August 2nd, 1978, 12 firefighters plunged into a burning Waldbaum’s Supermarket when the bowstring truss roof collapsed at the center of the store. 6 firefighters died. Shortly before the collapse, a crackling sound was heard. Some of the 20 firefighters on the roof at the time were able to run to the roof’s edge.
The bowstring truss, concealed by a rain roof, failed as a result of the unchecked fire gaining headway.
The fire was reported at 8:30am, escalated to a 5th alarm as a result of the rescue and recovery effort. Built in 1952, the supermarket was undergoing extensive renovations and was open for business. At the time, they were welding in the ceiling. The roof collapsed 32 minutes after initial units arrived. 6 firefighters were killed, 34 injured.
Failure of 1 truss element can cause failure of the entire truss and a resulting collapse of the entire structure. The danger of truss construction whether a bowstring truss, wooden truss with gusset plates or metal parallel chord truss pose a danger to firefighters.
Of the 6 members killed August 2nd, 1978 at the Waldbaum’s Fire in Brooklyn, FF William O’Connor was the youngest. 29 years of age, he had only 7 1/2 months on the job. O’Connor was reporting for duty that morning, his wife and 3 children drove him to work. As they arrived, the bells were ringing in the firehouse. He ran into the firehouse, thew his gear on and jumped in. His wife followed behind to watch their hero husband/father in action. Unfortunately, they were watching as he was thrown into the collapse. 6 of New York City’s bravest were killed, 34 others injured.
We remember the following members who lost their lives at Brooklyn 4th Alarm 77-44-3300 August 2nd, 1978:
Lt James E Cutillo, Bn-33 He was married with 2 children. Joined FDNY April 6, 1963.
FF Charles S Bouton, L-156 38 years of age, married father of 6 children. Joined FDNY September 14, 1968.
FF Harold Hastings, Bn-42 39 years of age, 16 year veteran of the FDNY.
FF James P McManus, L-153 44 years of age, married with 2 daughters, 17 year veteran of the FDNY.
FF William O’Connor, L-15629 years of age, married father of 3 children. Only 7 1/2 months on the FDNY.
FF George S Rice, L-153 38 years of age, married with 2 children. Joined the FDNY August 14, 1965.