Friday, April 26, 2019

Springs firefighters had to overcome big obstacles at lumberyard fire

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 4:28 PM

click to enlarge Firefighters at the scene of the April 13 blaze. - COURTESY CSFD
  • Courtesy CSFD
  • Firefighters at the scene of the April 13 blaze.
When Colorado Springs firefighters rolled up to Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber Company, 4005 Interpark Drive, on April 13, they faced several obstacles before they could battle the fire.

First, the security gate was locked; then they encountered several unusable hydrants, including privately owned hydrants, meaning Colorado Springs Utilities, which maintains the city's hydrants, isn't responsible.

But in the end, firefighters made lemonade out of lemons by relying on some backup methods designed to handle difficult circumstances, Colorado Springs Fire Department public information officer Brian Vaughan says via email.

They've also since talked with officials at Foxworth-Galbraith, who are cooperating to fix the problems. As Foxworth-Galbraith manager Hugo Montez tells the Indy, "All their concerns have been addressed already."

Here's an account of what happened, as provided by Vaughan.

About 3:25 a.m., firefighters responded to an alarm at the lumberyard with an engine company. When they arrived, they found a padlock of the security gate and no Knox box (which contains keys) or other way to enter without damaging the chain and lock.

Firefighters forcibly entered by using tools to break the lock, shortly after which the engine company declared a working structure fire. That signals a need for more equipment, including engines, trucks, hazmat and rescue vehicles.

Firefighters then found signs of fire in several places inside and outside the 12,000-square-foot metal building.

"The fire extended vertically in the wall until it hit the floor of the second level (platform framing) and began to move laterally across the room when the activation of two sprinklers halted the fire's advance on the interior," Vaughan reports. That, in turn, activated an exterior sprinkler.

When fire crews tried to find usable fire hydrants on site, which were private, the Engine 9 crew found threads of the five-inch connector were either damaged or filled with debris, "making the connection laborious and time-consuming," Vaughan says. They then tried a three-inch connection, which was achieved, but water delivery was diminished due to the smaller lines.
A city hydrant near the front gate was found "dead," as Vaughan calls it, meaning firefighters couldn't access water.

In another case, manufactured trusses blocked access to another private hydrant, "making its use impossible with large diameter hose unless chainsaws were used to cut away the stacks of trusses."

Meantime, firefighters entered the building with the smaller lines and hand tools and put out the fire.

Vaughan explains the CSFD always prepares for the worst case, leading them to connect to multiple hydrants on every active fire scene. Had the lumber company fire exploded into a large blaze, firefighters would have been stymied by having to move the trusses to access the hydrant.

"Command called for a second alarm during the incident while the search for working fire hydrants was becoming increasingly difficult and due to the size and type of structure," he says. "However, due to the sprinkler activation and the small amount of active fire left to fight, the second alarm companies remained in staging."

Vaughan called the sprinkler system "a success story," noting that the building could have been a total loss without it.

No injuries resulted to civilians or the 48 firefighters on scene.

Colorado Springs Utilities spokesperson Steve Berry tells the Indy eight private hydrants and six Utilities-owned and -maintained hydrants dot the vicinity of the lumber company. Utilities inspected the city hydrants at intervals according to Utilities policy. But when Utilities workers inspected the malfunctioning hydrant after the fire, they found a blockage at the valve and removed it.

Utilities oversees 16,000 hydrants across the city. Of those, officials consider about 2,200 to be "critical" due to their locations, mandating inspection every two years. Inspectors check on the non-critical hydrants every five years. Officials base the designation of critical on population density, access, spacing and pressure requirements, among other things.

Utilities notes that individuals and contractors use hydrants. "If someone uses the wrong tools to activate a hydrant, the risk for damage is high," Berry says. "With so many hydrants and so many potential sources for damage, a hydrant can be inspected one week and fail the next. We cannot offer the community a 100% guarantee that all 16,000 hydrants will work as expected every single time."
click to enlarge Hydrants are rated throughout the city as critical or not so critical, based on factors such as population density. This is one of three hydrants within a block of the Independent's downtown office. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Hydrants are rated throughout the city as critical or not so critical, based on factors such as population density. This is one of three hydrants within a block of the Independent's downtown office.
Vaughan says investigators later determined the fire ignited from "careless disposal of cigarettes."

The Fire Department is working with the Foxworth-Galbraith to assure hydrants aren't blocked by materials, he says. The company also will update the keys within their Knox Box to allow firefighters unrestricted access.

Asked about the situation that confronted firefighters, David Noblitt, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5, says in an email, "This would not be the first time that we found an issue with a public hydrant. We have been concerned with the hydrant situation for a long time and that CSU [Springs Utilities] seems to not be keeping pace with the service work necessary to maintain dependable water supplies."

He added the Fire Department employs "redundant strategies" precisely for that reason, and said the fire marshal tries to assure private hydrants get checked every five years but "sometimes it just doesn't happen."

Here are some redundancies used by the Fire Department, according to Vaughan:
• Each fire engine carries 1500 feet of 3 inch supply line specifically to overcome such obstacles where the fire company has to access the next nearest hydrant in-line to supply a fire engine at the scene of a fire.
• CSFD fire engines carry 500 gallons of water on board. Five hundred gallons buys time for life safety when there is a delay in obtaining a fixed water supply.
• The CSFD has 22 fire engines in service each day.
• In the most extreme cases, the CSFD apparatus known as the “Hose Wagon” carries 5,000 feet of large diameter hose (LDH) and may be summoned to create water delivery conduit.
• The experienced fire officer on the scene was able to “read” the smoke and knew (by the color, speed, and pressure) that the sprinkler had extinguished the overwhelming majority of the fire prior to arrival. He initiated preparation for “Plan B” in case there were to be a failure of the sprinkler system and firefighters had been faced with fighting a lumber fire inside the structure.

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