaged by fire. Reports indicated that dozens of firefighters and 52 fire engines responded to the fire. The fire burned out of control for over three hours and gutted the fourth floor of the building. The roof of the structure also collapsed, making extinguishment difficult.

April 22, 1997: Rainsville, AL A tornado shortly after 4 P.M. destroyed the police and fire stations. The primary fire engine was buried under tons of rubble.

June 27, 1997: Brussels, Belgium Two firefighters were injured and an apparatus was destroyed when the vehicle exploded in its quarters.

Compiled by Jay K. Bradish

Jay K. Bradish, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 20 years.