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UPDATE – Must see video: Five firefighters injured in explosion, described as backdraft, at Harrison, NJ 5-alarm fire.

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Video above by T00LS. Video below by quake4ever2007,



Five firefighters were hurt in a terrifying explosion and extra-alarm blaze in Harrison, N.J., Sunday afternoon.

.. when the fire was at its height, a dangerous backdraft was caught on video, CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported. Backdrafts are an explosive phenomenon, and they are one of the worst things that can go wrong in a firefight.

One of those badly hurt when the backdraft erupted was a battalion chief.

“When that glass blew out, he got it all in his face and his body,” said Harrison fire Capt. Robert Gillen. “He was bleeding profusely.”


The blast sent firefighters flying into the air, said Harrison Fire Captain  Robert Gille.

“They were literally thrown out of the building by the smoke explosion.”

Five firefighters were rushed to an area hospital; two are being help for  further examination the captain said. At least one suffered bad cuts. 



Firefighters in Harrison, New Jersey are battling a five-alarm fire at an industrial building that has extended to adjoining buildings. 

The fire broke out Sunday on the 600 block of Frank E. Rodgers Avenue.

A number of firefighters were injured by flying debris when they were caught up in a partial backdraft explosion that blew out windows.

The fire appeared to have started at 600-602 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd., a two-story building at the corner of Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard North and Davis Street. It then spread next door to 604-606 Frank E. Rodgers, a two-story residential building.

Harrison officials still have not commented on the fire.

After the explosion occurred, at least two firefighters stumbled out of the building and one of them collapsed on the ground.

EMS and other firefighters rushed to help them. They were both placed in ambulances. 


Comments - Add Yours

  • Capt 45-2

    six fire fighters transported hope all are ok

  • Commenter

    Godspeed injured firefighters.

    Entry is ventilation. High point ventilation makes the fire burn hotter (see UL for both). Control the vent path with PPV. Stabilize the vent path prior to entry, using PPA.

    • Fire Protection Engineer

      PPV does not work well in this type of construction. A properly sized hole in the roof works best to prevent backdrafts, reduce heat, and improve visibility. Engineering degree in fire protection, 20 years in the business, work for an urban fire dept. We tried PPV and found it made things worse especially in the type of construction.

      • RS5

        Couldnt agree more! But dont worry, commentor wrote the book, so I am sure he will have some type of rebuttal…..

  • Jim

    Does anyone know if they were pulling ceiling on the second floor when this happened?

  • Met Fan


    No where does UL or NIST for that matter advocate PPA. It may have it’s place when some issues are know but it does seem to make the flow path turbulent and can spread the fire to void spaces. If I was going to use it I would idle the fan instead of that full throttle violent overpressurization.

  • skeletor-1

    Scary stuff…hope all are well

    Why oh why were there civilians helping with a hose line?

  • Older than Ol’ School

    The WABC-TV report mention a partial backdraft. What in hell does a full backdraft look like?

  • Older than Ol’ School

    I notice in the 2nd video, that none of the windows were ” taken out” on second floor. What was truck co. doing? It also look like the tip operator was injured prior to the backdraft.

  • Dom

    Looked more like a smoke explosion then a backdraft. That really dark brown smoke should have been a warning to the IC. Dodson’s class warns of what to expect when you see this. I wonder if the White Hat understood what he was seeing there.

  • retired chief

    PPV should never be used until the fire is under control. Period.

  • fireguy

    Stuff that I’ve read (not a big fan of PPA) say that PPA is really only applicable when the bulk of fire is knocked out and crews are going in to check hotspots while the fan is essentially pushing out smoke. Am I wrong with this opinion/research? Once gain, have not looked into PPA/PPV in depth.

  • 95%er

    This has nothing to do with the fire on this video. But in regards to PPV, I’m a big city guy who moved out of the big city to the country. i was 100% against PPV till I saw it work ON SPECIFIC FIRE CONDITIONS. IF the fire in a specific compartment and not in walls or void spaces, it works. It works perfectly for a bedroom or kitchen fire in a SFD or an apartment fire. The PPV really does move the smoke and products of combustion out the exit point.

    If you don’t know EXACTLY where the fire is, DO NOT START the PPV fan. It will push the fire into the walls, attic, other areas that the smoke is moving into.

  • James

    Some facts about these videos:
    – There is ZERO reason to have ANYBODY that close to a working fire without full PPE & SCBA. Especially people in jeans and sweatshirts. Even if you’re a member of that department trying to “help out” – stay away unless you’re fully geared up – you’re a tremendous liability to everyone else who is properly operating at the scene.
    – In the second video, you can hear a PASS alarm in full alarm mode for the entire length of the clip. Based on the volume and clarity of the alarm, it is clearly coming from a pack outside the building, and likely one that was left on the bumper or ground without being deactivated – it’s no wonder nobody takes that sound seriously anymore.
    – I’m sure everyone watching this video, and anybody who had their eyes on the big picture at this scene would have noticed the smoke conditions. The colour, velocity and density of the smoke immediately signify that you some serious high-pressure zones in that structure, and that there is little to no ventilation. BASIC physics and fire science would state that the creation of a low-pressure area(such as introduction of water from a fog nozzle) without ventilation in place, would disrupt the pressure balance, causing a domino effect and spell certain disaster, which was CLEARLY demonstrated here
    – PPV would have created the same result, just in a quicker timeframe.
    Hate to armchair QB this, but how many brothers need to be injured or die before we take the time to stick our nose in the books and learn our craft properly.?

  • play4keeps

    This is a classic video of extreme urban fire behavior. Everyone has an opinion, here is mine. Smoke explosion vs backdraft arguments happen every so often. Whatever you want to call it, the operations and construction are similar. It is obvious the lines were inside but what about the vent ops. The retired Commish of Philly, Joe Rizzo once told me in a conversation about the Charleston Sofa Store Fire, after he interviewed the now ret CFD Fire Chief, about asking him about conditions on the roof and the response was, “we don’t send guys to the roof.” Rizzo replied, “WTF where they doing in the building.” The point here is, did they open the roof?

    I saw a few several years ago in Perth Amboy, NJ another similar to Harrison town. Maybe things have changed, but some places in NJ are horrible. There were 25 guys staged in the street from a neighboring volly dept and maybe 3 guys inside and no truck co ops, either horizontal or vertical, let alone ladders thrown. The big victorian on the water was off and the main stick wasn’t even up. Again, looking at the video, there was limited manpower and zero truck co ops. Unacceptable to not get guys to the roof or outside vent the windows. But I am not suprised in that State with so much variability in Departments. The best departments always send guys on the truck to the roof and windows first to open it up. Period. PPV, btw is most certainly not the answer in these cut up multi occupancy dwellings.

    Next, I do respectfully disagree with the previous poster who said that anybody who had their eyes on the big pic would have noticed the change in conditions. Yes and no. Yes, you could see it coming but to me it happened pretty quickly with little time to react.


    • RS5

      You took the words out of my mouth. I agree with everything you referenced, and the odd part is, the Chief of Philly you spoke of, taught my departments “command & General Staff” program. Got to pick his brain for a week and half. Also, I clearly remember in the Charleston fire, that the NIOSH report hit the CFD hard for lack of vertical ventilation, and contributed the rapid fire spread to the horizontal vent.

      • CHAOS

        Just like if you do a vertical vent away from the fire it will draw the fire across to it, a horizontal vent away from the fire will have a similar result, regardless if you’re in a tenement in the Bronx, a lightweight McMansion in Phoenix, or a sofa store in Charleston. Luckily most people know how to do it the right way.
        You gotta open it up … but you gotta open it up right.

  • Squirrel

    It looks to me like the backdraft was caused by the entry crew reaching the fire unit and simply opening the door. The majority of the backdraft looked to be contained to the structure itself with excess superheated gasses reaching the exterior of the structure. I am from a small dept with little manpower to complete a vertical vent the majority of the time. But, should this had been an option, I would have definitely put it to use. As for Commenter: the application of PPV would have made no positive change. Should the natural ventilation opening created by the fire (if there was any) been sufficient, the backdraft would not have occurred when access was made to the fire. The rapid addition of oxygen is what created this problem, why would you want to add more before the flammable gasses and heat were removed?

  • Truth

    Before we go after who was doing what Google Harrison NJ firedepartment.. THey have suffered huge manpower cuts they have between 6 and 8 firemen on duty and no ladder company…..

  • Cappy

    PPV/PPA is one of the most misunderstood fire attack/control tools in the fire service. A close look will reveal that ppv has applications to assist us in many structure fire suppression applications. Keep an open mind and do the training by first learning from others that have had extensive experience with the use of ppv/ppa. Availing yourself of the facts others have gathered through sound research and analysis will allow your dept. to practice and incorporate ppv in your craft with great sucess. To not do the hard work and get educated upfront is tantamount to willful misconduct.

  • Justafireman

    Questions for all the computer incident commanders?
    After watching the video its simple to see the change in smoke indicating this backdraft but do you really think the guys inside would have seen this? Even if chiefs or a safety officer outside did see it, by the time he pushed the button on his mic to give some kind of a warning the explosion would have already happened. I am trying to figure out how you all got such a clear picture of this fireground operation by these short video clips on a building that was a block long?
    As for James the “FACTS” as you see them how do you have facts were you at the fire? Inside pushin in with the boys?
    Here is some facts this Department is grossly understaffed and relies heavy on mutual aid. The brothers were making an aggressive push througout this building when thi explosion happened.
    Unless you were there or have read a full report on the incident lets try and keep the brothers kicking brothers while they are down… Brothers were doing their jobs and things went bad, could there have been mistakes maybe but instead of sitting behind a computer judging their operations from what a total of a minute of video footage maybe you should all go out and train harder using videos like this as an educational tool to show what can happen when things go bad FAST.. Your talking seconds. The internet is a great tool for the fire service that is becoming more of a hinderence to the fire service cause most of the comments are bashing and most of those bashing comments come from individuals who have no business judging anyone… I wish I worked for the department that all you guys did, Perfect operations everytime or maybe just no fires or no interior attacks whatever it maybe…

    • agates1272

      I couldn’t agree more. It was easy for us to see the changes in smoke, and I’m certain the IC and others outside saw the changes, but there was NO TIME to react.

      Watch the first video again–at :13 you hear a short hiss, immediately followed by dark brown smoke pushing from the roof/duct area. 9 seconds later, the explosion occurs. I’m not exactly sure what the hiss was, but it was most certainly the precursor to what what occured next. There isn’t a whole lot that could have been done in 9 seconds.

      I won’t even go into all the folks without PPE—speedy recovery to all those injured. This could have been ALOT worse.

  • Ricko

    Span of control….

  • WonderingWill

    The explosion was due to low manpower? Half hour into the fire? Then they were on a suicide mission.

  • Ohio Metro

    My only comments are these:
    I hope all FF’s are OK…period.
    I am utterly amazed how when its a career dept how forgiving posters are on this cite, If its a Maryland Combo dept posters are very forgiving on this site….but let it be a volly dept with much less funding and equipment then those career and combo depts listed posters go on full-auto bashing for all the same “mistakes”
    Bottom line is every department has a bad day, some more than others….but every poster has done it better, never screwed up and knows how to do it textbook style (even if they never answered a call in their lives)

  • Anonymous

    Who is the lady in pink and why is she pushing hose?

  • Former Chief

    Once a report is done on this fire it will be a very good learning tool for the fire service. It will be helpful to know exactly what the conditions were that led to the smoke explosion or backdraft. The posters who mentioned the Harrison FD staffing are correct. They are a small urban paid FD with very limited staffing as is East Newark FD, an adjoining mutual aid department. Jersey City FD comes in on mutual aid for working fires. The Fire Director from JCFD was quoted in a article as saying the troops were ordered out of the building right before the explosion due to a rapid heat buildup. By that quote it would appear command recognized a change but didn’t have time to react completely. For the people talking about windows not being taken out, I’m not sure the building with the windows intact is the original fire building. It looks like a strange layout of buildings that may or may not be interconnected. Again, I would suggest we wait for the report and learn from it.

    • BergenFF

      Harrison FD is very understaffed. They need to be able to hire. Or merge with East Newark and go combo or merge with Kearny. It needs to change before someone dies.

      The question is this was one of the primary fire buildings, yet from video there is no trucks in front of it until Jersey City gets there. Also there is a picture of a F/F at the top of this building before it explodes, yet no ladder on the building!! How did he get there?! Why even make an offensive attack that late into the fire without any ventilation? In the end there was 4 fire buildings. This one was the last one thought about.

      Why is this lady and man on the hose with no gear? Lots of pictures to prove no one did anyhing about this. The Chiefs from Harrison and East Newark are responsible. People need to be fired. No excuse for putting people in harms way. Scene safty first.

      There is also a picture of a Chief from some town on the roof with no pack. No wonder you have civilians with no PPE, if they chief don’t need to wear it on a roof why should they 10 feet from the building?

      Video shows more signs of the backdraft were in the front of the building. Most of the Chiefs were in the front of the building next to this, no one was keeping an eye.

      East Newark wouldn’t take the front of the building, they wanted to stay back. Not good for the department that was first on scene. Be agressive.

      I’ve also heard that windows may have been boarded from the inside?! Great job by Fire Prevention!! Someone should have laddered this building and at least knocked in the windows on arrival.

      Lots of lessons to be learned.

  • waterdog

    I agree 100 percent that the firefighters inside or the incident command had no time to respond to what we saw on the video. However, it is our job to eliminate the possibility of this in the first place through proper ventilation. Whether it be verticle or horizontal ventilation.we must always assume it may happen and eliminate its opportunity. PPV is absolutely not the remedy for this type fire. PPV has its place in small residential fires when the fire is confined to one room. Or after the fire is out and overhaul is beginning.I find it very difficult to understand the diffuculty we continue to have with ventilation in the year 2013. Alot of departments are really good at ventilation, but some are not. Hopefully one day we can change this.

  • mark

    I hope the brothers are OK, I am refraining from any comments as neither of these videos show enough of what was going on to warrant any KICing.

    As for the PPVPPA comments, I normally agree with retired chief and his comments and respect them, but this time I disagree. Stating PPV should never be used until such and such is like stating water should never be applied until such and such a time.

    None of the PPV naysayers ever comment on the fact that Chicago FD has one truck dedicated to PPVPPA. No one comments on the studies that CFD did with that truck.

    Is it a tool to be used? Absolutely.

    Is it a tool to be used at every fire? Most definitely not.

    Just as we have multiple different sized lines–1″ for grass fires; 1 3/4″ for most attacks; 2 1/2″; master streams; aerial streams; etc–we have different tactics that can and should be used properly. Just as the correct size line should be used properly. We don’t use 2 1/2″ on a grass fire. Or a 1″ on fully involved SFD. We have numerous different forcible entry tools. We have grass rigs, mini-pumpers, engines, trucks, squads, snorkels, ladders, platforms, tankers, tenders, helicopters, etc, etc, etc. They all have their place.

    To make a statement that this is the ONLY time a tactic or tool can be used is based on ignorance of what that tool or tactic is capable of.

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  • Newark Fire Captain

    This is very simple , 40 yrs on the Job NFD, Engine Co…NO hole no Go.. I was in a Backdraft on

    a 3rd floor of a 6 family apt. building. 13 F/F s got burned, 7 F/F on the 3rd Fl and 6 on the

    2nd fl. .Without roof ventilation that building is cooking and waiting for some Air to Explode .

    Engine Co. makes a interior attack and opens the front door and brings the air with them..Then

    they open the hoseline on fog and brings more air..Bingo, Backdraft…Today F/F are

    encapsulated with their PPE, they go deeper and further into a building with out feeling the

    heat from the fire..With the new hoods that they wear, they can’t feel the heat on their

    ears…That would tell us when to get out… My opinion, and experience , after getting burned

    on that 3rd floor Backdraft You must have manpower that know what they are doing and good

    roof men to do the job… NO HOLE NO GO….

  • Commenter

    Newark Fire Captain – are you saying to delay entry until the roof is opened?

  • Newark Fire Captain

    All depends on the location of the fire, Basement or top floor fire is the most dangerous

    parts of the building.Engine Co. can only go so far without Ventilation, Sometimes because of a

    rescue condition you have to take that chance. A good Officer know what has to be done , and

    gets it done. You have to coordinate your interior attack with ventilation at the same time or

    F/F will get caught in a Backdraft as you can see in the Video…That Backdraft happen so fast

    that the best officer would have missed the sighs.. But proper Ventilation would have stopped

    it…..Once you get caught in a Backdraft you will never be the same at a fire..It will take years to

    overcome that Fear…