Lessons from the Fireground: The 701 University Avenue Fire
Fire in Syracuse: Four firefighters LODD: The 701 University Avenue Fire April 9, 1978
April 9th marks the 39th Anniversary of the 701 University Ave. fire that claimed the lives of four Syracuse (NY) firefighters in 1978 while conducting search & rescue and suppression operations at an apartment building on the Syracuse University Campus in Syracuse, New York.
The fire began when one of the tenants lit a candle in a styrofoam wig stand and left it unattended. At 00:46 hours on Sunday April 9, 1978, an alarm of fire was transmitted for a reported building fire at 701 University Avenue on the campus of Syracuse University.
The Victorian style house was a three story building constructed of wood balloon framing and was built circa 1898. The house had been converted into ten (10) apartments that were occupied by SU students. The gross area of each of the three floors was approx. 1,750 sq. ft., with a predominate rectangular footprint shape measuring 69 ft. x 35 ft. The third floor apartments only had access via a stairway in the rear, down a long narrow corridor that measured only 33 inches wide.
The building had inherent vertical and horizontal concealed spaces indicative of balloon frame style construction along with additional concealed spaces in the third floor ceiling area. A partial automatic sprinkler system had been installed in the building in order to comply with a 1952 State of New York law. This system provided protection to the basement, means of egress, a storage area and a portion of the concealed space above the third floor.
The fire originated in a second floor apartment, and then spread into the combustible concealed space above the third floor ceiling. Approximately sixteen minutes into fireground operations the first indications of firefighting personnel being in distress were received. The first call to the Alarm center was made at 0045:17 hrs., with the first-due engine arriving at 0048:05 and first water applied at 0051 (est).
The four SFD fire fighters, Frank Porpiglio Jr., Stanley Duda, Michael Petragnani, and Robert Schuler, who were assigned to the Squad and Rescue Companies, entered the house to conduct a primary search of the premises for SU students thought to be trapped in the house.
While operating on the third floor inside, a scalding steam caused by triggered sprinklers prevented the four firefighters from escaping, and they eventually depleted their air supply and suffocated to death. The firefighters were operating with full PPE that was complaint at that time ( 1978) and were utilizing state-of-the art SCBA in the form of the new 4.5 SCBA systems.
All the tenants had escaped safely before the fire fighters had entered the house. The fire was subsequently investigated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) at the request of the City of Syracuse and NFPA Report No. LS-3 was published.
Killed in the Line of Duty on April 9th, 1978:
Syracuse (NY) Fire Department
- FF Michael Petragnani, Age 27. Rescue Company – appointed 8/20/1973
- FF Frank Porpiglio Jr., Age 24. Squad Company – appointed 8/20/1973
- FF Robert Shuler, Age 31. Squad Company – appointed 1/24/1973
- FF Stanley Duda, Age 34. Squad Company – appointed 1/24/1973
Remembrance, Honor, Courage and Sacrifice