On The Job - New York

Harry J. Oster describes a major fire at an auto dealership that required the resources of nine departments.


Spring Valley Fire Department Chief Robert J. Schultz Personnel: 125 volunteer firefighters Apparatus: Four engines, two aerial ladders, one rescue, one emergency rescue, one mask-service unit Population: 32,000 Area: 3.5 square miles Within minutes after the dispatching...


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Spring Valley Fire Department
Chief Robert J. Schultz
Personnel: 125 volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: Four engines, two aerial ladders, one rescue, one emergency rescue, one mask-service unit
Population: 32,000
Area: 3.5 square miles

Within minutes after the dispatching transmission was made over the Rockland County, NY, fire radio frequency, a mobile radio transmission of "a working structural fire" was heard.

4_97_newyork1.jpg
Photo by Michael J. Coppola
Firefighters position a ladder pipe and portable ladders as heavy fire burns in the dealership's service/repair bay area.

In the five hours that followed, the Spring Valley, NY, Fire Department, with assistance from eight other volunteer fire departments as well as additional volunteer and career emergency service agencies, faced one of its most challenging fires in years a blaze involving a large commercial building with a heavy timber bowstring truss roof.

At 01:11 A.M. on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 1996, the Spring Valley Fire Department responded to the intersection of Routes 45 and 59 for a reported structural fire. Additional information described the location as the Gem Buick & A. Motors Jeep Sales dealership.

Built in the 1920s as a bowling alley, the building is a one-story, 120-by-120-foot commercial occupancy of ordinary construction. Within the building are several types of roof systems, including two heavy timber bowstring truss roofs. The interior is in six sections: two new-car showrooms, service/repair bay area, chassis repair area, new-car preparation area and parts supply area. Automatic fire alarm protection in the form of fixed temperature heat detectors were present throughout the building but for unknown reasons the system failed to transmit an automatic alarm for this fire.

Through the years, many sections of the building were renovated or expanded. Most recently, the showroom on the south side of the building was completely renovated. The original heavy timber bowstring truss roof was removed and replaced with an inverted flat roof utilizing a metal parallel chord (steel J-bar joist) truss system to support the Q-decking of the roof above. A concrete block firewall with a fire-rated door was also installed in this wall, separating the showroom from the service-repair bay area. Just before the fire, the five heavy timber bowstring truss assemblies within the service/ repair area were being reinforced with steel angle iron.

Initial Operations

Spring Valley firefighters responded with three engines, two ladders, a rescue unit, an emergency medical rescue unit, one mask service unit and a chief officer. On arrival, they encountered heavy smoke emanating through the rear garage doors and roof of the service/ repair bay area.

4_97_newyork2.jpg
Photo by Michael J. Coppola
Initially, a handline was stretched inside. Heavy fire vented through the roof and the handline was removed. Within 10 minutes, the roof started to collapse.

A two-inch hoseline was initially stretched about three feet into the building in an attempt to control the fire from the interior. Once the firefighters were inside, however, a large volume of fire was visible in the ceiling. Radio reports also indicated the fire had extended with blowtorch proportions through three of the 10 skylights in the roof.

Aware of those conditions, the interior forces immediately withdrew from the building. Seconds later, sections of the burning roof started to collapse. This occurred no more than 10 minutes into the operation.

Observing these conditions, Deputy Chief Ray Guarnuccio, the incident commander, ordered an exterior elevated master stream operation. This tactic eventually proved to be successful in extinguishing the main body of fire in this area.

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