Garage Fire at Lake View Terrace

Thursday was a busy day for St. Remy. After assisting Bloomington FD with a 5:00am structure fire we got our own call of a "Possible garage fire".

Dispatched: About 11PM December 19th, 1996

Response:

I responded to Station 1 as my turn-out gear was drying from the previous call. Upon arrival, E5210 had responded and M5240 was just beginning to roll. I threw my gear in the back and climbed in. Joe Landi was driving, and off we went. Coming down Main Street we got a spectacular sight. From an elevated perspective and about 400 yards away we could see the garage had already burned through the rear and flames were licking out of the front.

Size-up:

It was a three car, open front garage with a car port on the right side. In it, working left to right, was a late model Chevy full size pick-up with a plow, a 1984ish Lincoln Towncar, 2 Garden tractors and an assortment of hand and power tools. Under the carport was a mid-size farm tractor. When E5210 arrived, except for the carport, everything inside was in flames. We had to act fast to save the farm tractor.

Attack:

On the first line was 1st Asst. Chief Wick and Lieutenant Ted Bickert; mine was the second line off E5210. We opened up on the fire. At this point the fire was licking out the front about 10 feet. Joe Landi backed me up on the hose. As we were fighting the fire, I noticed gasoline burning between the 2 vehicles, it was flowing out towards us I pointed the hose to wash it back and resumed putting out the main fire. It flowed back towards us again as more water was entering the garage. Again I washed it back. We couldn't get close enough to try a fog stream on the gas so washing it back was our only option. We had no idea how much gas was there so I called for foam. The blitz line was stretched for the foam. We dumped 1500 gallons on the fire in about 3-4 minutes we ran out for about 20 seconds while T5221 connected to E5220. 20 seconds seems like forever when all you can do is watch the fire begin to grow again. The assistant Chiefs were relieved by company firemen and went off to there respective places to run the scene. At 1 point the tires on the vehicles began to explode. It's a little unnerving when you don't experience it very often! By the time the foam was ready to go we had the fire knocked down and the gasoline had burned off. It was now time to don air packs and find the remaining hot spots. Fred McCoy backed up by Rob Halstein were already packed up and were the first to go inside with Lieutenant Bickert directing them.

Overhaul:

Overhaul was slow and tedious. We had to cool down both vehicles thoroughly. The fire was so intense that the hood release latch had disintegrated. Getting the hood open was a pain. The contents of the Lincoln's trunk were on fire so we had to forcibly enter under the watchful eye of the fire investigators looking for possible arson.

Conclusion:

We laid in approximately 1900 feet from a standpipe at Diamonds Pond with Bloomington's E18?0 feeding E5220 and then in to E5210. It was a lot of hose to roll up and special thanks go to Rifton FD for doing a lot of the work. According to Al Small (Assistant Chief Rifton FD and Fire Investigator for Ulster County), after the owner parked the Lincoln, the carburetor "hiccuped in a big way" igniting on the engine. The fire spread quickly to the wall and then to everything else. We saved the farm tractor but unfortunately the other property was beyond saving long before we got there.

Thanks again to Rifton FD, Bloomington FD, Esopus FD on standby, and the St Remy Ladies Auxiliary for the refreshments.


An additional perspective from First Assistant Chief Karl Wick

disclaimer: These are my own observations and are not intended to fully describe the entire scenario

The intial call was received at about 11PM and I immediately grabbed my spare turnout gear and headed toward the scene. Radio contact with county dispatch confirmed a structure fire and suggested that there might be people trapped. Passing station one, I was relieved to see that a senior driver already had the engine rolling.

As I came around a bend on a hilltop overlooking the scene from across the lake, I saw a multiple bay home garage with flames four feet thick and fifteen feet high rolling from its open front. That side of the garage was approximately fourty feet from a house. There is a dry hydrant on the lake and I immediately called for a tanker from Rifton FD to the scene (for temporary water) and an engine from Bloomington FD to set up a relay base at the hydrant. My second call was for Engine 5210 to lay in down the side street and Engine 5220 to lay from the hydrant to the first hose lay. As I approached the scene, I realized that we needed to hit this fire hard and fast. Neighbors were shouting that they thought the owner might be in the burning building. I adjusted the orders to have engine 5210 come directly to the scene and pull two 1-3/4" hand lines, with engine 5220 to create the entire hose lay (which I estimated its 2000 feet would just cover).

As I was gearing up, engine 5210 arrived with an experienced pump operator but no nozzle men. They were still a minute or so away. The PO and I pulled the front mattydale and I advanced it to the left side of the structure. The heaviest flame and heat were in the center, advancing rapidly toward the left. The left hand bay and pickup truck were already involved. I began the attack at 150GPM which was about all I could safely maneuver back and forth. Just as I realized that this line was not going to stop the fire, Lieutenant Bickert arrived at my shoulder saying "I'll back you up, Karl!". This was good news. I instructed the pump operator to increase the flow to 200 GPM. Shortly thereafter, firefighters Landi and (soon to be lieutenant) Beever brought the second line to the center doorway. (The overhead doors were gone.) We were now flowing 400 gallons per minute and had stopped the growth of the fire. Progress toward extinguishment was very slow. Too slow, in fact, for this magnitude of fire.

It was at this point that we realized there was gasoline running onto the floor from the fuel tank of the lincoln and possibly from storage tanks. When a Rifton nozzleman came to assist, I gave the nozzle to the lieutenant and, seeing Car 52 at the command post, took my place as operations officer, directing the two hose teams, and setting up backup lines, a foam system, lighting, etc.

I never really noticed the loss of water. It seemed to last for no more than fifteen seconds as the engine's 1500 gallon booster tank ran out, and the supply people finished hooking in the first tanker. The relay was fully operational before that tanker was empty.

We found the homeowner in the house and very worried about his tractor. He wanted to drive it out of the lean-to end at the right of the garage. Our hose teams protected the exposures and the tractor was never touched by flame or debris. Even the smoke knew better than to blow that way.

The garage is repairable, but needs extensive work. The back wall is half gone, the doors are gone, and the two upper gable ends suffered damage. The roof beams were charred but only two burned through more than half way. The roof itself is fully intact and still keeps the rain out. The lean-to addition suffered no real damage. A tree half way between the garage and the house was seriously damaged on the fire side, and the circuit breakers protected the electrical service when the 60 ampere feed to the garage shorted out. Jon covered the rest of the story very well.

There is one other interesting bit of information here. Two hours after extinguishment of the flames, we still saw smoke steadily issuing from the gable ends. After some careful searching, we found that the plastic bed liner in the truck was creating this smoke. We dragged it outside, and even though there was an inch of water in one end of the truck's bed, the other end was completely dry and warm. Would this bed liner have reignited? We really don't know, but the smoke is unhealthy and we never take anything for granted.


You have my permission to copy or redistribute without any aditions or alterations.

Written by Lieutenant Jon Beever

You can E-mail me at jpbeever@mhv.net  (No Longer working)