Other Event Detail

Telephone Exchange Fire
New York, NY

February 27, 1975

The New York City Telephone Exchange fire occurred on February 27, 1975. It happened at the New York Telephone Company Building at 13th Street and Second Avenue. The 11-story building was used as a main switching center to connect telephone lines with trunk lines, serving 173,000 telephones in lower Manhattan. Cables entered the building in a 20 ft. x 20 ft. x 278 ft. cable vault in the basement. The main distribution frame was on the first floor above the cable vault. The subscriber distribution frame was on the third floor. Shortly after midnight on February 27th, a short circuit or open splice arc started a fire in the cable vault. Smoke was discovered in the subscriber distribution frame. A call to the fire department failed because of the damaged phone lines. The fire department was notified by an employee transmitting the alarm from a call box in the street. The alarm was received at 12:55 a.m. The fire department found heavy smoke in the basement and light smoke throughout the rest of the building. They were prevented from finding the exact location of the fire because of the smoke and difficult accessibility of the cable vault. Fire spread from the cable vault to the first floor through a six inch slot into the main distribution frame. Fire spread to the second floor and parts of the upper floors by burning cables in the cable chases and floor openings. The third floor was vacant, which prevented more fire from damaging upper floors. The burning PVC cables acidic gases and smoke that drove firefighters from the building. More than 300 firefighters intermittently worked at the fire. They tried using high expansion foam in the cable vault, but it drained into the sub-basement. They used water and had the fire under control at 3:40 a.m. But, it reignited twenty minutes later. They jerry rigged a cellar pipe to use in the cable vault. They continued fighting the fire until it was declared under control at 4:46 p.m. Most of the cables and equipment on the first two floors were destroyed and there was smoke and corrosion damage throughout the rest of the building, including the eleventh floor. Damaged concrete floors were replaced on the first and second floors, 66 miles of cables were replaced, ten million electromechanical relays were cleaned manually with hand brushes. The cleanup and equipment replacement was accomplished in one month, by the work of 4,000 people.

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