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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  • Heavy timber bowstring truss roof construction must be identified in the fire pre-planning. Any commercial structure built in the 1920s or later should be considered to have some type of truss constructed roof. A heavy timber bowstring truss roof can be identified during a fire operation by looking for the distinctive "crown or bow" appearance of the roof from the exterior upon arrival.
  • If conditions permit, during initial roof ventilation operations, check for the presence of large unsupported spaces and the lack of closely spaced supporting members of the roof system. Once either is identified, you can expect that a form of truss roof construction is present.
  • Elevated master streams from the first-due units and mutual aid departments effectively suppressed the main body of fire within a reasonable amount of time. This defensive tactical decision was made during the initial stage of the fire by the incident commander.
  • Once two or more hydrants are used, consider appointing a water resource officer to ascertain hydrant locations and main sizes and to contact the water department for other related information. This should automatic as soon as numerous master streams are put into operation.
  • The staging of additional apparatus and personnel at a location that was remote but still in the line of sight of the fireground operation proved efficient. It allowed the incident commander and staging officer to see and properly deploy the additional resources as needed and let the firefighters in the staging area visually size-up the incident before being utilized.
  • A public information officer (PIO) proved very valuable at this incident. A large number of local news media representatives were present. Without a designated PIO on scene, reporters will ask randomly selected firefighters and fire officers questions about the fire as well as roam the fireground. This can lead to conflicting reports and distract officers and firefighters who are trying to perform fireground duties.

What To Learn Before A Building Burns

The size-up of a building and the surrounding properties must start when site plans for the construction of a building are submitted to building officials or the fire department, or both, for approval. Once it's built, a structure must be reviewed as often as possible, namely through on-site fire department drills.

The presence of heavy timber bowstring truss roof construction must be identified before a fire. If present, this should automatically be considered a "weak" structural element in a fire situation. Initial fire suppression tactics must be adjusted accordingly to provide the greatest safety for firefighters along with increasing the chances to successfully "head off" a fire in this type of building.

Rockland County Blaze Claims Lives Of Firefighter & Son

Photo by Michael Crean

Blauvelt, NY, Firefighter Albert J. DeFlumere Jr. died while trying to rescue his 6-year-old son, Matthew, from their burning home on Oct. 26, 1996. DeFlumere, 49, a 31-year member of the Blauvelt Volunteer Fire Company in Rockland County, had just taken his wife and two other sons through a bedroom window when he returned for Matthew. The father and son were found holding each each other about a foot from a window. The early-morning fire destroyed the two-story building that housed the family's apartment and a restaurant.

Firefighters Battle Flames, Frigid Temperatures At Quick-Oil-Change Shop Fire

At 2:52 P.M. on the 10-degree afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 19, 1997, the Spring Valley, NY, Volunteer Fire Department responded to an activated automatic fire alarm at an automotive quick oil change service center on Route 59.

Upon arrival, firefighters under the command of Chief Robert J. Schultz encountered a heavy concentration of smoke emanating from the top and side roof vents of the one-story, 70-by-30-foot, peaked-roof building. Initially, a two-inch handline was operated from the fixed attic staircase inside the building. Several other handlines also were positioned as members performed roof ventilation operations and attempted to open the ceiling below to expose the fire. Primary and secondary searches were conducted and proved negative. At the time the fire broke out, four employees and one customer were in the building and escaped safely as soon as they smelled smoke. The one vehicle that was inside was driven out of the building by an employee.

Firefighters working inside had to use extra caution because they were surrounded by petroleum-based products and had to avoid falling into the four large pits (about 15 feet long by four feet wide and five feet deep) in the concrete floor. (The pits were used by the shop's employees to service vehicles.) When heavy fire in the attic caused the roof to begin to collapse, the interior forces were ordered out of the building. Four large-caliber apparatus master streams were then placed into operation to extinguish the fire. The incident was placed under control at 4:45 P.M. and declared over at about 6 o'clock.

The Spring Valley, Nanuet, and Tallman fire departments operated at the scene and the Monsey Fire Department was placed on standby. Sixty firefighters and 12 pieces of apparatus (five engines, two ladders, one rescue, an EMS/rescue, a mask service unit and two chiefs' vehicles) were on scene.

Photo by Jennifer Macgowan
Firefighters gained access to the roof until heavy fire in the attic caused the roof to begin to collapse.

Photo by Jennifer Macgowan
Four large-caliber master streams were needed to knock down the heavy fire.

The fire appears to have started in the attic area but the cause was not immediately determined and was under investigation by the Spring Valley fire inspector and Rockland County Fire Investigation Unit.

Environmental authorities were notified of the fire because there was a large amount of petroleum-based products in the shop but most of the water runoff that may have mixed with the products froze when it reached the exterior, rather than traveling off the premises.