EMFD responds to 6 house fires in under 40 minutes

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The evening of August 7 started like most others for EMFD's bravest unwinding at home from a day's work. But with chaotic weather systems moving towards our region, EMFD volunteers were also preparing for the worse, soon doing what they do best.

With powerful storms and heavy lightning strikes approaching, it was clear that East Meadow would soon be in the path. It would result in the East Meadow Fire Volunteer Fire Department responding to six house fires in a span of less than 40 minutes, and would be capped off with a 7th-alarm for a Mutual Aid to the Hempstead Fire Department for a 4th-alarm school fire.

At 8:02 p.m., EMFD Communications received an Automatic Fire Alarm activation from Friends Lane in Westbury. Units from Engine 613, 614, and Ladder 619 responded and found a malfunction of the alarm of undetermined cause. Units were quickly freed up.

At 8:06 p.m., a call came in for a house struck by lightning on Merrick Ave. Engines 1, 2, and Ladders 1 and 2, were alerted to respond. First arriving Heavy Rescue 616, and Engine 611 found that the home was struck by lightning and had smoke on the second floor. Ladder 1 firefighters quickly located the source of the smoke, and exposed the area in the wall to ensure no spread of any hidden pockets of fire, as Engine 1 readied in the street in the event an attack was necessary. An inspection of the damaged area revealed no fire, and units secured within 20 minutes.

At 8:16 p.m., Ladder 619, just arriving at the Merrick Ave call, was quickly re-directed to Chambers Avenue where another home had been struck by lightning. Met by East Meadow Engine 4, arriving units soon found damage to the siding with charring underneath, prompting a careful inspection to rule out any hidden fire. It was also learned that the bolt of lightning hit the ground in the rear of the home causing a surge into the home damaging a kitchen electrical outlet. The scene was made safe and units were freed up within 25 minutes.

At 8:23 p.m., EMFD Communications received another call for a house struck by lightning on Fifth Ave. First arriving units of Engine 1 and Ladder 1 confirmed smoke on the 2nd floor. Uncertain of the extent, crews from Engine 1 quickly pulled a hose evolution and prepared for an attack, but firefighters on the interior and exterior of the home traced and pinpointed to area of the strike, and a check for residual fire was ruled out. Units secured in 20 minutes.

At 8:23 p.m., a call came from Meadow Lane in Levittown. First arriving Ladder 619 and Engine 613 found the top section of the chimney blown apart with bricks strewn across the roof. Finding smoke in the home, members quickly checked both the interior point of the lightning strike entry, and the roof for any hidden fire, as Engine 2 and Ladder 1 crews arrived just in case. With the all clear given, units secured from this alarm within 30 minutes.

Lastly, at 8:36 p.m., another call was made from Amherst Street. Units quickly redirected to this location where it was believed that a local lightning strike sent a charge into the home. After a careful inspection of the home, units were freed up for the next alarm.

Meanwhile, as the calm settled over East Meadow, the Hempstead Fire Department was in a battle of their own with a major fire at the Prospect Ave School.

A 7th call was now alerted as a result of this 4th-alarm fire. EMFD Ladder 2 got the nod for a mutual aid request, and responded to the working fire to assist along with more than 20 other Fire Departments.

In command of the Department was Chief of Department Philip Fertitta who not only commanded the fires he arrived on scene for, but carefully coordinated a plan with EMFD Communications to ensure that a quick and efficient response to each emergency was accomplished, while readying available companies for the next possible emergency as powerful lightning strikes continued over East Meadow.

2nd Asst Chief James Walsh shared in the command of the department having responded to, and commanding several of the emergencies, he was directed too.

With the proficient response of all EMFD companies, at no time were there any delays in any responses.  

In all, more than 60 East Meadow volunteers responded throughout the Fire District. There were no injuries. 

John J. O'Brien is an active Ex Chief of the East Meadow Fire Department. He is the District Supervisor of the Jericho Fire District and has over 30 years of Dispatch and Supervisory experience.