Historic Friends School Heavily Damaged
by: Lou Angeli
Wilmington, DE (April 17, 2012) -- A major fire at one of America's oldest schools destroyed an auditorium and damaged other sections of the historic facility. There were no serious injuries but the windswept 3 alarm fire caused damages in excess of $1 million.
Talleyville Fire Company (Station 25) was dispatched for an alarm sounding responding with Quint 257. Back at the school teachers and maintenance staff found that there was indeed a fire, calling 9-1-1 with the additional information. New Castle County Fireboard upgraded the call to a full Box Alarm assignment as well as adding a RIT Team and ALS units.
On arrival, Quint 257 found heavy smoke rolling from the roof of the 4 story brick auditorium, part of a complex of connected structures. Talleyville firefighters made their way into the building with a hoseline searching for the source of the blaze. Outside, the aerial ladder was raised quickly in order to give firefighters access to the roof to cut vent holes. Using K12, chainsaws and hand tools, the roof team was unable to cut through slate and copper roofing material.
"The heat was tremendous," one firefighter said. "I thought my boots were melting."
The 3-man team was ordered off the roof and not one second too soon. Once they had reached the aerial, heavy smoke and flame vented through the roof at the position where they had been standing just moments before.
Arrival conditions: Quint 257 and Engine 253
Talleyville Chief Tom Looney immediately radioed for a 2nd alarm, which included companies from Pennsylvania and the Wilmington Fire Department, Delaware's only career fire-rescue agency. New Castle County EMS responded to provide ALS coverage for fire-rescue personnel.
As first alarm companies continued to arrive, ladder trucks and towers were positioned at sides A, B and D. Elsmere Ladder-16, Claymont Ladder 13 and Wilmington Ladder-1 joined Quint 257 setting up along the A side while each was fitted with a water supply line in the event that the fire attack became defensive. Tower-11 was assigned to the D side with Ladder-18 covering the B-C side. A collapse sector was established as a precaution.
A firefighter climbs Ladder 13's aerial early in the firefight.
The blaze was difficult to fight. Command was presented with a windowless, brick building with a roof which had been covered with copper and topped of with slate shingles. Inside, non-trussed, thick wooden beams hung high above the audience area making access difficult and providing the fire with plenty of fuel. Winds were gusting to 40mph blowing smoke over North Wilmington and into New Jersey. The roof began to burn with a vengeance.
With collapse eminent, Chief Looney ordered the evacuation of interior personnel and requested a 3rd alarm. The operation evolved into an aggressive exterior attack using elevated master streams from the pre-positioned ladder apparatus.
Engine 165 laid 5" supply line to feed Ladder-16
After nearly 3 hours, the fire was placed under control with many of the companies still working as they checked for hot spots and hidden fire. 2 firefighters were treated by New Castle County Paramedics, then transferred to nearby hospitals for examination. The Delaware State Fire Marshall's office is continuing their investigation.
(c)2012, Lou Angeli, All Rights Reserved