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Firefighters stymie fast-moving blaze: Training pays off in apartment complex fire

Training pays off in apartment complex fire

December 11, 2007
By Andrew A. Sanojca

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A fast-moving fire that started in an area where demolition and construction work had taken place in the parking garage of a seven-storey apartment complex put firefighters’ training to the test. Ultimately, training for this type of a fire altered firefighters’ responses to the incident.

The Saint John Fire Department in New Brunswick got the call at 2:12 p.m. on Dec. 6 for a possible structure fire. The 58-unit building at 15 Mecklenburg St. was made of concrete with a centre core and had no sprinkler system.

On arrival within three minutes, Engine 1 was informed by a building worker that the fire was in the ground-level parking garage. District Chief Eric Garland assumed command and had the crew of Engine 1 advance a 45 mm pre-connect towards the fire.

The crew of Quint 5 was ordered to advance a back-up line into the garage to assist Engine 1 and the crew of Engine 4 was assigned to check for fire on the second floor. Rescue 5 was assigned to search the building to ensure everyone was out.

“Crews were forced to take a very aggressive attitude to fire attack and evacuation due to the fact this was a high-occupancy building,” Garland said.

Once the fire was knocked down, the officer of Engine 1 reported to command that the fire may have extended up into the building through the utility chase.

“The premise of extinguishment of this fire was relative to an understanding of fire behaviour and consequent fire travel,” Garland said.

This training led Garland to re-assign Engine 1 to the top floor to check for fire extension, while the crew of Quint 5 was re-assigned to the same task on the third floor. These crews re-entered the building with high-rise packs to make use of the building’s standpipe system if required, and the crew of Engine 1 got the thermal imaging camera from the command unit.

The crew of Engine 1 arrived on the seventh floor and reported smoke in the hallway. They proceeded to the D-A corner of the building and forced their way into an apartment. The thermal imaging camera detected heat in the corner where the utility void was located and the crew opened up the wall. Water was dumped down the void to try to stop the vertical extension of fire.

All crews reported to command that they were encountering smoke on the floors they were operating on. Faced with these conditions, command asked the Public Safety Communications Centre to dispatch an additional engine. On arrival, the crew of Engine 6 helped the driver of Engine 1 connect to the building’s standpipe system to supplement the water pressure.

The crew of Rescue 5, which had been searching the building, did not find anybody inside but they encountered heavy fire on the fifth floor. The crew of Engine 6 advanced a handline up the ladder of Quint 5 to a fifth floor balcony. The handline was used to extinguish the fire that was burning in a large utility closet in the front corner of the building. The line was then advanced through a sixth-floor apartment window from the Quint to extinguish a small fire on that floor. Crews encountered fire on all floors except the seventh.

Fire damage was confined to the utility corridor with the exception of the fifth floor, where the fire took hold in a utility closet, causing some damage to the apartment. Because smoke conditions were encountered on all floors, several doors were forced by firefighters during the primary search before a master key was obtained from the building manager and used during the secondary search.

While the fires were extinguished quickly, there was smoke damage throughout the building.

Residents weren’t allow to re-enter the building but were taken to another building operated by the property owner, Killam Properties.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene. There were no other injuries. The Fire Prevention and Investigation unit of the fire department began their investigation as soon as the fire was extinguished. The cause of the fire has not been released.

Most residents were allowed to return to their apartments the following day.

Department profile
The Saint John Fire Department was formed in 1786 and operates six engine companies, a quint, a ladder truck, one rescue/pumper and two tankers from seven fire stations under the direction of Fire Chief Rob Simonds. The department also operates a hazmat unit, brush unit and rescue boat with on-duty staff as required. Daily operations are supervised by one operations district chief, assisted by an administration district chief as required. The city includes urban and rural housing, Canada’s largest oil refinery, a port, several paper mills and other heavy and light industrial complexes. There are 38 full-time firefighters per shift working a two days, two nights, four day off rotation. In 2006 the department responded to 6,974 calls.


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