History Repeating Events: Waldbaum’s Fire FDNY August 2, 1978- SIX LODD

31th Anniversary of the Waldbaum’s Fire

The Waldbaum’s fire, Brooklyn, New York occurred on August 2, 1978. Six firefighters died when the roof of a burning Brooklyn supermarket collapsed, plunging 12 firefighters into the flames. The fire began in a hallway near the compressor room as crews were renovating the store, and quickly escalated to a fourth-alarm. Less than an hour after the fire was first reported, nearly 20 firefighters were on the roof when the central portion gave way.

Thirty-four firefighters, one emergency medical technician and one Emergency Services police officer were injured in the fire and the tragedy is remembered as one of the worst disasters in the New York City Fire Department’s 143-year history.

The FDNY members killed in the Waldbaum’s fire included:
• Lt. James E. Cutillo, Battalion 33;
• Firefighter Charles S. Bouton, Ladder Company 156;
• Firefighter Harold F. Hastings, Battalion 42;
• Firefighter James P. McManus, Ladder Company 153;
• Firefighter William O’Connor, Ladder Company 156; and
• Firefighter George S. Rice, Ladder Company 153.

The fire started at 8:40 am in Waldbaum’s supermarket, Ave. Y and Ocean Ave., Sheepshead Bay. Nearly 23 electricians, plumbers etc were renovating the building when the fire started in the mezzanine area. , All hands at 8:49 2nd at 9:02. Shortly after 9:20 with 20 firefighters on the roof a crackling sound was heard and the center portion of the roof fell into the smoke and flames. Some of the firefighters were seen running toward the edge of the roof, some made it, others nearby fell into the hole. At 9:18 3rd alarm sent in. Later it went to a 5th alarm.

Laborers and firefighters managed to pull out some who were near walls, some crawled out. Several holes were made into the wall to pull out injured survivors and victims.Two factors contributed to the collapse of this bowstring arch truss, a double roof (rain roof) alteration and the extent and severity of the fire.

This roof collapsed 32 minutes after the initial units arrived.


Fire Investigation: An Analysis of the Waldbaum Fire, Brooklyn, New York, August 3, 1978. Quintiere, J. G. NISTIR 6030; June 1997http://www.nfpa.org/itemDetail.asp?categoryID=442&itemID;=18676&;…

The lessons learned in the years following the Walbaum’s fire in 1978 and the subsequent Hackensack Ford Fire, NJ in 1988 focused on understanding building construction systems, occupancies and structural assemblies, in both of these cases the timber bowstring truss systems. Over the years the foundation of knowledge necessary to build competencies and knowledgeable firefighters, fire officers and commanders cognizant in the science and technology of building construction has waned and at time has been less than an area of focus.

Take the time to read and learn about the FDNY Walbaum’s fire, its History Repeating significance as a major fire service LODD event, the lessons learned from the Hackensack Ford Fire (July 2, 1988).Look at your buildings within your response areas and jurisdiction. Understand how they’re built and more importantly how they are affected by the exposure and impingement of fire and its byproducts. Understand key building performance indicators and appropriate strategic and tactical actions based upon building profiles, occupancies, fire loading, construction features and fire service resources.Take the time to honor the brave brother firefighters from FDNY who made the supreme sacrifice thirty years ago, and gave a legacy to learn from in this and in future fire service generations.


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