By John B. Snyder, Watervliet Arsenal Public AffairsDecember 28, 2017
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- For more than 200 years, the Arsenal has been part of the fabric of the community, as more than eight generations of local workers have toiled here. But recently, on a very cold and windy day, the Arsenal again proved that its value to the community far exceeds that of simply having provided tens of thousands of jobs since the Arsenal opened its gates in 1813.
An immediate call for help came in to the Arsenal from the City of Cohoes on Nov. 30.
"When we got the call, we thought the fire in Cohoes was just one building," said Josh Nick, the driver of the Arsenal's fire truck that responded to the mutual aid call. "But when we arrived and stepped out of our truck, we immediately knew the 30 mph winds would make this fire very difficult to fight."
According to Nick, the fire dramatically grew in intensity in less than two minutes of the arrival of the Arsenal's four-person firefighting team, as winds quickly fanned flames to adjoining buildings.
"When we got into position, we had to run several hundred feet of hose to a hydrant because we only had about 750 gallons of water onboard," Nick said. "That in itself was no small feat as the flames continued to leap from building to building around us."
Nick said the heat from the fire was so intense that he had to redirect the water spray from the structural fire in the original building to the City of Watervliet's fire truck because the wheels were starting to melt. While the Arsenal team was fighting the fire, as well as protecting other fire crews, the Arsenal's truck suffered damage from the intense heat.
"We suffered about $18,000 in damage to our dual-purpose pumper truck," said John Whipple, the Arsenal's fire chief who took over from one of his assistant chiefs, Ken Haviland, at the fire. "Given the size of the fire and the intensity of the heat, it was amazing that no one was injured."
Whipple said he initially remained at the Arsenal while his team deployed because he had to wait until sufficient mutual aid coverage from Schuyler Heights and Menands Fire Departments provided backup units here.
"One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to remain here, while the team deploys," Whipple said. "But I have tremendous confidence in the Arsenal's firefighters to keep each other safe, while applying basic firefighting principles to mitigate the effects of the fire."
The fire eventually spread to nearly 20 structures and the Arsenal team remained onsite for more than six hours. Whipple said this was the largest fire that the Arsenal team has fought in more than 10 years.
Of interesting note is that Whipple was able to observe the firefighting from his department's dispatch room by monitoring social media sites that were live-streaming the action. This non-standard method of updates was essential to providing Whipple great situational-awareness of the environment his team was operating in.