Beverly City, New Jersey House Collapse

On Friday, July 14th at 10:13 AM, Burlington County Central Communications received a telephone call from a woman in an older urban neighborhood of Beverly City which has a population of 2660 and is nestled between two other communities where municipal borders are almost transparent. The caller stated that the house at 219 Broad Street, a three story wood frame structure had just collapsed. This collapse occurred with no warning and was not weather related. The house had been abandoned for several years and was the scene of a fire in 2001. The township and Habitat for Humanity had only recently gone through the acquisition process so the building could be torn down and a new structure built for a working family. The building was well over 150 years old with mortise and tenon construction. This building was one of several in the neighborhood that was boarded up and not structurally sound. This collapse was a classic pancake with the roof and two upper floors now laying across the first floor. It had been reported that people had been sleeping in the building and kids were playing around and possibly inside. The police had been making regular visits to the area to keep people away from the unsafe structure.

The Beverly Fire Department Chief, Sean Richards was on the scene within three minutes and was just behind the city Fire Marshall. An engine and a ladder arrived within another minute and an initial assessment was performed on the perimeter of three sides of the structure as command, operations, accountability and safety was established. The fourth side of the structure was partially leaning against an adjoining abandoned building. Thermal cameras were used to detect any heat sources within the building and none were initially found. EMS units arrived from Beverly, Burlington City and a Rescue unit from Delran. The Chief requested a Heavy Rescue Unit, Camden County 1335, from Cherry Hill Fire Department. Joe Lehmann, a County Fire Coordinator, a Deputy OEM Coordinator and Tpr. Craney, a New Jersey State Police OEM Representative, arrived with the first hour of the event to assist Chief Richards and act as his Logistics section. This team would help with any additional resources that might be needed to support the operation. Coordination was made with the New Jersey State Police South Region for the use of search K-9's.

Fire Police established traffic control, blocked off an area for the rescue unit and staging was designated at Station 122, about a block from the event. The neighbors were canvassed to determine who, if anyone, might have been inside the structure at the time of collapse. Neighbors didn't believe anyone was in the building ,but were unsure. Two BLS units, 1291 and 9093 arrived at 10:28 with Rescue 2329 for victim use and BLS 1292 established a rehab location as the heat approached 96 degrees with humidity around 71%. A Paramedic Supervisor, 1590, arrived a minute later with a medic unit and staged with the rehab unit. Additional drinking water was brought to the scene and mandatory breaks and hydration was implemented.

The Rescue Unit arrived at 10:56 , was briefed and began using specialized cameras and jack tools to look into void areas. Engine and ladder crews supplemented and assisted the heavy rescue in search and removal efforts. The Rescue Unit was careful not to disturb the collapse as the void search was conducted. The Rescue Lieutenant mapped out the area which could be seen and the areas which were beyond search due to debris or instability.

Four Search K-9's arrived within 90 minutes, were briefed and conducted a search in all areas that could be accessed by the animals. They searched the edges and accessed a roof area from the adjacent structure which was also unstable. No further use was made with the adjacent structure and a transit was set up to monitor any movement which might endanger further search efforts.

Special call unit 3696 arrived at 12:57 and tents were quickly set up with water mist fans and chairs to prevent heat injury to responders. Searches by the Rescue unit, K-9's and thermal cameras had all been negative, but the extent of the collapse from three floors to ground level and the instability of the adjacent building mandated a continued search. Chief Richards coordinated with the Building Inspector, the building owners, Habitat for Humanity, and a local contractor to bring in demolition machinery to lift layers of the building away to provide greater access to voids. Responders stood down in the ever rising heat and humidity until the arrival of the Winzinger company crew.

The operator was briefed and moved carefully to the scene from an alley. The operator worked carefully with the Rescue crew (operations) to remove layers of the building. After each layer was removed, a void search took place and additional areas were added to the overall areas which were cleared. Sleeping bags were found at one point which raised anxiety of the response crews. After three layers were removed, K-9's entered once again with no results. This layer removal and search technique took approximately 90 minutes, but left the response team with the confidence that all areas were viewed and searched completely. Teams were released at 16:30 after final coordination with the contractor, police and building owners.

This event demonstrated several positive aspects of how experience and the use of the Incident Command System as an organizational tool has helped us greatly as we respond to the ever changing menu of public protection needs.

  1. Teamwork and Partnerships at local, county and state level.
  2. People know where they fit in the Incident Command System
  3. Rehab is not an afterthought, but part of the primary plan
  4. Delegation of tasks makes us more efficient
  5. Communication, Communication, Communication- face to face