St. George Hotel Fire Report
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
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
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
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
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
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