NFPA Journal®, March/April 2007
Fire heavily damages store, but firefighters limit exposure loss
KANSAS — Concrete firewalls and firefighters contained a fire burning in the middle of a row of single-story stores. Despite the store’s being occupied and quick fire department notification, the fire still spread quickly. Flames were blowing out the front door upon arrival. The command ordered defensive operations from the start that allowed protection to either side of the building.
The building was constructed of steel framing supporting wooden roof joists and a built-up roof structure. Brick exterior walls covered an art gallery and firewalls protected the two occupancies to the right and to the left. Details on the fire detection or suppression system were unavailable.
A customer told an employee that she heard a popping and crackling sound when she entered. The employee was getting some merchandise for the customer at the rear of the store when the customer stated the popping and crackling became louder. Shortly thereafter, she also saw the reflection of flames coming from the ceiling near the front display area of the store. The employee grabbed a fire extinguisher but the fire was growing and smoke filled the building. The employee and the customer exited the open store and the customer called 911 on her cell phone. Shortly after they left the store, the front window failed and flames roared from the building.
The fire department received the alarm at 4:57 p.m. and arrived within two minutes reporting fire and smoke showing. Due to the intensity of the fire, command ordered the use of master streams into the storefront to quickly control fire spread. Calling for additional resources, the chief used other companies for defensive aerial operations and utilized large-diameter hose lines and master streams to control the fire and limit spread to exposures.
A third alarm was called. The additional resources supplied relief crews and water pressure to the overtaxed system. Eventually the roof collapsed and the fire was controlled. Damage to the occupancies on either side of the building was limited to smoke and water damage. The exact cause was not reported and two firefighters were injured. Damage to the building is estimated at $500,000 of its $750,000 value. Contents totaling $300,000 were a total loss.
Electrical short ignites window display in store
NEW YORK — A building containing six stores was lost to fire. The fire began when an electrical short ignited plastic toys and spread to other combustibles. Firefighters were able to stop the spread of fire at one end of the building and prevent extension to the rest of the block.
The fire began in a seasonal retail store in the middle of the building. The wooden-frame building measured 150 feet (45 meters) by 60 feet (18 meters) and it had a steel beam supporting wooden roof framing and a flat built-up roof. There was no fire detection system. A wet-pipe sprinkler system was installed, but it did not operate because the water supply was disconnected. The store was closed for the season.
A passerby observed fire in a display window and called 911 at 9 a.m. The fire department arrived and found the store and common cockloft well involved. Hose lines were used on several of the occupancies and an aerial truck was located on the left side where crews made a stand. Three stores were lost; however, fire crews were able to stop the progression of fire at a fourth store.
The building, valued at $2 million, and contents, valued at $1 million, were total losses. There were no injuries.
Warehouse involved in fire loss
PENNSYLVANIA — A fire department used a tanker shuttle and a pumper to draft water from a nearby pond to extinguish a stubborn warehouse fire. A portion of the warehouse was involved in fire upon arrival. Intense fire and smoke forced firefighters out as they tried to advance a 2-1/2-inch hose line into the building.
The single-story building measured approximately 100 feet (30 meters) by 200 feet (60 meters). A heavy fire load was stored within the structure. There were no fire detection or suppression systems installed, and the building was occupied at the time of the fire.
The fire department received a 911 call from the occupant at 9:40 a.m. and responded receiving multiple follow-up calls reporting a working fire. Arriving five minutes after alarm, fire crews found fire coming from the south and southwest corner and roof peak of the building. One engine dropped a 5-inch supply line from the main road to the corner of the building, as another engine dropped another 5-inch supply line from the building to a nearby pond. Additional units summoned on extra alarms used a portable water tank at the street to begin a water relay, as another pump drafted from the pond.
Operation of two aerial master streams, two deck guns, and numerous hose lines controlled the fire. A backhoe was called to the scene to remove some exterior walls and allow for final extinguishment nearly four hours later. The cause of the fire is undetermined and still under investigation. The building, valued at $772,000, and contents, valued at $1,620,000, were total losses. There were no injuries.
Gasoline used to ignite wood stove fatally injures occupant
MAINE — A 70-year woman was burned and later died when she used gasoline to ignite a wood stove. Gasoline vapors flashed back toward the victim upon ignition, igniting her clothing and the vinyl flooring.
Although seriously injured, the woman used water from the kitchen sink to extinguish herself and the floor. The fire department arrived to find an extinguished fire. They treated and transported the woman to the hospital. She later died from her burn injuries.
Damage to the one-story, single-family, wood-frame home was not reported. There were no smoke alarms or sprinklers.
Fast spreading fire traps and kills three
TENNESSEE — An adult and two children were trapped and died on the third floor of an apartment building. The lack of adequate fire detection, fire spreading on the outside of the building, and the time of day contributed to the deaths.
The wood-framed, three-story building had an asphalt-shingled mansard roof. Smoke alarms were found on the third floor and in a second floor kitchen cabinet drawer. There were no batteries in either unit. Survivors told fire investigators the smell of smoke alerted them to the fire and they could not remember hearing any alarms operating. There were no sprinklers.
Passersby and some of the occupants called 911 and reported the fire at 3:36 a.m. Firefighters arrived within minutes to find the structure well involved. Smoke and flames were coming through the roof. Those escaping told firefighters that three or four others were trapped inside the apartment building. Hearing this, firefighters attempted an interior offensive attack. Command ordered a defensive operation within minutes, as fire spread was too significant and a roof collapse was feared. Once master streams knocked down the heavy exterior and interior fire, crews were able to enter and found three victims on the third floor.
Investigators determined that the fire started outside of the building and under a first floor stairwell and spread vertically and horizontally to a second floor landing. Flames reached the overhang of the mansard roof on one side of the structure and allowed fire to enter the attic space and spread into the second and third floors. Many residents were unaware of the fire or the immediate danger from the spreading fire. A female occupant investigated the odor and returned to a bedroom with one child, just as a roof-mounted air-conditioning unit fell through the roof and landed in the unit’s bathtub. She left the child with a 24-year old male and went to get two other children in the apartment. Fire and heavy smoke filled the apartment and blocked access to the stairwell. Taking refuge by a window, the woman dropped a three-year old out of the window and then fell from the window herself. The two were injured in the fall, but survived. The male occupant, a two-year old, and an eight-year old were found dead in another room.
The cause of the fire is undetermined, but most possible sources of ignition from natural or accidental causes have been eliminated. Nine units suffered varying levels of damage and the building, valued at more than $2 million, suffered $350,000 in damage and $150,000 in contents losses. Three firefighters were injured falling through a floor during an interior attack and another firefighter/paramedic was struck by a civilian motor vehicle during the operation.
Careless smoking ignites fire in apartment building
MASSACHUSETTS — A lit cigarette ignited combustibles and spread to a mattress and other contents of a fifth-floor bedroom before being extinguished. A smoke alarm without batteries and occupants attempting to extinguish the fire caused a delay in the alarm. The building’s fire detection system was tripped as the occupants fled.
The fire occurred on the fifth floor of a six-story apartment building containing 72 units and constructed of concrete with a brick exterior. The tar and gravel roof was flat. A fire detection system provided coverage to common spaces and was connected to a municipal fire alarm system that operated as designed. There were no sprinklers.
An occupant had been smoking in a bedroom. As he appeared to be dozing, another occupant told him to pick up his cigarette and move to the living room. Five minutes later, the same occupant smelled smoke and discovered a small fire near the foot of the bed where the other occupant was sitting and smoking. She attempted to extinguish the fire, but flames spread under the bed and ignited combustibles stored there. The occupants left the apartment as smoke filtered into a hallway and activated the fire detection system. They both went to the second floor to evacuate a family relative, then one of them tried to return to the fifth floor to alert a neighbor, who was rescued by firefighters from her balcony.
Investigators determined that the two occupants did not live in the apartment of origin, but were related to the tenant and were helping her prepare to relocate. Heavy fire, smoke, and water damaged occurred in the apartment of origin and a sixth-floor unit. Other units suffered water damage. Property damage or contents loss estimated to the building, valued at $2.4 million, were not reported. The fire injured five.
Occupants trying to remove burning sofa block exit
MASSACHUSETTS — Instead of calling the fire department and then escaping from a fire, occupants of an apartment decided to remove a burning couch. The fire eventually blocked the exits, the home filled with smoke. Two of the four occupants were visitors and unfamiliar with the home’s layout. The visitors died in the fire, while the two others escaped.
The fire occurred within a three-story, five-unit apartment building constructed of wood framing with an asphalt-shingled roof. The building had a hardwired smoke-detection system, but no sprinklers.
A discarded cigarette started a smoldering fire within an upholstered sofa in the first-floor unit’s living room. Smoke triggered the detector and it alerted the occupants, who tried to remove the burning sofa from the home. Reaching the kitchen, smoke from the fire became too much and two of the occupants exited through a front door. A female visitor, 23, had her obvious exit blocked and, unfamiliar with the layout, was overcome by smoke. Firefighters found her in an open closet. The second victim, a 24-year-old male visitor, attempted to escape through a bathroom but was also overcome by smoke.
The delay in alerting the fire department allowed the fire to grow. Arriving firefighters found heavy fire venting from the windows. The fire was rapidly controlled after two hose lines for fire attack were deployed. Other crews completed ventilation, and conducted a search and rescue.
The building suffered $75,000 in loss with contents having an estimated loss of $35,000. There were no other injuries during the incident.
Fire in dormitory room extinguished by sprinkler
NEBRASKA — A sprinkler extinguished a fire in a school dormitory; however, two students suffered smoke inhalation injuries when they tried to fight the fire using portable fire extinguishers.
The fire occurred in a three-story, 75-room dormitory. It was constructed of concrete block walls with concrete floors, and had a roof covered with tar and gravel. A wet-pipe sprinkler system provided full coverage and was operational at the time of the fire. A fire detection system provided coverage in the hallways only and notification to the school’s public safety center. There were no local smoke alarms or detectors in the individual rooms. At the time of the fire the building was operating.
A burning candle on a shelf radiating heat or direct flame ignited stored papers and books. Flaming debris fell to a countertop below and ignited other combustibles. An occupant investigating the odor of smoke opened the door to the room, as heat and smoke escaped and triggered the fire detection system.
Occupants first used a portable fire extinguisher on the flames; however, it malfunctioned, releasing only air and no agent. A second extinguisher was used, just as the sprinkler fused and extinguished the flames.
Two male students, both 20, suffered smoke inhalation injuries. Damage to the building was estimated at $75,000 and lost contents were estimated at $75,000.
The fire department found that an exterior water motor gong for the sprinkler did not work and the room to the sprinkler valve was not marked and locked. A delay in controlling water from the sprinkler occurred, as firefighters could not locate the sprinkler room nor did the system include an exterior post indicator valve to shut down the system. A lack of smoke detectors extending the detection system into the sleeping rooms is being evaluated with the school.
Irrational act leads to death of four in fast-moving fire
WISCONSIN — A man poured gasoline around the efficiency apartment he shared with four others and ignited it. Five people were in the home at the time of the fire. Only one survived.
The single-story apartment measured 20 feet (6 meters) by 100 feet (30 meters) and was constructed of concrete block walls with a wooden roof deck and covered by asphalt shingles. A hardwired smoke detector was in the unit, but its operation during the fire was not reported. There were no sprinklers.
The fire department received a report of a structure fire at 5:21 a.m. While en route, the firefighters were advised of trapped occupants and one victim with severe burns. Arriving two minutes later with police, heavy fire was coming from the windows and doors of the apartment. Two adult males and an adult female were outside of the apartment and all had severe burns. Fire crews began to treat the injured and began an offensive interior attack. Two occupants, a man and a woman, were reported trapped.
Advancing a 1-3/4-inch hose line filled with Class A foam, crews knocked down the fire within two minutes of arrival. Second and third due fire companies established a water supply and assisted in overhaul and patient care. Once the fire was declared controlled at 5:45 A.M., the bodies of the man and woman were recovered. They had been sleeping before the fire. They were found in escaping positions, just inside the doorway.
A 47-year old male spread and ignited the gasoline within the apartment for unknown reasons. He was able to escape, but later died of smoke and burn injuries. A 20-year old female who was asleep at the time of the incident escaped with multiple burn injuries and smoke inhalation. She died 10 days later. A 24-year old male, who was asleep, escaped and survived with burns and smoke injures. The two victims found in the home, both 43, died of burn and smoke injuries. The property suffered a loss of $30,000 with contents of $5,000 also damaged by the fire. There were no fire service injuries.
Dormitory destroyed by fire, all occupants escape
RHODE ISLAND — A building used as a college dormitory suffered a total loss when a fire in an attached garage spread quickly. Smoke from the fire triggered detectors and alerted occupants, who called 911 and reported the fire at 9:42 a.m. All escaped, but a male and female, both 21, suffered smoke inhalation injuries.
The three-story building measured 71 feet (21 meters) by 50 feet (15 meters) and was constructed of wood framing, heavy wood joists and beams, and it had a wooden decked roof covered by asphalt and slate shingles. Containing eight units, the building was protected by a hardwired smoke detection system providing full coverage per local code and connected to a municipal fire alarm. There were no sprinklers.
The fire department arrived within one minute of the alarm and faced considerable smoke coming from the building. Additional resources were called and firefighters entered the building and then entered the garage where the occupants reported the fire was burning. Shortly after, fire quickly engulfed the structure and command ordered all firefighters from the building.
The origin of the fire began in the garage located on the first floor in a rear wall where wooden wall studs met the wooden sill plate. The building, valued at $500,000 with contents of $150, 000, was a total loss. In addition to the two civilian injuries, three firefighters suffered non-life threatening injuries.
Candy manufacturing building damaged in fire
PENNSYLVANIA — A candy manufacturing plant suffered a significant loss to the building and contents because of a fire with electrical origins. Fire had progressed rapidly, as firefighters arriving within two minutes of alarm found fire coming from the front of the building. During the fire, a natural gas distribution pipe failed and allowed the fire to burn with intensity until it could be shut off and extinguishment complete.
The single-story building measured 90 feet (27 meters) by 40 feet (12 meters). Building construction was not entirely reported, but a recent addition was made of wood framing. There was no fire detection system or sprinkler system installed. The building was operating at the time of the fire.
Firefighters arrived at the scene at 1:57 p.m. and started the fire attack using a 2-1/2-inch hose line at the front of the building. Command immediately ordered the power company to the scene to cut electrical power, as severe arcing was seen within the building. A defensive operation began with other companies establishing water supplies, setting up aerial ladders, and the use of multiple large diameter hose streams. During the fire, a ruptured natural gas line continued to feed the fire until a crew under the protection of a hose line shut off the gas at the meter.
Investigators determined that the fire began in the ceiling of a storage room near arcing electrical wiring. Heat from the arcing ignited structural framing and spread throughout the building from that point. The building, valued at $250,000, and its contents, valued at $2 million, were total losses. There were no injuries.
In this Section:
Fire alarm system wiring insulation
100 years in print
Fire heavily damages store, but firefighters limit exposure loss
Establishing a culture of safety
Looking for signs
Overcoming code misunderstandings
Keeping it effortless
Fire risk assessment as a tool
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