A Ten…, With the Potential to be a Twenty

The intensity of the fire (started by lightning) that engulfed Hackley’s Goodhue Memorial Hall had not been seen in over 20 years according to 1st Assistant Chief Patrick Derivan.

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Photo by J.T. Camp

Goodhue Hall housed the Kaskel Library, computer labs and components of the Upper School English Department. Assistant Chief Derivan, who was the Incident Commander, 2nd Assistant Chief Mike Coffey, Jr. and Fire Chief Domenic Morabito, Jr. recounted the severity of the blaze and the efforts of multiple fire departments to contain and extinguish it.

"The initial call came in as a 911 at around 4:15 a.m. on Saturday, August 4, and the caller was driving on I-287. Another caller was on the Tappan Zee Bridge and both reported a bright orange glow in the hills of Tarrytown," Derivan said. When he arrived on Hackley’s Quad the fire was fully involved with flames coming 20 feet out the roof and through the windows. All six of Tarrytown’s Fire Companies had been dispatched to the School. "I immediately put out an alarm 9 on the radio for manpower and automatically started calling for mutual aid from surrounding towns. We had to find water sources and make sure that everyone was out of the building. Fortunately it was unoccupied because it was a weekend and school wasn’t in session," Derivan said.

For the first few hours the water pressure at Hackley School was adequate according to Derivan. "Hackley’s new water system was pumping millions of gallons of water and after about 2½ hours the pump actually went out. So we had to switch over to their domestic water supply and we initiated a chain of pumper trucks at the Tarrytown Lakes and tankers that shuttled 3000 to 5000 gallons of water back and forth to the fire. We also tapped into a hydrant on Benedict Avenue," he said. Chief Morabito added, "We actually had a containment pool that the tankers were dumping into by the rear of the building. The ladder trucks would get their extra water from there."

Teams of volunteer firefighters fought the fire in 25 minute shifts due to the intensity of the blaze. The men were rested and hydrated before being put back to work.

A command post was set up on Hackley’s Quad and all firefighting activities were coordinated through it. "With a fire of that scale organization is everything. We needed complete accountability of manpower and apparatus," Morabito noted. "There were at least 200 firefighters present at one time or another during the course of the day," Assistant Chief Coffey added.

A trench cut in the roofline stopped the fire from spreading into the adjoining building. A metal fire door in the hallway also acted as a buffer and helped contain the blaze. "The fire door that separated the buildings enabled our men to focus on the fire in the roof and that was key to our success," Coffey said. The stone façade of Goodhue Memorial Hall directed the fire’s intensity inward and thermal imaging cameras enabled firefighters to determine the direction it was moving. "Our timing was perfect that day," Morabito said. "By 9:30 in the morning we had the fire under control. Our main plan of attack was to keep the fire from spreading and the potential for that was great. The fire was officially out by 4 p.m.," Derivan added. When asked how intense the fire had been on a scale of one to ten, he replied, "It was a ten with the potential to be a twenty."

Chiefs Morabito, Derivan and Coffey repeatedly thanked all the mutual aid Fire Companies that responded to help them. The fire had called upon the dedication, training and experience of many volunteer firefighters. They also included in their thanks the Police Departments of Tarrytown and Greenburgh as well as the Westchester Department of Emergency Services, the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Tarrytown Ladies Disaster Group.

In the hopes of not forgetting anyone the three Chiefs personally thanked fellow firefighters from Ardsley, Armonk, Briarcliff, Croton, Dobbs Ferry, Elmsford, Fairview, West Harrison, Hastings, Hawthorne, Irvington, Lake Mohegan, Mount Kisco, Nyack, Pocantico Hills, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, Thornwood, Valhalla and Yorktown.

Final Note: The Headmaster at Hackley School, Mr. Walter Johnson, sent a letter to all the parents of the students. In it he expressed tremendous gratitude for the organization and coordination exhibited by the firefighters. The School raised funds through donations and forwarded them to the Tarrytown Fire Department as a gesture of appreciation. In addition, Hackley sent a donation to each of the Fire Departments that responded to the mutual aid call.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento