Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
The March 7 fire at Salisbury Millwork required 1.2 million gallons of water ó about 20 percent of a normal day’s total consumption ó but officials with Salisbury-Rowan Utilities said Wednesday water supply and pressure to the area were adequate from their end.
Several times that day, firefighters raised concerns about not having water or needing more pressure.
Salisbury-Rowan Utilities met Wednesday morning with a team from the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH).
The visiting team reviewed documents showing the hydrants, water lines and water tanks in the area near Salisbury Millwork.
They looked at how water levels changed in the city’s four primary storage tanks during the fire.
They also examined models, put together by SRU’s Jeff Jones, showing what water flow and pressure were available to the area.
The NIOSH team visited other departments and agencies during the day.
NIOSH’s Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths and offers recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries.
According to the NIOSH Web site, the program “does not seek to determine fault or place blame on fire departments or individual firefighters, but to learn from these tragic events and prevent future similar events.”
Salisbury firefighters Justin Monroe and Victor Isler died in the March 7 fire, and their captain, Rick Barkley, suffered first- and second-degree burns. Barkley is now recovering at home.
Three Locke Fire Department members, part of a Rapid Intervention Team sent in to rescue the firemen, were treated March 7 for their injuries and released.
Investigators said last week arson was not involved in the Salisbury Millwork fire, which started above a drop ceiling in the office basement.
Recordings of fire channel communications the morning of March 7 reveal that, a minute after a 9:06 a.m. mayday call went out, a firefighter located the hose Isler, Monroe and Barkley had been on and reported over his radio, “I’m on the hoseline, but the hoseline’s gone dead.”
At 9:33 a.m., Salisbury Command said, “Rowan, notify the Water Department and advise them we need to boost the water pressure within the Martin Luther King, South Main area.”
At 10:10 a.m., another request went out from firefighters on the site for more pressure.
But Salisbury-Rowan Utilities answered it was providing all the water and pressure it could.
Officials with the utility said the same thing Wednesday.
When the firefighters asked for more pressure, it wasn’t something the utility could deliver.
“They’re not going to get more,” Jones explained, “but we operate the system so they won’t get less.”
The SRU officials also emphasized they cannot speak to how the various fire departments functioned on the site ó how they operated their engines, set the nozzles on their hoses, dealt with equipment failures and other things ó and how it all could have factored into decreased pressure or water supply.
A hose’s bursting or being burned through could lead to the loss of water and pressure elsewhere, for example.
Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell stressed Tuesday that the radio communications offer “only a glimpse into the many conversations which took place on site.”
“For example, in the on-site command post,” Parnell said Tuesday, “there were many officers and their face-to-face planning, orders and tactical communications were not over the radio and therefore not recorded.”
Parnell could not be reached Wednesday.
City Manager David Treme has asked Parnell to assemble a group of outside fire service experts to review how things were handled that day. Parnell expressed confidence last Friday that his firefighters, including the two fallen men, “did exactly what they were supposed to do.”
The Fire Department’s “Quick Access Pre-Fire Plan” for Salisbury Millwork noted that if the structure were ever 100 percent involved, the fire would require a water flow of 11,250 gallons a minute.
Jones’ hydraulic model of the water system in that area shows that a water flow of 11,100 gallons to 12,800 gallons per minute was available from the hydrants in that area.
The average water pressure, measured in pounds per square inch, ranged from 60 psi to 75 psi that day, Jones said. Salisbury Millwork is in a main pressure zone, having the full capacity of the water plant available to it.
The city is required to provide the industry standard of least 20 psi for emergency conditions.
A psi of 20, for example, would have provided a water flow of 4,300 gallons a minute to the fire site.
Salisbury Millwork was in an area that benefits from the proximity of the Fulton Street storage tank.
Jones calculated Wednesday that at the worst March 7, the Salisbury Millwork hydrants lost almost 6 psi of pressure, judging from the loss of elevation in the 250,000-gallon Fulton Street tank.
At 7 a.m. March 7, when the first firefighters were leaving the station, the Fulton Street tank was close to full at 22.34 feet. By the hour, the tank’s elevation dropped.
At 8 a.m., it was 20.57 feet; at 9 a.m., 16.08 feet; at 10 a.m., 14.16 feet; at 11 a.m., 11.11 feet; and at noon, 9.84 feet – the lowest it would be all day.
Jones said a drop of 2.3 feet in the level of the tank corresponds to a loss of 1 psi.
The loss of 5.8 psi in the area was not dramatic, he added.
Meanwhile, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities shifted its pumping at the water treatment plant from 6 million gallons a day to 12 million gallons a day and tried to keep elevated storage levels elsewhere where they should be.
Reasons the utility officials think the water pressure and supply remained fairly constant to the fire was that the water plant operators saw no warning signals, plus the utility had no calls from residences or businesses in the area who were having problems.
The city’s water usage in the days leading up to March 7 were 5.7 million gallons, 6.6 million, 5.6 million, 6.4 million and 6.2 million.
On the day of the fire, water consumption rose to 7.4 million gallons, and utility officials feel confident the jump can be attributed to the fire.
The Salisbury Millwork site was ringed by 10 fire hydrants, not counting hydrants used on South Main Street during the fire.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or