falls church volunteer fire department




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205 West Jefferson Street

The following is based on personal experiences, observations, interviews, opinions, and radio traffic: At approximately 12 noon on Sunday, July 1, 2001, Arlington ECC struck box 4603 for a report of smoke coming from a warehouse at 205 West Jefferson Street in the City of Falls Church. The initial assignment consisted of Engines 106, 108, 428, and 418, Truck 106, Rescue 418, Medic 106, Battalion 112, EMS 112, and FM 114. Engine 106 responded from the west end of Falls Church, therefore Engine 108 arrived as the first due Engine. Volunteer Captain 186 arrived on the scene prior to any apparatus and reported heavy smoke showing. Truck 106 positioned on side A (Jefferson Street) along with Engine 108. Engine 106 established a water supply from the hydrant located at the corner of Maple Avenue and Jefferson Street. Battalion 112 requested a second alarm as he approached the scene. During subsequent operations, a third alarm was requested, as well as several special calls for additional units. Units from Arlington County, Fairfax County, City of Alexandria, Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department, American Red Cross, and Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department all operated on the fireground. The structure involved was two-stories, brick non-combustible construction, with a bar joist metal deck built-up roof. It measured approximately 100 feet by 150 feet. Due to the grade of the lot, the business occupancies on the second floor faced the Maple Avenue side of the structure and exited at street level via side B. Sides A and D were two-stories in height with sides B and C showing only one-story. The number and nature of the commercial occupancies within the structure was not readily apparent until quite some time into the incident. Engine 108 initially stretched a handline to side D up an exterior stairway. Aggressive ventilation and forcible entry were ordered as Engine 108 and 106 progressed into the fire area. Shortly after making entry, conditions became untenable and fire began to show through the roof. Tremendous smoke conditions developed from sides A and D. Units were withdrawn and a defensive attack was initiated. During the height of the fire, four ladder pipes, two portable monitors, and one 2 ½” attack line were flowing water into the structure. Water supply became a major issue as incoming units were forced to complete long hose lays to acquire additional water. A Falls Church Police dispatcher who was listening to the radio traffic contacted the City of Falls Church pumping station and requested that pressure be boosted to the area of the fire. The exterior walls developed obvious cracks in the mortar on sides A, B, and D as the roof structure was warped by the heat of the fire. The presence of hazardous chemicals inside some of the occupancies was discovered and the Alexandria/Arlington Regional Hazardous Materials Team was summoned to the scene. Among the numerous businesses, the building housed significant quantities of silver potassium cyanide, copper potassium cyanide, acetone, acetylene, toner and related printing chemicals, lacquer thinners and oil based products, and propane. All personnel on the fireground were required to undergo gross decontamination of their turnout gear and SCBA prior to returning to quarters. All turnout gear, uniforms, and equipment were thoroughly cleaned upon return to quarters. The extreme weather conditions sent four firefighters to the hospital with heat related problems and two more with minor injuries. Six firefighters from Station 6 were relieved of duty for the rest of the tour and sent home to recuperate. A large portion of the roof structure collapsed during the incident and complicated overhaul efforts. Units remained on the scene for approximately 48 hours applying water via the waterway on the Reserve Tower from Arlington County. A crane service was contracted to remove sections of the roof to complete extinguishment. Fire investigators continued to find hotspots in the rubble for several days after the initial call. The Arlington Fire Marshal’s office requested the assistance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to determine the cause of the fire. The fire’s origin was not believed to be suspicious. The total dollar loss is expected to exceed $4 million. The Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department and Auxiliary provided a total of 13 personnel throughout the incident for a total contribution of approximately 94 man-hours. The Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department also had numerous members on the incident scene. The FCVFD Auxiliary’s Canteen Unit arrived on the scene within the first 45 minutes of the fire and remained on the scene for another 120 hours supporting the fire investigators and police officers. The Canteen Unit was staffed initially with Auxiliary members and then assisted by Red Cross volunteers in the days following the fire. The Reserve Engine was used to supply water for the overhaul operations for approximately 30 hours. Utility 106 provided electrical power and scene lighting during the early stages of overhaul. Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department Light and Air 103 remained on scene for approximately 96 hours supporting the investigation and overhaul. Lessons learned or reinforced: 1) A strong command presence and structure is required for major incidents. The incident commander made rapid assessments of the fire conditions and took positive actions to ensure firefighter safety. The use of sector officers in an incident of this scale is absolutely required to maintain a reasonable span of control. The establishment of rehabilitation, water supply, staging, and operations groups allow the incident commander to focus on the big picture and not sweat the details. The sector officers need to be readily identifiable to the units operating on the scene to make them effective. 2) A working accountability system must be in place from start to finish. It would be very easy on an incident such as this to lose track of entire companies. A single person should be assigned to do nothing but track units and their assignments. All unit officers need to maintain strict discipline with their crew members to ensure that freelancing does not begin. Defensive operations with an established collapse zone can become frustrating to eager firefighters. Officers should adhere to the standard operating procedures regarding passport drop-off points and establishment of command. 3) An outer perimeter to control the scene needs to be in place quickly. Civilians should not be allowed to mingle with the firefighters and apparatus. Deployment of police officers and barricade tape should become a priority as units are being positioned for master stream operations. Coordination with the police department should be accomplished by having a representative available at the fire department command post. In the case of the City of Falls Church, the police department is an excellent resource for building contact information and public utilities assistance. 4) Crews need to be monitored and relieved frequently when the weather is hot and humid. A rotation of crews should begin as a rehabilitation group is established. The use of a Metro bus as a place of refuge for crews was an excellent idea. It not only provides a cool place to sit down, but it also reduces the tendency of firefighters to wander away from the rehab area. 5) Identify the potential collapse zones and maintain an adequate perimeter. Besides the outward collapse of walls, be aware of windows and wall openings that could allow debris to fly from the interior of the building out into the operating areas of firefighters should the roof collapse. Watch the building for signs of impending collapse. This building displayed smoke pushing from cracks in the brick walls and early partial collapse of the roof. Strict enforcement of the collapse zone should be maintained. Additionally, personnel must not be permitted to enter the structure as master streams are operated in a defensive mode from the exterior. 6) Buildings with contents of special value or those with significant quantities of hazardous materials need to be preplanned whenever possible. Coordination between business licensing agencies and the fire department is essential to identify target hazards. Structures with multiple commercial and industrial occupants almost certainly contain peculiar and serious hazards for firefighters. 7) When multiple aerial devices are operating at an incident, placement and movement of the ladders and towers needs to be carefully coordinated. Tower platform operators must be especially cautious as they may not have a good view of the entire aerial device and water stream as the aerial is maneuvered from the platform. Aerial ladder operators have the advantage of standing at the turntable controls with a full view of the aerial device and master stream. Many thanks to the many people who assisted with the mitigation of this very large incident. From the heart of the fire belt... Pat Evinger Chief 186

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Station Address: 6950 Little Falls Road, Arlington, VA 22213
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 7014, Falls Church, VA 22040-7014
For Fire or Medical Emergency: 911 - FCVFD Phone: (571) 336-6179 - Fax: (703) 533-7203
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