‘We knew we had a problem’: How Hamilton firefighters battled a huge, block-long warehouse blaze

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

SKY7: Daylight footage of Hamilton warehouse Fire

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Hamilton firefighters made quick decisions that likely saved lives July 25, when an intense fire at a vacant warehouse nearly caught homes across the street on fire.

“When we pulled up, you could see the flames immediately shooting about 50 or 60 feet into the air,” Lt. Bryan Hanna told Hamilton City Council recently. “The entire warehouse was fully involved in fire. We knew we had a problem.”

“We got there about 4:45 (a.m.),” he said. “We’re the furthest south station in the city of Hamilton. We are in Lindenwald. We had an idea that there was going to be some life hazards, meaning that there was going to be some citizens that were probably in their bed asleep and had no idea that their house was potentially going to catch on fire.”

Hanna’s crew did not approach the warehouse.

“We didn’t go directly up to the structure because the high-tension wires were already falling to the ground and there was already starting to be structural collapse,” Hanna said. “The flames were shooting across Laurel and Weller Avenue. We could look up Laurel and see the three houses already starting to catch fire, and it wasn’t from direct flame impingement. It was just from the radiation of the heat.”

“The decision that we made that we don’t normally make, we separated,” Hanna said. “(Firefighter) Joe (Geis) jumped off the truck by himself, knowing we were still several minutes (without) any backup.”

Geis went to wake up people in a dozen homes. Although there was chaos outside their front doors, they were sound asleep, “having no idea that the stuff on their front porch and their home was starting to catch on fire,” he said.

In a critical action that helped deal with the fire, firefighter Rusty Schindler, on the first day Hanna started working in Lindenwald, warned his fellow firefighter: “If and when this place catches on fire, there’s going to be a problem. Someone’s going to be killed, whether it be a resident or whether it be a firefighter. The place was in terrible disrepair. There was collapsed structural issues.”

Without Schindler’s advice, Hanna might have parked the fire truck closer to the blaze, where it might have been damaged.

Schindler started blocking traffic, which still was trying to drive past, “because they were literally driving through fire,” Hanna said. Also involved in the quick action were firefighter Tony Manfredi and Deputy Chief Ken Runyan.

Manfredi and Aaron Handy “put themselves between the fire and the homes,” Hanna said. “Those two guys solely saved those three residences.”

“I was taking a garden hose and spraying Aaron Handy from a distance, and the steam was just rolling off him, because the heat was so intense,” Hanna said.

Chief Mark Mercer praised the men, and noted no firefighter or citizen was injured: “From the heart, you guys are top.”