Today is June 17th; the fourth day in the Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week. But today is much more than that. June 17th marks the anniversary of two significant fire service incidents that resonate with the values, doctrine and philosophy that define the principles of Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week.
Both of these incidents resulted in firefighter line-of-duty deaths at seemingly routine fires, in relatively ordinary structures and occupancies, each with unusual building construction features and conditions that would contribute to the adverse circumstances of the incident operations, and ultimately contribute to the LODD events.
Hotel Vendome Fire-1972
On June 17th, 1972, a typical routine day was unfolding for the Jakes in the Boston Fire Department. At 14:35 hours, Box 1571 was received at Boston Fire Alarm Office. It would be the first of four alarms required to extinguish an intense fire at the former Hotel Vendome on Commonwealth Avenue at Dartmouth Street, City of Boston, Massachusetts. It took nearly three hours to contain the blaze. The four alarm fire required a compliment of 16 engine companies, 5 ladder companies, 2 aerial towers and 1 heavy rescue company, with all companies operating with a full complement of personnel staffing.
Following extensive and strenuous suppression operations, the BFD commenced routine overhaul operation. Then, at 17:28 hours, without warning, all five floors of a 40 by 45 foot section southeast corner of the building collapsed, burying a ladder truck and 17 firefighters beneath a two-story pile of brick, mortar, plaster, wood and debris.
More than any other event in the three hundred year history of the Boston Fire Department, the Vendome tragedy exemplifies the risk intrinsic to the firefighting profession and the accompanying courage required in the performance of duty. Nine firefighters were killed on that day, eight more injured; eight women widowed, twenty-five children lost their fathers; a shocked city mourned before the sympathetic eyes of the entire nation.
The Hotel Vendome fire and the Nine Line-of-duty deaths, two Company Officers and seven firefighters
Lieutenant THOMAS J. CARROLL, E-32.
Lieutenant JOHN E. HANBURY, JR., L-13.
Firefighter THOMAS W. BECKWITH, E-32.
Firefighter JOSEPH E. BOUCHER, JR., E-22.
Firefighter CHARLES E. DOLAN, L-13.
Firefighter JOHN E. JAMESON, E-22.
Firefighter RICHARD B. MAGEE, E-33.
Firefighter PAUL J. MURPHY, E-32.
Firefighter JOSEPH P. SANIUK, L-13.
Built in 1871 and massively expanded in 1881, the Hotel Vendome was a luxury hotel located in Boston's Back Bay, just north of Copley Square. During the 1960s, the Vendome suffered four small fires. In 1971, the year of the original building's centennial, the Vendome was purchased. The new owners opened a restaurant called Cafe Vendome on the first floor, and began renovating the remaining hotel into condominiums and a shopping mall.
Although the cause of the original fire was not known, the subsequent collapse was attributed to the failure of an overloaded seven-inch steel column whose support had been weakened when a new duct had been cut beneath it, exacerbated by the extra weight of water used to fight the fire on the upper floors.
References and Documents
Boston Fire Department, HERE
Vendome, Wikipedia, HERE
Building Photos and the Firefighter’s Memorial, HERE
Gendisasters, Historical Perspective, HERE
Boston Globe, HERE
Boston FD Ladder 15, HERE
FDNY Father’s Day Fire-2001
The relative calm of a quiet Sunday, Father’s Day, June 17th , 2001 was broken at 14:19 hours with a phone call to the FDNY Queens Central Office reporting a fire at 12-22 Astoria Blvd, in the Astoria Section of Queens, New York. For almost 80 years, the Long Island General Supply store has been a fixture in the Long Island City section of Queens serving local contractors and residents with all of their hardware needs. Unfortunately, that included propane tanks and other flammable liquids.
Two structures were involved in this incident. Both buildings were interconnected on the first floors as well as the cellars.
Both structures were built prior to 1930 of ordinary (Type III) construction, and were two stories in height, each with a full cellar.
Building 1 measured 2035 square feet and was triangular in shape.
Building 2 measured 1102 square feet and was rectangular in shape.
Building 1 and Building 2 shared a common or party wall and were interconnected on the first floor and the cellar.
Building to building access in the cellar was through a fire door. The fire door was blocked open to allow free movement between the cellars which were used for storage. The hardware stored occupied the first floor and cellars of both buildings. Building 1 had two apartments on the second floor. Building 2 had an office and storage space on the second floor. Note: A third uninvolved building was attached to the west side of Building 2. The flat roof system sheathing consisted of 5/8-inch plywood covered by felt paper and rubber roof membrane. The foundation was constructed out of stone and mortar. The support system was a combination of steel masonry posts/lolly columns and wooden support beams.
FDNY Units arrived within 5 minutes of the dispatch and gave the signal for a working fire. Fire fighters were making good progress but at 14:48 hours something went terribly wrong. Witnesses on the scene report hearing a small explosion followed by a huge blast. The shock wave from the blast blew down every fire fighter on the street and knocked down the exposure 1 wall onto the sidewalk, right on top of fire fighters venting the building.
As members started sifting through the rubble, the chief ordered a second alarm followed almost immediately by a fourth alarm when a radio transmission was received from FF Brian Fahey from Rescue 4. He was in the basement under tons of collapsed material."I'm trapped in the basement by the stairs. Come get me." This was a battle cry to everyone on the scene. Every capable member frantically began removing debris to try and get to Brian and the others. The chief ordered more help. Numerous special calls were made.There were 144 pieces of apparatus at the scene: 46 engines, 33 ladders, 16 battalion chiefs, 2 deputy chiefs, all 5 rescues, 7 squads, and many more. In fact, with the exception of the fire boats, the JFK hose wagon, the Decon unit, and the thawing units, every type of special unit was at the scene.Even with the vast resources of the Department, the task took several hours. The members that were on the sidewalk were quickly recovered.
Fire fighters Harry Ford (R4) and John Downing (L163) were removed in traumatic arrest and brought to Elmhurst Hospital were they succumbed from their injuries. Back at the scene members still were trying to get to Brian while others were trying to put out the smoky fire. The battle went through the afternoon and into the evening. The fire was being fueled by some of the flammables in the building. After about four hours they finally reached the basement, but again, it was too late. FDNY Firefighter Brian died in the Line-of-duty.
Subsequent investigations revealed that two local kids were in the rear yard of the building when unbeknownst to them they knocked over a can of gasoline. The gasoline ran under the rear door, into the basement eventually finding an ignition source in the form of the water heater.
When the water heater kicked in, it ignited the gasoline. As fire fighters began working in the building the fire caused the explosion of a large propane tank illegally stored in the basement. The resulting blast leveled the building and caused what will be forever known as the worst Father's Day in FDNY's history. (Excerpt of the event description published in http://www.fdnewyork.com/).
The supreme sacrifice was made that day by;
· FDNY Firefighter Harry S. Ford, Rescue Co.4
· FDNY Firefighter Brain D. Fahey, Rescue Co. 4
· FDNY Firefighter John Downing, Ladder Co. 163
Take the time to read the NIOSH Report, and learn the lessons from that event
NIOSH Report F2001-23, HERE
Steve Spak, Photos, HERE
FDNY Firefighter Andy Fredrick’s Account, HERE
Online Service Accounts and Coverage, HERE
In support of the two (2) incident events discussed in this posting related to the Hotel Vendome and the Astoria Queens Hardware Store Explosion. Both of these structures were Type III, Ordinary Construction. This is a good opportunity for you to introduce yourself to or refresh yourself on the Safety Considerations for Operations involving Ordinary or Heavy Timber Type Construction.
A comprehensive power point program is available for download from the Near Miss Reporting System web site, HERE
An accompanying narrative report and its alignment with a Near Miss Report related to a type III occupancy and incident response and close call support the power point presentation, HERE
Don’t forget, the Near Miss Reporting System, HERE, has exemplary resources, case studies, close calls and lessons to be learned and institutionalized. The same is true about the resources at the NFFF Everyone Goes Home Program, HERE and the IAFC Fire/EMS Safety week web site HERE.
Take the time to learn something about Ordinary or Heavy Timber Type Construction.
As I’ve stated before, Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety. Remember this week’s Safety, Health and Survival message: Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility