MFD Fights Fire at Fairhaven Garden Apartments (2004)

By 2nd Asst. Chief Scott Holliday

As the month of January was winding down the men and women of the Mineola Fire Department were once again springing into action and earning their nickname of, "Mineola's Bravest."

On the night of Saturday, Jan. 21 at 11:31 p.m., a call was received by Nassau County Fire Communications, FireCom, reporting a building fire at 400 Old Country Road in the Fairhaven Garden Apartments.

As Chief of Department Scott P. Strauss responded to the assignment, FireCom alerted him and the first due engine that they were receiving multiple calls reporting this fire.

As Chief Strauss pulled up, tenants were frantically waving him into the complex on Laurel Drive as dark, acrid smoke billowed from multiple points in the roof. Chief Strauss immediately confirmed smoke showing and a signal 10 was transmitted moments later. A signal 10 is the Nassau County fire service signal for a working fire and automatically brings assistance from the Mineola Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Garden City Park Fire Department to the scene.

Because of the immense volume of smoke and the complicated layout of the garden apartment building there was difficulty in finding the exact apartment that was on fire. Residents had unknowingly directed the Chief onto the wrong street as the entrance to the burning apartment was off of a courtyard on Russell Drive. Chief Strauss ordered Engine Company Three to enter the complex on Russell Drive and hook-up to a hydrant and prepare to go to work. Faced with multiple entrances and heavy smoke coming from various parts of the building an extensive search was initiated to find the actual fire apartment.

Fire was discovered blowing out a back window in a dead end courtyard and was impinging on the roof of the structure and the surrounding apartments. A hose line was ordered stretched to that position to protect the adjacent apartments and to try and stop the spread of the raging fire to the roof of the building.

Captain George Rowe, Lieutenant Michael Freitas and Firefighter Jeff Belickis from Engine Company 3 stretched a line into the courtyard and knocked down the flames from the outside as they attempted to spread throughout the building. Assistant Chief Scott Holliday arrived and prepared to evacuate tenants from their apartments as the search for the entrance to the fire apartment continued. During his search, Assistant Chief Holliday discovered the door to one of the apartments was hot to the touch and upon further examination determined that he had found the apartment where the fire raged on the other side of the door.

By this time other resources had arrived from Truck Company Two and Engine Company One and a full-scale attack was being mounted to confine and extinguish the fire and prevent the loss of the entire building. Assistant Chief Holliday had received reports from fleeing residents that there still may be a resident inside the fire apartment.

Calling for forcible entry assistance from Truck Two he attempted to gain entry into the locked apartment. Chief Strauss ordered Engine One to stretch a hose line into the building for an interior attack on the fire. With the possibility of a victim trapped inside, Assistant Chief Holliday broke through the apartment door and forced his way inside.

The search and rescue team of ex-Captain Rob Connolly, Firefighter Wil McGuire and Firefighter Brian Saks then joined him to search for victims. Ex-Captain Chris Franz entered the fire apartment off a ladder that was placed to a window and began to search the bedroom. All searches were conducted with the fire still not under control. Windows had to be broken to allow the heat and smoke to lift out of the apartment. Fortunately no victims were found inside.

The tenant had left the apartment earlier in the evening. There was a coordinated effort between Truck Two members ex-Captain Martin Dawber along with Firefighters Scott Brennan and Arthur Egner cutting ventilation holes in the roof to allow fire, heat and smoke to escape and Engine One Firefighters Paulo Martins, Agostinho Gomes and Ken Cotroneo advancing an interior hose line to finally extinguish the fire. It was discovered later is that fire had made its way up in the cockloft of the building. This is the space above the ceilings of the apartments and below the roof. The rafters, ridge beam and plywood sheathing of the roof were heavily charred indicating they had been exposed to intense heat and fire over an extended period of time.

The quick response, the coordinated team effort and the training and experience of the chiefs, officers and members of the Mineola Fire Department succeeded in containing the fire damage to the apartment of origin. Several other apartments sustained smoke and water damage but the entire building was saved from this conflagration. The Nassau County Fire Marshal's Office was called for routine investigation and the cause and origin of this fire is undetermined at this time. All Mineola Fire Department units were returned to quarters and in-service by 2 a.m.

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