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St. George Hotel Fire Report
1995

THE FIRE

The weather was warm in New York City in the early morning hours of August 26, 1995 and many of the occupants of the St. George Hotel and the surrounding buildings had their windows open for ventilation. Sometime close to 3:00 a.m. several occupants called down to the hotel desk to report a smell of smoke. The phones in the rooms did not have the capability to call outside the hotel itself. The hotel staff noted that the alarm system for the building was not indicating a problem so they did not call the fire department.

At 3:31 a.m. the FDNY Brooklyn Communications Center received a call reporting smoke in the area of the St. George Hotel on Henry Street. A first alarm response consisting of three engines, two trucks and a Battalion Chief was dispatched and were on the scene by 3:36 a.m. Upon entering they were told there was no problem in the hotel and that the fire alarm control panel showed no activation. The Battalion Chief (BC 31) asked the dispatcher to call back the person reporting the smoke to get a better location. The dispatcher’s call was answered by an answering machine, so no additional information was available.

The units on the scene followed their Standard Operating Procedures, which included sending the “roofman” of the first due-in truck company to the roof. Once there he was able to see the glow of the fire, which was several buildings down the block. At about the same time a civilian reported light smoke visible above the buildings around the corner, on Clark Street, to the crews standing by. At 3:44 a.m. the Battalion Chief, BC-31, transmitted a radio report to confirm the presence of a fire. An additional Battalion Chief (BC-35) a fourth engine company and a squad company were dispatched.

The crews on the scene repositioned their apparatus on Clark Street and investigated further, but the extent of the fire was not obvious from street level because of the narrow streets and the fire’s location in the upper floors at the rear of the ten-story building. Entry was made to the ground floor of the building through a boarded-up doorway. The crews were familiar with the general building layout from past incidents and pre fire plans but had trouble gaining access to the stairway because of trash piled up in front of the stairway opening.

At 3:45 a.m. BC-31 transmitted an “all hands” signal which prompted dispatchers to assign a Deputy Chief, (DC-6), a rescue squad and a third truck company. A second alarm and a special call for an additional tower ladder were transmitted about five minutes later by BC-31 as the fire was growing in intensity and spreading rapidly. The Field Communications Unit and Maxi-Water system respond automatically on a second alarm, along with four engine companies and one truck company. The Citywide Tour Commander also responded on the second alarm.

The two first alarm truck companies performed a primary search of the fire building. After making their way up the stairs to the eighth floor, the engine companies connected 2-1/2 inch hand lines to the standpipe and the order was given to charge the system. However, the standpipe had apparently been scavenged and sections of the pipe were missing. The 2-1/2 inch hand lines were then lowered out the windows, hooked up to an engine in front of the building and charged. At this point the command post was in the street in front of the building. BC-31 was Incident Commander.

The interior fire attack had to be terminated after a very short time when it was determined that the fire was spreading down to the lower floors via the elevator shaft and other openings in the floors. BC-35 gave the order to remove the attack crews from the interior of the building. The fire was spreading so rapidly that the standpipe packs were abandoned.

At this time Tower Ladder 119 was setting up in front of the building in anticipation of an exterior attack on the fire. TL-119 was ordered not to begin operating until all the members who had been working inside the Clark Building were outside. As the last of the firefighters were leaving the fire building, the fire dropped all the way down to the street level and flames were visible on all ten floors. There was heavy involvement of the eighth and ninth floors. The firefighters in TL-119’s basket were experiencing extreme radiant heat as they waited for the order to open up their master stream.

At 4:06 the first arriving Deputy Chief, DC-6, ordered a third alarm and assumed incident command. As the fire was beginning to spread to exposure 4,
the Marquee Building. The third alarm brought in four engines, 2 trucks, the Air Mask Maintenance Unit and a Medical Command Unit.

The fire quickly began to produce a huge volume of fire brands. Residents used garden hoses to protect their roofs as the brands landed on nearby structures. Brands floated through open windows into the taller adjacent buildings and ignited fires in apartments. The fire department hose lines on Clark Street had to be washed down for protection.

The Incident Commander assigned BC-35 to Exposure 4 to stop the fire from spreading through the Marquee Building to the attached buildings on the east side. A primary search was performed in the Marquee Building, but due to its poor structural condition crews were instructed to attack that portion of the fire from the next building to the east, the Weller Building (exposure 4A). In essence the vacant Marquee Building was used as a buffer to protect the buildings to the east.

As the additional companies from the “all hands” signal arrived they were assigned to the building with the greatest apparent life hazard, the Tower building. Some of the apartment windows in this building were less than thirty feet from the fully involved upper floors of the Clark Building. The standpipes in the Grill and the Tower buildings were charged while companies began the task of searching and evacuating the residents of the 31-story building. Many of the residents had been awakened by the noise of the incoming apparatus or the light of the flames and were self-evacuating.

An additional Deputy Chief was requested to take charge of Exposure 3, the areas to the rear of the fire building on Pineapple Street. Several additional Battalion Chiefs were special called, as the need for more supervisory personnel became critical.

The Citywide Tour Commander FC 1 requested a fourth alarm at 4:11 a.m. while he was still enroute. From the Brooklyn Bridge he had an excellent vantage point to size up the volume of fire and the obvious exposure challenges. By this time the interior portions of the upper floors of the Clark Building were beginning to collapse, adding to the storm of fire brands.

When FC-1 arrived on the scene at 4:18 a.m., he immediately called for a fifth alarm. The interior of the original fire building was well involved and the fire had spread to the upper floors of Exposure 4. A collapse zone was quickly established in front of the Clark and Marquee Buildings. The two tower ladders that had been set up in front of the buildings and the command post were repositioned out of the collapse zone. Battalion Chiefs were assigned to secure the collapse zone.

Directly across the street from the fire building at 52 Clark Street was Exposure 1, another high rise building in which many older and handicapped people lived. The only exit from this building was onto Clark Street directly across the street from the fire building. Evacuation would require the 450 residents to walk within 40 feet of the front wall of the ten-story fire building. With the risk of collapse and the intense radiant heat

the decision was made to keep these residents in their building, but to move them to the rear apartments as far as possible from the danger and protect them in place. This was accomplished with the help of the Police Department.

By this time the Incident Command System was well established. The Command Post was positioned on Clark Street east of the fire building. FC-1 was the Incident Commander, the first-in Deputy Chief DC-6 was the Operations Chief, and Deputy Chief DC-1 was in position on Pineapple Street to cover Exposure 3. Battalion Chiefs were assigned to both ends of the collapse zone to keep the danger area clear and to direct the tactical operations in their sector. Exposure 4 was a vacant building that was becoming involved in fire but was acting as a buffer for the occupied structures to the west. Exposures 1, 2 and 3, which were all occupied structures and significantly taller that the fire building, were all critical exposures.

GREATER ALARMS


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