Hardware Store Explosion Claims the Lives of Three Career Fire Fighters - New York

Report Date: February 2003

On June 17, 2001, three firefighters lost their lives when an explosion occurred while fighting a fire in a mixed-use building. The building housed a hardware store on the first floor, storage for the store in the basement, and apartments and an office on the second floor. Firefighters arrived on scene with a fire in the basement of the hardware store. Light smoke was encountered in the building, but entry into the hardware store was delayed due to the security doors. While crews were preparing hose lines inside the building, other crews were forcing entry and venting basement windows. An explosion occurred, causing significant damage and collapse to the floors and walls of the structure. Two interior firefighters were knocked from the first floor into the basement and three exterior firefighters were trapped under a collapsed wall. Two of the exterior firefighters succumbed to traumatic injuries and one of the interior succumbed to thermal injuries as a result of the explosion. This NIOSH report details the events of the incident, discusses fire behavior phenomena, and provides recommendations based on the investigation. The investigation determined that the fire was started by a flammable liquid accidentally spilled outside of the basement door to the hardware store. The fire burned in a closed, ventilation controlled environment in the presence of a large amount of flammable liquids in the storage area. When venting occurred through door forcible entry and window ventilation, the added oxygen combined with the available liquid fuels and heat from the fire to cause the explosion that moved through the building.

At the request of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory performed a physics-based investigation of this incident to better understand the fire dynamics. As part of the investigation, NIST performed computer simulations of the event using their Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) and created a visualization of the event using their Smokeview software. The results can be found in the NIST report.

These investigations should be used to learn from tragedy in an effort to avoid similar losses in the future.


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  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

    Each year an average of 100 firefighters in the United States die in the line of duty. To address this continuing national occupational fatality problem, NIOSH conducts independent investigations of firefighter line of duty deaths. This web page provides access to NIOSH investigation reports and other fire fighter safety resources.

  • National Institute of Standards and Technology

    The NIST Fire Research Division develops, verifies, and utilizes measurements and predictive methods to quantify the behavior of fire and means to reduce the impact of fire on people, property, and the environment. This work involves integration of laboratory measurements, verified methods of prediction, and large-scale fire experiments to demonstrate the use and value of the research products.

    Through its programs in measurement, prediction, systems integration, and the dynamics of fire and its interactions with the built and natural environment, the division provides leadership for advancing the theory and practice of fire safety engineering, fire fighting, fire investigation, fire testing, fire data management, and intentional burning.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Hardware Store Explosion Claims the Lives of Three Career Fire Fighters - New York. Cincinnati, OH: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH Report #F2001-23, 2003. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/pdfs/face201402.pdf. 

Bryner, Nelson and Stephen Kerber. Simulation of the Dynamics of a Fire in the Basement of a Hardware Store – New York, June 17, 2001. Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute for Standards and Technology, NISTIR 7137, 2004. Retrieved from: http://fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/fire06/PDF/f06006.pdf.

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