The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fire at Plainfield campus of Union County College


Plainfield aerial ladder was suspended over the smoking Student Center
as firefighters worked on the roof.
A multi-alarm fire broke out at Union County College's Plainfield campus late Saturday night.

Coming home from the Plainfield Symphony Gala celebrating the opening of its 92nd season, I decided to drop by the first night of the Latin American Independence Fiesta and see what the crowds were like.

Somewhat after ten I heard fire engines going east on Second Street.

Leaving the parking lot off Watchung Avenue, I noticed a police car blocking East Second Street by the Post Office. Looking down the block I could see it filled with fire equipment between Church Street and Roosevelt Avenue but no sign of a fire.

I made my way around to Front and Roosevelt and was able to park near Second Street and view the scene on foot.

Smoke was pouring out of the roof of the Student Center and pumpers were hooked to the hydrant beside the laundromat on the corner.



Aerial view from Google Maps shows difficult location of fire.

Reaching the fire was made difficult because the area from which the smoke was pouring was not near the Second Street side of the college complex and the gates to the parking lot off Church Street were locked leaving the lot inaccessible.

Plainfield's ladder truck had positioned itself alongside the laundromat on Roosevelt Avenue and was fully extended to spray water down on the smoking roof where several firefighters were chopping at the roof with their axes.

North Plainfield's ladder truck soon arrived as did the ladder truck from Clark somewhat later.

By this time the police were blocking all the street crossings in the area and I decided to head home.


As I did, I recalled Deputy Chief Broderick Fleming's presentation to the Council at its recent agenda session on the need for the so-called Knox boxes -- an electronically controlled lockbox which makes it possible for firefighters to gain access to a property without doing damage to get in (see website here).

Would the lockboxes have helped in this situation? I can't help but think they would have, though I'm not sure they are workable with the parking lot gates.

The Council's support for the idea is certainly timely, given this unfortunate incident.


-- Dan Damon [follow]


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3 comments:

Bob said...

I wonder why the Fire Department hasn't demanded keys to the college parking lots and why the college didn't insist on this. This was not a smart move on either part. How many places are locked that our fire department needs to get to in an emergency. Maybe this needs to be looked into for the safety of the public and our bravest.

Bob Bolmer

GMH said...

Your assumptions are flawed Bob. There are keys to the facility in a knox box located on Church st. The FD has no problem gaining access to locked gates or doors,with or without keys. Having keys is helpful, but conditions and resources upon arrival often dictate actions and strategy. One major concern is being close enough to water/hydrants, and getting hoselines in place as quickly as possible. There are no hydrants inside the parking lot of the facility, therefore it would have taken more time to get apparatus in place and water to the engines and trucks from hydrants out on the street. Portable ladders were the best option to get to the roof. The Truck was easily setup on Roosevelt Ave near the laundromat. If water was needed for the truck, a hydrant was close by where an engine could feed that truck. It would have taken longer to get water to a truck deep into the UC parking lot. Meanwhile the quickest access to the Student Center was through a gate leading into the courtyard which allowed the FD to get to the door to the cafeteria and then into the kitchen. As a result, the main fire was put out relatively quickly. The concern after that was possible extension into the ceiling and the massive amount of smoke and heat that needed to be vented. After this explanation I hope you dont continue to think that keys to this facility was any key factor for the FD to gain access to the facility? Bear in mind, the fire had already had significant headway before the FD arrived. All in all, the majority of the bldg was saved due to an aggressive attack of dedicated personnel. And to top it all off, nobody got hurt, and they all went home.

GMH said...

To whom it may concern......where did you get your information from that the college did not make keys available to the FD or that the FD hadnt sought to have keys available? FYI, the college does have a knox box located on the main building next to the parking lot on Church st.

The point is......entering through the parking lot may not have been the best strategic location for fire apparatus at the time they were determining the exact location of where the smoke & fire originated from. It ended up being easier going through the courtyard by forcing a gate on the 2nd st side. Critical seconds may have been lost trying to secure the keys to the knox box to open the door to the cafeteria. Very often the FD attempts to secure keys from a knox box only to find they may not have the right key for a specific area. Meanwhile the fire is getting worse.

Having keys available is important. But determining the best place to deploy hoselines and getting a water supply is also important. As it turns out, there are no fire hydrants inside the parking lot of the college.

But there are 2 hydrants on the corners of 2nd and 3rd st of Roosevelt Ave which were close enough to supply water to the fire engine on 2nd st. the Truck setup next to the laundry.....and the hoselays would be relatively short.

Knox box keys are helpful for gaining entry, with the hopes of minimizing damage, but they cannot be exclusively relied on by emergency units who have to take quick action in gaining access and taking consideration the time it takes to lay out hose from the street hydrant deeply into a parking lot.