Thursday, January 9, 2014

5-Alarm Blaze Engulfs Huge San Jose Warehouse

Photo By Craig Allyn Rose
As fires go, this was big!
San Jose firefighters were just wrapping up operations at a previous blaze on S. 17th Street, when reports came in that a warehouse was on fire near downtown. Located near the intersection of N. 28th Street and E. Julian Street, the first-arriving Truck Company quickly called a second and  third alarm -- all in the same radio transmission. That was a clue that this was going to be a long morning.
The fire was burning in a partially abandoned warehouse. Firefighters estimated that the building was approximately 80,000 to 100,000 square feet in size. By the time the first 3 alarms of equipment were on scene, the building was totally involved and threatening a row of nearby homes. In addition, there was an adjacent private school and other assorted warehouses, sheds, and small office buildings. To say that this provided a challenge would be an understatement.
Arriving with the first wave of firefighters was Fire Associates' Fire Support Unit 2. Don Gilbert was driving with John Whiteside as a passenger. Arriving with FSU-2 was John Whitaker in his personal vehicle. These FASCV members had been on scene of the earlier house fire 11 blocks away on S. 17th Street. Eventually, FASCV members on scene included: Don Gilbert, John Whiteside, John Whitaker, Dan Wong, George Hoyt, and Bob Gundrum.

Photo By John Whitaker
Once on scene, John Whiteside jumped out to scout out the area for a Rehab location. It was obvious that there was no immediate need for Rehab as every available firefighter on scene was actively involved with putting water on the blaze.
Rehab was eventually located adjacent to the Battalion 2 vehicle where chiefs were beginning to gather. The original IC site was located closer to the fire on Wooster Ave., but it was soon moved to the Battalion 2 location at the intersection of Wooster Ave. and E. Julian Street as the fire grew in size. Additionally, exploding propane tanks made the move to a site further away more prudent.
By the time the fire fight was at its peak, 5 alarms had been called and there were at least 6 aerial ladders pouring water on the structure. Reports on scene said that the warehouse was still partially occupied with roof tile, sheetrock and plumbing companies, as well as a hay barn, but a large portion was vacant. The operation was totally defensive from the start as the building was quickly collapsing into a burning pile of rubble. Fire apparatus and/or personnel joining the battle from other departments included the City of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Gilroy.
As Fire Associates members were waiting in the IC area for the first firefighters to arrive in Rehab, they began to look for other ways to contribute. As the chiefs were trying to get a handle on the layout of the fireground, using hand-drawn maps to try and describe the area, John Whitaker "called up" Google Maps on his iPhone and offered it to the IC. Using that resource, the fire operations officers were able to get a much better handle on the physical layout of the area.
Photo By John Whitaker
At about that same time, a light mist of rain began to fall, making the horizontal whiteboard table on the back of the Battalion vehicle almost useless. Water and ink on whiteboards gets to be pretty messy.  John asked the chiefs if the FASCV "E-Z Up" awning would be of help, and the quick reply was, "YES!" The awning was quickly erected and the whiteboard was back in service. It was well into the event before the SJFD Incident Command Van arrived on scene and was put into use.
Rehab operations were slow to start, but once it got going, pots of coffee, water, Gatorade and Clif Bars were flying off the shelf! With 5 alarms of firefighters on site, Rehab became a very busy place. A guesstimate of the number of pots of coffee brewed would be impossible! As lunch time rolled around, a SJFD courier arrived with bags and bags of Togo's sandwiches which were all served by Fire Associates to tired and hungry crews.
FSU-2 remained on scene until the last of the embers were extinguished. Rehab was broken down and FASCV members released at approximately 3:00 P.M.
-- Report submitted by John Whitaker