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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Unable to save the service/repair bay area, firefighters worked to prevent the adjoining parts area from being destroyed. The 30-by-60-foot parts area was covered by a flat inverted wood roof made from nominal dimension lumber and contained five steel I-beams. The ends of the steel I-beams rested on concrete block piers that in turn supported the roof. Firefighters cut ventilation holes in this roof to relieve the area below of built-up heated gases and smoke. Once opened, these holes allowed the members to operate a cellar nozzle from the roof into this area. This tactic helped to suppress the main body of fire in this area. Handlines were operated from the two accessible exterior sides of the building into this area as well.

On seeing these conditions, at 1:33 A.M. Guarnuccio immediately requested mutual aid for a tower ladder and ladder truck from the neighboring Monsey and South Spring Valley volunteer fire departments. Also, with the heavy fire condition and type of building, a rapid intervention team was called from Nanuet. Rockland County Fire Coordinator Gordon Wren Jr. also responded.

Large-caliber elevated master streams from two Spring Valley aerial ladders were now in operation and were joined by master streams from the additional ladder truck and tower ladder upon their arrival. Realizing the need to augment water supplies, Guarnuccio, then requested another two engines and a tactical response vehicle from Hillcrest and Pearl River to perform this task. The combined forces "darkened down" the main body of fire in the service/repair bay area at 1:57 A.M. but with the strong possibility of this incident lasting for several more hours, during the next 25 minutes, additional mutual aid was requested for personnel and apparatus from another three departments Suffern, Tallman and West Nyack. This included another ladder, rescue and engine to be used for relief and to stand by to respond to additional alarms.

Roof Identified In Pre-Planning

The area destroyed by the fire was an original part of the structure and measured about 60 feet by 60 feet. Through pre-planning, the roof was identified as a heavy timber bowstring truss roof. This roof system uses large nominal dimension lumber or rough sawn planks that are fastened together with carriage bolts to connect the webbing to the chords of the truss assembly. The ends of the timber truss assemblies were positioned in a "pocket" made within each of the two masonry walls, which also supported the truss assemblies.

4_97_newyork4.jpg
Photo by Vincent DiSalvio/Rockland Journal News
The service/repair bay area that accounted for 25 percent of the building was destroyed. Nineteen pieces of apparatus were dispatched during the incident.


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Photo by Harry J. Oster
The aftermath of the auto dealership fire and several of the cars that were destroyed. Note the approved fire-rated door at the center right of the photo.

This style of roof is similar to the roof system present at the Hackensack, NJ, auto dealership in which five firefighters lost their lives when the roof collapsed on them in a 1988 fire (see "New Jersey's Darkest Hour," September 1988, and "Hackensack, NJ: One Year Later," August and November 1989)). Because of this known construction feature, coupled with a heavy volume of fire discovered inside the structure on arrival of the first units, firefighters were not permitted on this roof.

The service/repair bay, which accounted for about 25 percent of the building, was consumed by the fire. The remaining 75 percent of the building was exposed to smoke, water or light fire damage. Also, at least nine cars that were in the service/ repair bay area at the time of the fire were destroyed. However, firefighters saved several cars from severe smoke damage by driving them out of the showroom on the south side of the building as conditions permitted.

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Photo by Harry J. Oster
The inverted flat wood and steel I-beams over the saved parts of the building's parts supply area. Note the concrete blocked-off doorway in the center of the photo.

The incident was placed under control at 4:10 A.M.; overhaul operations and equipment pickup continued until daybreak. At 6:12 A.M., the incident was declared over.

Fire department resources amounted to nine departments, over 100 firefighters and 19 pieces of apparatus. One firefighter sustained a minor wrist injury.

Through the process of elimination, the fire was ruled accidental. Reports indicate it originated in the service/repair bay area.

Lessons Learned & Reinforced