The B. Altman's Fire
At 0306 hours a phone call was received at the Manhattan Central Office reporting a smoke condition at 4 East 36 Street. A search of the building was conducted with negative results. Eleven minutes later a second call also indicating a smoke condition was received reporting the address 11 Park Avenue. A search of that building also proved fruitless. With a definite odor lingering in the air, units continued to search the area.
The search ultimately led them to the B. Altman's Department store that was being renovated at 355 5th Avenue. The 13 story class 1 construction occupies an entire city block measuring 420 x 200. Emanating from the upper floors was a light smoke condition. The signal for a working fire was given. Within 3 minutes a second alarm was transmitted. The next 10 hours were described as being as close to hell as one would want to get.
The fire originated in the store's fur vault. A large windowless room with cinder block walls and cork insulation. A tremendous amount of heat created what some 30 year veterans said was the hottest fire they have ever fought. Because of the intense heat, all 4th and 5th alarm units were ordered to top off their canteens before reporting to the IC. All 5 Recuperation & Care units were at the fire.
Another complication arose when fire fighters discovered a sign indicating asbestos abatement was in progress. The Haz-Mat unit was special called, and later ordered the response of the Decontamination Trailer quartered with L015.
Before the fire could be declared under control, the fur vault had to be vented, and thermal imaging cameras were used to locate hidden hot spots.
No cause for the blaze has been officially declared, but investigators believe it was started by workers using a torch earlier in the evening. Over 20 fire fighters were treated for minor injuries. Relief units were special called throughout the evening and the box was closed at 2112 hours.
As had been done in previous major incidents, the Manhattan dispatchers set up an apparatus staging area at a nearby firehouse. The outer boroughs supplied units for the staging area, which were then used to supply the IC with the units he needed. This conserved fire protection for Manhattan and kept response times at an acceptable level.
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