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Green Island Firefighters Battle Fully Involved Apartment Complex

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May 12, 2022 | NEW YORK JEFFREY BELSCHWINDER, Senior Correspondent
This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

GREEN ISLAND, NY - On May 12th at 11:54 A.M., the Rensselaer County and Albany County Emergency Communication Centers began receiving phone calls for a reported structure fire at the Rivers Edge Apartment Complex in Green Island, with multiple callers reporting a building to be fully involved.

Thick, heavy black smoke and fire poured into the sky and smoke could be seen from as far away as 15 miles from the scene. Heavy fire pushed into the sky from the apartment building as the Green Island, Watervliet and Watervliet Arsenal Fire Departments, along with Colonie EMS, were being dispatched to the scene.

The first arriving engine from Green Island immediately declared a Signal 30 and a second-alarm, bringing the City of Albany and City of Troy Fire Departments to the scene. Firefighters quickly deployed a hand line and went to work on attempting to slow the fire spread in the building. At the same time, one of the engine companies from the City of Troy FD was on their way back from a call when they notified the dispatcher that they had a heavy black column of smoke from their location and were beginning to head that way. The engine company told the dispatcher that the Green Island FD was striking the second-alarm and requested a full box to be transmitted, bringing Engines 4 and 6, and the chief to the scene.

Crews on scene notified the dispatcher that they had a heavy fire condition in a 50'x100' lightweight truss construction building with heavy fire spreading in the common attic and rear of the building. As police units on scene were racing to check and see if there were any residents in the building, the heavy fire load was creating a significant amount of radiant heat and the siding of multiple buildings around the main fire building began to bubble, melt and smoke.

The City of Watervliet, Troy, and the Watervliet Arsenal’s truck companies arrived on scene and set up a master stream operation on the backside of the apartment building behind the garage to allow for a protective barrier between the main fire building and the apparatus, as the significant amount of heat could have affected the apparatus. Firefighters deployed several two-and-a-half inch hand lines and began to conduct an aggressive defensive operation. All three truck companies made their way to the air as a significant water supply was established from the hydrants inside the apartment complex and out on the main roadway, and firefighters began opening up their master streams to knock down the heavy fire condition in the attic area.

Heavy black smoke quickly turned to gray as crews were beginning to get a handle on the fire, and firefighters continued to force entry into the first floor apartments of the building to conduct searches, which Command confirmed to be clear. Exterior firefighters broke windows out to knock down the heavy fire conditions in some of the apartments as the Albany County Sheriff's Department arrived on scene and deployed their drone to conduct surveillance from above. Additional EMS also arrived on scene as firefighters began to become fatigued from the extensive battle.

Crews continued to use master streams from the engines aerial devices and deck guns and had the fire under control in less than 45 minutes. A significant amount of the main fire load had been knocked down within the first 20 minutes of the fire. As firefighters were working, a portion of the building in the front section collapsed inwards to the second floor.

Extensive overhaul began as members of the NYS Department of Homeland Security Office of Fire Prevention and Control arrived on scene with their fire investigation team. Crews remained on scene for a significant portion of the day into the evening hours. The fire is still under investigation at this time. The buildings were destroyed by the fire and later torn down for safety reasons.

The apartment building did not have sprinklers in any portion of the building, as it was built prior to the NYS code for sprinklers. The lightweight truss in today's modern construction is burning at three times the rate of older style homes, and the combustible materials commonly found in typical living rooms, bedrooms, and other portions of the home are burning at eight times hotter than older material due to the heavy amount of plastics and foams being used in most products today. Fire room flashovers are now occurring in less than two minutes in most fire situations. Once flashover has occurred, there is no chance of survivability as the room reaches temperatures of over 2,500°F and everything in the room ignites at once.

If the building had sprinklers, this fire could have turned out different. Sprinkler systems are designed to control or suppress a working fire before the fire department arrives on scene. The biggest misconception with sprinkler systems is that they are activated by smoke, which is not true! They are activated by high temperatures of heat from a fire. The sprinkler systems today normally activate within 20 to 30 seconds of high heat exposure, quickly controlling the fire and making it safe for you and your family to escape the home. Normally it is only the room that has the fire in it that the sprinkler system activates. Most of the time after a sprinkler activation occurs during a fire, the home is saved and still livable. Having working smoke detectors in your home is also crucial in today’s society. Also, please make sure that if you are renting to have renter's insurance. According to Peter Sleasmen from Wynantskill's State Farm, renter's insurance can cost an average of $125/year to insure your personal belongings. It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!

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