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Incident Report


February 4, 2013
By Brad Bigrigg

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Oro-Medonte, Ont. – Fall was fairly kind to us in Central Ontario; a nice Indian summer had led into fall with brilliant colours on the trees and moderate temperatures into mid-November.

Oro-Medonte, Ont. – Fall was fairly kind to us in Central Ontario; a nice Indian summer had led into fall with brilliant colours on the trees and moderate temperatures into mid-November. Many cottage and RV owners continued their travels well after Thanksgiving, which is the usual end of season for many. Until the drop in temperature that comes with fall, most fire services in central Ontario had experienced typical or less-than-typical call volumes.

FireHitch1-MWNews  
A fire on Nov. 27 that started in an RV in the showroom gutted the Hitch House RV dealership and repair facility in the Township of Oro-Medonte.
Photos by Mark Wanzel, Barrie Examiner


 

On Tuesday, Nov. 27, the routine for many Simcoe County fire services was abruptly interrupted at 2:24 p.m. when the City of Orillia Fire Communications Centre received a 911 fire call from the Hitch House at 1490 Highway 11 in the Township of Oro-Medonte. The Hitch House is a large, recreational-vehicle dealership and repair facility located in three large buildings on about 4.5 hectares (11 acres). The showroom was approximately 929 square metres (10,000 square feet). The company employs about 40 staff and is one of the larger employers in the municipality. The initial call was for a recreational vehicle on fire in the show room. The weather at the time was cool and clear with light winds. The temperatures hovered around the freezing point. A standard structure-fire response, consisting of two pumpers and two tankers, was dispatched with about 12 volunteer firefighters. A back-up call from staff at the Hitch House indicated that they believed they had extinguished the fire but requested that the fire service continue to respond.

FireHitch2-MWNews  
Volunteer firefighters from the Oro-Medonte Fire & Emergency Services and four neighbouring departments, which provided tankers, firefighters and station coverage, responded to a fire that caused $6 million in damage to the Hitch House and its contents.


 

The first piece of apparatus to arrive on scene was a pumper tanker operated by one firefighter. The initial report upon arrival was “working fire in the R.V. showroom with moderate fire and smoke conditions – building was evacuated – going into an offensive attack.” Additional firefighters arrived on the scene and a hand line was advanced into the showroom in an attempt to cut off the spread of fire. Ventilation was initiated and the alarm was upgraded for additional tankers and firefighters. One large recreational vehicle was removed from the showroom by Hitch House staff during the initial attack, and three other vehicles were removed from the service bays as the fire spread to the rest of the building. During this time the fire had continued to grow. Additional lines were put into operation.

FireHitch4-MWNews  
Firefighters prepare a port-a-pond during a fire at the Hitch House in November. At the height of the fire, nine tankers were operating in the shuttle process, dropping water at two pumping locations. A portable pump was also used from a creek on site to augment the water.


 

After about 20 minutes of offensive attack, it became obvious that the fire had control of the building and the remaining contents. Structural stability and potential collapse were key considerations of the incident commander along with water supply. Command made the call to retreat from interior operations and switch to a defensive attack. A number of ground monitors and an aerial were placed into operation. All Oro-Medonte tankers were committed to the scene along with a number of pumpers and the aerial device.  Mutual aid was requested from four neighbouring fire departments for additional tankers, firefighters and station coverage. Three county fire co-ordinators also attended at the scene; one took on the role of water-supply sector, one managed crews on the west sector, and the third ensured adequate coverage of the municipality during this large fire operation.

At the height of the fire, nine tankers were operating in the shuttle process, dropping water at two pumping locations. A portable pump was also used from a creek on site to augment the water supply. Oro-Medonte firefighters remained on scene to conduct a fire watch overnight and to assist with the fire investigation. The Ontario Provincial Police and the Office of the Fire Marshal both conducted investigations of the scene.  The cause was determined to most likely have been an electrical issue in one of the motor homes. The loss associated with this fire is $6 million. The value of property saved during firefighting operations, including exposures, was approximately $10 million.

Lessons learned during this incident:

  • The need to have the full first alarm continue to respond to the incident regardless of the back-up phone call. The back-up phone call could have given the department a false sense of security. Knowing the potential fire risk in the buildings ensured the most appropriate initial response to this incident. The fire was not extinguished by staff and continued to grow until sufficient hoselines were put in place to control the fire.
  • The need to rapidly expand the incident management system (IMS) to meet the needs of a large-scale incident. The showroom was large, the fire continued to grow in size and there was a large fuel load. Knowing the potential for fire growth extension, command built the IMS for this incident around the worst-case scenario. 
  • The assignment of a fire co-ordinator to the water supply sector ensured that there was adequate fire flow at both pumping locations at all times during this fire operation and allowed company officers to supervise their crews to carry out critical fire-ground functions.

The Oro-Medonte Fire & Emergency Services is located in Simcoe County, Ont. Under the command of Fire Chief Hugh Murray, the department operates with about 150 volunteer firefighters from six stations and 18 pieces of heavy apparatus.

The department responded to 584 emergency incidents in 2011.


Brad Bigrigg has served in public safety throughout Ontario for almost 35 years, as a police officer, volunteer chief fire officer, assistant fire chief responsible for fire and EMS operations, and emergency manager for the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal. He is currently an associate instructor for the Ontario Fire College and Emergency Management Ontario. E-mail him at b.bigrigg@sympatico.ca


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