St. George Hotel Fire
The summer of 1995 was marked by a severe drought in the
New York City metropolitan area. The lack of rainfall contributed
to the inordinate number of multiple alarm brush fires throughout
the city. On the eastern end of Long Island in Suffolk County,
fire fighters from almost every department on the island
were battling a wildfire in The Hamptons that burned for
On August 24, the FDNY sent 10 engines, 2 battalion chiefs,
and staff officers for mutual aide. On August 26, 5 additional
units were dispatched for relief. At 7:30 P.M. that night,
Suffolk County Fire Command notified the FDNY that our services
were no longer required, and that all units were en route
back to the city. This turned out to be a fortunate turn
of events. City fire fighters didn't know it yet, but they
were about to have one of the longest nights in recent history.
The St. George Hotel is a complex maze of 9 individual
buildings constructed between 1885 and 1933. In all they
occupy an entire city block that measures 200 x 400. With
it's spectacular view of lower Manhattan and salt water
swimming pool, it was THE place to stay in Brooklyn.
Changing times and economy took a toll on the complex.
Eight of the buildings were converted for residential use.
Of those 8 buildings, 2 had been vacated and remained vacant
for years. The Clarke Building, 10 stories 75 x 90, and
the Marquee Building, 12 stories 50 x 85, became home to
vagrants. Though the entrances to the buildings were boarded
up, the resourcefulness of the homeless prevailed. All 9
buildings were interconnected via the basement and they
made their way from the basement of the St. George; parts
of which were being used to house homeless people.
At 0331 hours of August 27, the Brooklyn central office
received a call reporting smoke in the area around the St.
George Hotel. The first arriving units checked in with hotel
personnel but they had no indications of a fire there. A
fire fighter on the roof of the hotel spotted fire in the
rear of a building down the block and the 10-75 was transmitted.
Ladders 118 and 110 forced entry to 51 Clark St (The Clarke
Building) and fire fighters carrying 2.5 inch roll-ups ascended
the stairs. They were met by heavy fire on the 9th floor
and hooked up to the standpipe on the 8th. That proved to
be in vain as the standpipe system was vandalized and useless.
Fire was spreading rapidly through holes in the floors
and open elevator shaft to the floors above, and laterally
through open doors to exposure 4 (The Marquee Building).
With conditions deteriorating quickly, a withdrawal was
ordered and an exterior attack began.
"Deteriorating quickly" is an understatement.
Within 47 minutes of the 1st alarm, the 5th alarm was transmitted
as fire completely filled The Clarke Building and the upper
floors of The Marquee Building. As the interior of The Clarke
Building collapsed, huge flaming embers driven by the high
heat rose above the 31 story Tower Building (111 Hicks St.)
The Tower Building is a fire-resistive type construction
measuring 172 x 150, irregularly shaped. The rear of the
building was directly exposed to the fire and heat emanating
from the Clarke Building. Seven apartments were on fire
Atop 60 Pineapple St. (The Pineapple Building) was a water
tank used to increase water pressure to upper floors of
high rise buildings. A combination of flying embers and
high heat caused this structure to ignite spontaneously.
Fearing that the tank would collapse, Rescue 3 and the Collapse
Unit were assigned.
Since the Clarke, Tower, and Pineapple Buildings front
on 3 different streets, 3 separate sub-commands were setup.
If you count only the engines, ladders, and battalion chiefs,
there were 110 pieces of apparatus at the fire scene. The
streets of Brooklyn Heights are very narrow and many units
had to park their apparatus blocks away from the fire building.
Giving instructions to the incoming units was the responsibility
of the radio dispatcher.
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