High Fire Activity - 4/27/99 & 4/29/99

It is said that April showers bring may flowers, but in reality all it does is give a few days respite from brush fire season. Another welcome side effect is that the NYC reservoirs are at 90% capacity. But during the last week of April, the rains stopped, the brush areas of Staten Island dried, and the stage was set for some major fire activity. Good thing the reservoirs were full.

Great Kills Park is located on Staten Island's southeast shoreline. It is a huge expanse of land measuring almost 9000 feet in length and 3000 feet at its widest point. Part of the Gateway National Recreational Area, it's also home to yacht clubs, marinas, and public beaches.

At 1116 hours of the 27th, a fire alarm box activation sent 2 + 2 to Hylan Boulevard & Bay Terrace. A large area of brush was afire. A brisk wind stoked the fire faster than it could be contained, but fortunately it was away from any structures.

As Staten Island companies were busy fighting or responding to this fire, units from Brooklyn were called quickly to fill the vacant firehouses. Under the best traffic conditions it takes about 20 minutes for enough companies to respond over the Verrazano Bridge to bolster the Island's fire protection. But 15 minutes into the fire, the Red Devil struck again.

At 1131 hours a call to the C.O. reported a structural fire at 38 Leo Street in the Mariners Harbor section. The normally assigned 4th due unit responded in 1st due. By the time they arrived, fire had claimed the entire front half of the 2-story frame 75 x 50 private dwelling. They requested a 2nd alarm on arrival. At 1225 hours, the fire under control, the building was a total loss.

The Great Kills fire went under control at 1407 hours but units remained on the scene well into the afternoon. Just a stone's throw away, in Evergreen Park, another brush fire broke out at 1927 hours. Fire fighters made short work of this by bringing it under control 73 minutes later.

Thursday, April 29 saw the most fire activity in recent history. It began in Brooklyn at 0040 hours in the New Lots section. Fire fighters made quick work of an all-hands fire at 655 Williams Avenue. The 2 story brick 30x60 vacant dwelling had fire on all floors but was under control 21 minutes later.

At 0100 hours in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island, there was another quick worker at 284 Jewett Avenue. A 2 story frame 20x40 private dwelling.

Manhattan fire fighters were busy on the night shift starting with 130 West 120 Street in the Manhattanville section at 0451 hours. A 6 story brick 40x75 multiple dwelling with fire on the 3rd & 4th floor.

It took 2 hours for fire fighters to tame a fire at 80 Seaman Avenue in the Inwood section at 0712 hours. A 6 story brick 75x100 multiple dwelling with fire on the 5th floor.

Twenty five minute later, an occupant at 400 West 43rd Street, in the Hell's Kitchen section, had their stove go awry on the 25th floor of the 45 story 200x200 hi-rise multiple dwelling.

Back to Brooklyn for a stubborn all-hands fire at 232 Gates Avenue in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section. Using an exterior only attack with 3 tower ladders and 1 deck gun, fire fighters poured water into the 3 story frame 40x80 vacant dwelling and waited for the fire to go out.

The Red Devil broke for a late breakfast but came back with a vengeance at 1103 hours.

The Visy Paper Mill is located in the Travis section of Staten Island, just north of the Fresh Kills landfill. It's a large open area located at 4434 Victory Boulevard and is used as a paper-recycling center. This particular area of Staten Island is sparsely populated and remotely located. Because of this there is a mandatory dispatch policy of 3+2 on the box.

Within 32 minutes there was a 3rd alarm assignment responding to the box. Once again Brooklyn units screamed over the Verrazano Bridge to refill the vacant firehouses. Fire was into a 500-foot square area of baled paper, stacked 50 feet high. (The equivalent of a 5 story building half a city block long.)

It wasn't long before a 4th alarm and numerous special calls for trucks were transmitted. Many of those relocated Brooklyn units responded on the 4th alarm. As more and more units from Brooklyn were called upon to relocate to the island, Brooklyn had to pull units from Manhattan and Queens to fill up it's emptying firehouses.

Manhattan and Queens units eventually operated at the rapidly burning mound of paper. Plumes of smoke and flaming embers rose high into the air and could be seen for miles. Some of the embers made their way across the Arthur Kill waterway and set fire to a pier in Carteret New Jersey.

While the 4th alarm was still burning freely, another brush fire in the Todt Hill section went to 3 alarms beginning at 1313 hours. The area of brush is located at Brielle & Bradley Avenues on the northern perimeter of Seaview Hospital's property. More units are coming over the bridge.

To put it into perspective: Staten Island's normal compliment of companies is 17 engines, 12 ladders, and 3 battalions. With the 3rd & 4th alarm ongoing simultaneously, 28 engines, 14 ladders and 8 battalions were operating. Most of them were from Brooklyn.

With Brooklyn's availability appreciably decreased, it was time for Murphy's Law to kick in. The vessel Torm Brigette is a 550-foot cargo ship. It was docked at the Port of New York Authority pier 7 in the Gowanus Bay. At 1317 hours a fire was reported onboard.

When fire fighters arrived they discovered fire in 3 cargo holds; each filled with cocoa beans. This fire was labor-intensive. As units flooded the holds trying to extinguish the fire, the de-watering unit was trying to sump the hold so the ship's crew could move the cargo around to assist in overhauling.

Rescue 2 made full use of their thermal-imaging camera through the night to find hidden hot spots. The fire didn't go under control until 0138 hours the next morning.

The Flatbush section of Brooklyn was next with an all-hands fire at 261 Westminster Road. Fire was in the front wall of the 3-story frame 20x60 private dwelling.

Yet another blow to Staten Island's availability occurred at 1656 hours when a brush fire broke out at 43 Cherrywood Court in the Great Kills section. The fire extended to the dwelling at this address but was declared under control 35 minutes later.

At 1800 hours the night tour went on duty (That is assuming the apparatus had made it back to quarters.) and the day tour units started licking their wounds. Slowly, units were making headway on the Staten Island 4th and Brooklyn boat fire. The Devil had been tamed. But hell hath no fury like a Red Devil scorned.

I arrived at the Manhattan C.O. around 1810 hours to relieve the day tour supervisor early. (Our tours begin at 1900.) We were discussing the day's events when engine 22 broke the calm, "Engine 22 to Manhattan: 10-84 (arrival) box 1126, transmit a 2nd alarm!"

At 1821 hours fire was reported in a 5 story brick 150x50 multiple dwelling at 1046 Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. Engine 22 gave us that startling announcement 4 minutes later. My day tour counterpart walked to the fire building and later described the scene.

The fire was on the top 2 floors and spread to the top floor and roof of exposure 3 (exposure to the rear). The 3rd alarm was transmitted at 1835 hours, the 4th at 1845. All of a sudden I had a major coverage problem.

With nary a unit available from 59th Street to 125th Street an apparatus staging area was set up at the quarters of engine 53 on 3rd Avenue & 103 Street. Somehow, Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn managed to scrap together some units to send to me. We told the responding units to rendezvous at engine 53 while we decided to where they should relocate. We held some in reserve just in case the IC wanted a 5th alarm.

At 1938 hours the fire was "probably will hold" and our coverage was starting to shape up. We had units scattered all over the city. Brooklyn units operating in and relocated into Staten Island. Manhattan units relocated to Brooklyn, then operating on Staten Island. Queens units relocated to Brooklyn. Bronx units relocated to Queens then operated in Manhattan. Many of them still had day tour members on board.

By 2300 hours the last relocator left the borough and things were getting back to some semblance of normal. I'm glad, however, that I don't have to pay the overtime bill.