[Thanks to the following people who contributed to this essay:
D.C. Michael Gunning, D.C. Vincent Dunn (Ret.), B.C. Michael Fahy, Capt. Ray O’Hanlon, Lieut. Kevin White, Lieut. Mickey Conboy, Fr. Brian Browne, Fr. Matt Miller, Fr. Scott Doody, Fr. Kevin Adams, Capt. Ed Boles, Fr. Chris O’Connell, Fr. Chris Roberto
Retired Deputy Chief Vincent Dunn is a nationally known expert in building construction and their collapse. He commented on the January 2016 newsletter about the “Wooster Street Collapse”: “The Wooster Street experience was the start of my obsession with burning building collapse.”]
Row Frame Building Fires: Lessons Learned
￼Row frame building fires are notoriously fast moving. The characteristic that is common in all these buildings is the common cockloft.
If a row of frames has a fire in a common cockloft, they may as well be considered one gigantic building with individual addresses.
Many times at Row Frame building fires, there is a delayed alarm. It is not unusual to be playing “catch-up” to an expanding fire situation upon our arrival. It is important to be pro-active in transmitting additional alarms.
Apparatus positioning is critical at Row Frame Building fires. Aerial ladders must be positioned so that roof access is assured. Tower Ladder placement is vital.
Properly positioned, one Tower Ladder can cover 5 row frame buildings. Ideally, the aerial ladders should be placed at the ends of the row with a Tower Ladder in the center of the row.
Multiple alarm engine companies should stay out of the fire block unless ordered. Make sure all engine companies have a good hydrant.
At these fires, once a hose line is in position, it does not need the services of two engine companies to staff it. The Engine Company that was assisting in the stretch should return to the street to see if the Incident Commander needs a hose line stretched elsewhere. It was difficult to keep up with the need for hose lines at this massive, expanding operation.
If a Tower Ladder is not initially available to be positioned in the center of a row of frames, the apparatus mounted multiversal nozzle on Engine Company apparatus is a good option for a master stream.
￼Thinking One Step Ahead
Row frame building fires can be considered “three dimensional.” You could have a fire within the occupancy, you could have a fire in the voids, and you could have a fire on the exterior walls.
The “Command Priorities” at Row Frame building fires is; 1. Life, 2. Exposures, 3. Confinement, 4. Extinguishment. The life hazard at these fires cannot be overemphasized.
After the life hazard, the major concern with these fires is horizontal extension. This is true particularly if the fire gets into the cockloft.
However, fire can also be transmitted horizontally by common walls, voids between walls and beams abutting each other. Many of these buildings also have common cellars.
It is important for Ladder Companies to confine the fire as much as possible. When fire is near the apartment door, make sure the door is closed while waiting for a hose line. If the opening does not have a door, remove a door on a non-fire room and confine the fire with the removed door.
The building may or may not have a secondary means of egress. A heavy emphasis of laddering the building with portable ladders is essential. There is a possibility of a life-saving rope rescue in the rear of these buildings.
Fires in the cockloft of Row Frames may necessitate skipping a building to get ahead of the fire. The Incident Commander may be faced with the decision to skip the buildings. If conditions dictate skipping a building, and it is not skipped, the entire row of buildings may be lost.
at the roof level is critical at row frame building fires.
Removal of skylights and scuttle covers provides initial ventilation of the top floor. Removal of the “returns” of the skylight and scuttle will help to determine if fire has entered the cockloft.
It will also provide an initial vent for the cockloft. Do
not remove the “returns” remote from the fire. If you do, it will draw the fire toward the remote location.
When cutting the roof with the power saw, cut as close to the main body of fire as possible. Once the hole is cut, keep expanding it. It is far better to have a large hole than several smaller holes. Cutting a hole will help to limit horizontal extension in the cockloft.
When we have a fire in the cockloft, we must try to define the boundaries of the fire. Ideally, we could stretch hose lines to the exposed buildings, pull the top floor ceilings from the front to the rear (after vertical ventilation is conducted) and sweep the cockloft with hose streams from the top floor. We would then advance the hose lines to the next building by breaching the walls.
When on the top floor, Ladder Companies can determine if there is fire in the cockloft by opening a small hole in the ceiling. A small hole is opened by inserting the handle end of the hook into the ceiling. Do not expand the hole until the roof is opened and a charged hose line is in position.
Prior to opening the top floor ceiling at cockloft fires, vent the windows. Once the ceiling is opened, smoke will bank down from the cockloft.
At row frame cockloft fires, a Roof Sector Chief is important. The Roof Sector Chief can be the communications link between the roof and the Command Post. The Roof Sector Chief must have all the members on the roof working in concert to accomplish vertical ventilation and to observe the changing conditions on the roof.
Cutting a trench cut at these fires is NOT productive. There are not any non-combustible areas to be used as boundaries in these structures. Efforts by Firefighters on the roof would be much more efficient by cutting large holes as close as possible to the main body of the fire. The fire moves too quickly to cut a trench from the front wall to the rear wall.
Remember, cutting a trench is a defensive tactic. Cutting a hole over the fire is an offensive tactic. When we cut and open a trench, we are saying: “We are giving up the fire side of the trench.” When we open a trench, all members must be removed from the fire side of the trench on the roof.
When operating on the roof, constantly evaluate what your means of egress is from the roof. Fire moves rapidly in these buildings and it is possible to have your access to an aerial ladder be cut off.
When gaining access to the roof of a row frame building fire, use the aerial or tower ladder. This gives the Incident Commander visual assurance that the roof position was reached.
Also, going up a scuttle ladder from an exposure is too dangerous. The fire could break out from the returns of the scuttle while climbing through it.
When operating on the roof, keep in mind that you are the eyes for the Incident Commander. Be prepared to give a report via handi- talkie of the conditions on the roof and the rear of the building.
At Row Frame building fires where the Chauffeur is not performing Vent Entry Isolation Search (VEIS) on the top floor, it is important that Chauffeurs of Aerial Ladders be in position to move their ladders to remove trapped Firefighters. If a Chauffeur is performing another task (i.e.: raising portable ladders), he/she must be able to return to the pedestal. Chauffeurs of Tower Ladders must remain at the pedestal of their apparatus.
It is important to know what the conditions are in the rear of these buildings. Heavy fire coming from the windows or on the exterior walls in the rear can transmit fire to the buildings on the next street. Fire can be transmitted by radiant heat, and/or flying brands. Hose lines must be stretched to the rear of these buildings to protect these exposures.
Command and Resources
The use of the Satellite Unit at these fires would be advantageous.
These fires require that numerous hand lines be stretched.
The Satellite Unit could deploy their manifold with the large diameter hose. Multiple alarm units could report into the fire with a controlling nozzle and rolled-up lengths of hose and connect to the manifold.
It is absolutely vital that the Command Board be current and accurate. All Officers MUST have the Command Board adjusted when they receive orders or they are relieved from operations.
Many of these buildings have air & light shafts between buildings. If a fire has extended to the air shaft, it is important for a hose line to make access to the shaft at a lower floor and direct the stream upward to knock the down the fire.
If a row frame building has a fire escape attached, its stability must be constantly checked before use. The fire escape anchor points are combustible and the fire escape can pull away from them when exposed to fire. Or, the weight of the fire escape can pull down a wall.
All multiple alarm engine companies should report in with their “Clorox Bottle rope”. No more than two hand lines can be committed to stairways.
These buildings can be constructed
with either the braced fame method or the balloon frame method. If it is a braced frame building, and the fire is on the first floor, failure of the mortise and tenon joint at the first floor ceiling is a possibility. This is true particularly if it is a corner building.
It is important to review Firefighting Procedures Brownstone and Row Frame Buildings. This document has a wealth of information and includes Ladder Company and Engine Company assignments for these fires.
Firefighting Procedures Brownstone and Row Frame Buildings, WNYF 2/2002, WNYF 2/1981. WNYF 1/2010, WNYF 2/1965, WNYF 1/1979, FDNY Diamondplate Pine Street Fire Operations: Row Frame Fire March 9, 1978.]
Deputy Chief Jay Jonas, Division 7 FDNY
Thank you 7th Division FDNY!