OCEAN CITY – It was a busy Sunday afternoon for resort firefighters and emergency responders with a pair of fires and smoke situations at north-end high-rise condominium buildings, among other incidents.
With last weekend’s nor’easter reaching its peak late Saturday and early Sunday, the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) found itself responding to multiple storm-related incidents all over the resort area on Sunday afternoon.
The storm had already canceled Springfest, and the canopy at a gas station at the foot of the Route 50 bridge on Saturday night forced the closure of the span to traffic for several hours.
By Sunday, the storm was peaking and resulted in numerous power outages in and around the resort area. The OCFD responded to multiple calls during the storm on Sunday, including calls involving a pair of reported electrical transformers at north-end high-rise condo buildings.
Shortly before noon on Sunday, a fire and smoke conditions were reported at the High Point North condo, according to OCFD spokesman Ryan Whittington.
“Firefighters found smoke conditions and it was upgraded to a building fire,” he said. “There are always challenges with a high-rise fire. Firefighters investigated the incident internally because there was smoke on multiple floors. We had to check the transformers on all floors to figure out what was going on.”
Whittington said the OCFD quickly began evacuating the High Point North building out of an abundance of caution.
“The building was occupied, which is why it went to a second alarm,” he said. “Firefighters walked each floor and there is always a potential for carbon monoxide exposure in those situations. While we were on scene, mutual aid was requested.”
Whittington said the Millville Fire Company was on stand-by along with the Bethany and Ocean Pines volunteer fire companies during the High Point North incident. Whittington said the OCFD began deploying hoses and hooking up to water sources during the High Point North incident as a precaution.
“I know it’s an expression, but where there is smoke, there has to be fire somewhere,” he said. “We don’t want to get caught behind the eight-ball, especially with a high-rise. They began pulling hoses and connecting to water sources.”
Whittington said the High Point North situation was attributed to a transformer fire. With the nor’easter that was peaking on Sunday, there were power outages all over the resort area, including uptown at condo row, which caused multiple fire alarm activations to which the fire department had to respond, all while handling the situation at High Point North.
“Delmarva Power had crews on hand,” he said. “They were dealing with power outages due to the nor’easter. The issue at High Point North was caused by Delmarva Power equipment as a result of the outages due to the storm.”
Whittington said High Point North was occupied, creating tricky evacuation assistance for the OCFD.
“Power was out most of the day at High Point North,” he said. “The firefighters were going through with flashlights to help the occupants find their belongings and get out of the building. City transportation crews arrived to help mobilize the occupants away from the building to a safer place.”
A short time later, a similar incident began unfolding at the Fountainhead condominium building just a couple of blocks north.
Again, mutual aid was requested with the Millville Fire Department on the scene. Whittington said with high-rise incidents, firefighters walk up several flights of stairs to determine what’s going on in the building.
“Firefighters were walking up stairs seven to 12 floors up and climbed even higher to determine the source of the smoke,” he said. “They were dealing with the wind and the rain. This is why we train so much. Typically, we’re training even during our shifts when we have down time.”
Whittington said while firefighters and first-responders are constantly training, it’s a good idea for residents and visitors, especially in high-rise buildings to do their own training.
“If you’re staying in a high-rise building, familiarize yourself with the building’s fire protection plan,” he said. “Learn the evacuation plan, check for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and make sure fire doors are not propped open. The fire doors keep fire from spreading. Make sure the stair tower doors are closed and the trash chutes are not propped open. That can save the lives of hundreds of people in the event of a fire.”
Whittington said the fire department encourages high-rise building residents and visitors to be proactive in the event of an emergency.
“The fire chief is big on preventing 911 calls,” he said. “We try to do safety outreach and education every chance we get. If any condo association wants to schedule fire safety lessons and training for its residents, we gladly will come out and do that as a proactive measure. We would rather do that than respond to 911 calls.”