Fire & Ice - Plus A Flood

Lawrence E. Phillips recounts the triple disasters that assailed a North Dakota city and challenged its firefighters.


Grand Forks Fire Department Chief Richard J. Aulich Suppression & administration staff: 64 people Three fire stations: Central (headquarters) engine, tower ladder, rescue, hazmat, battalion chief; Columbia Road engine; South engine Population: 52,000 Area: 20 square miles It was...


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When Foy fell through, he hit his knee and hip, sustaining bruises, torn cartilage, and scrapes up and down the length of his leg. He landed in nearly four feet of water but kept himself from going completely through the opening and into the swift current below. The rest of Engine 30's crew pulled him to safety. The openings on both trailers were then immediately filled in by firefighters.

When the CFR crew members returned to the Central Fire Station with their empty tank, Aase became concerned about the motor fluid contamination underneath his rig.

"I had two fluids to be concerned about," Aase said. "One was our regular engine oil, while the other was the power divider fluid. I asked for any kind of plastic and some electrical tape so we could cover the dipsticks for the fluids; someone came out with a couple of plastic bags. I taped one right over the and of each dipstick so that it couldn't come off and have the water seep in. It was just a little extra margin for us in case the water got too deep on our next trip downtown."

Aase continued, "They had us stay at the Central Fire Station for about two hours because they were concerned of the amount of water coming down from the small helicopter. They didn't want to have a deluge of water land on top of a firefighter who may be standing on top of the rig."

"When we did go back in for our second run, our main concerns were the exposures and some of the buildings that had just started burning on their roofs. We worked on many different roof levels; one-, two-, three-, four- and five-story buildings. Our method of choice was to stay stationary for each situation and draft from the floodwaters. We could pump a lot longer in that mode than in pump and roll. If we did that, we'd have to stop and fill the tank every two or three minutes. Once we connected the hard suction to the pump inlet, we never took it off. To save time, we just tied a rope to the end of it and we pulled it out of the water when we had to move."

Roed stated, "We continued evaluating the effectiveness of the small forestry helicopter before he had to return to Ada, and we decided to do some checking to see if we could obtain the services of additional helicopters in the morning. It was a long time before morning, and things were still burning pretty badly. We knew it was going to continue that way, and we wondered just how we could get our arms around it."

Through additional contacts, Minnesota DNR found a large "sky crane" helicopter in Bismarck, ND. It belonged to a private contractor who, at times, works with the forestry service in the mountain areas of the western United States. The contractor was doing a job at a large electric power plant near Bismarck, and could have the sky crane in Grand Forks by morning. The sky crane could handle a portable, 2,000-gallon water tank for drop purposes if necessary. At about 1 A.M., with Engines 20 and 30 still drafting off the trailers and with the aid of the CFR unit from the airport as well as an additional CFR P-15 sent from Grand Forks Air Force Base the decision was made to call for the sky crane.

Merlin Clark, assistant fire chief at Grand Forks Air Force Base and part of the P-15's crash crew, recalled, "Our main objective at that time was to try and save the Grand Forks Herald building, which was directly connected to the Herald's 'Handy-Mail' building (which was fully involved). The structures were connected at the second-floor level by a fully enclosed (glass/metal-frame) skyway/walkway. We turned one of the P-15's turrets on the glass and blasted through it with the water to get the heat out. It was close, though, as the radiant heat was already traveling through the skyway/walkway and heading for the Herald building."

He continued, "We did have a problem maneuvering in the water as we were running over submerged objects we later learned were full-size dumpsters which had washed into the middle of the street. Being we are not set up to draft with the P-15, we set our flow at 600 gpm per turret (the Air Force version of the P-15 has two turrets) and continually filled our 6,100-gallon onboard tank from two portable pumps drafting from the floodwaters."

Roed said, "The Bonzer Building in the Golden Square was flaring up, and we wanted to bring in, at that point, whatever we needed, and, whatever we could get, from wherever we could get it. As it turned out, had we not called for the sky crane, we would have been in there for at least the next two weeks with hot spots."