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Williams assigned Captain Paul Russell of Engine 3 to the east tower side as Division 1 and Souza to the west tower side as Division 2 to oversee mutual aid companies. The main section of the mill was now becoming fully involved and rapidly extending into the wings, causing a severe radiant heat threat to sides C and D. Woonsocket Engines 1, 2 and 3 were positioned in the side-A lot to deploy deck guns, portable monitors and large-diameter hose (LDH) to Tower Ladder 2’s master-stream devices.
The exposures were as follows: Side A was a large parking lot with two free-standing office buildings and a garage; side B was the Blackstone River; side C had a railroad line, several apartment buildings and businesses along River Street; and side D had three multiple dwellings and a mill-style complex similar to the fire building. A propane tank farm consisting of two 30,000-gallon tanks and delivery trucks was a half-mile west of the fire. The Providence and Worcester Railroad line ran directly behind the complex. Command knew that an 80-car ethanol train was due to be in the area some time during the fire. Fire Control called the railroad dispatch center to request that the train be stopped. There were several large electrical transformers around the complex that needed to be secured by National Grid Utilities.
Woonsocket Engine 4 tagged a hydrant on a 20-inch main at River and Fairmount streets and laid into Blackstone, MA, Ladder 1 on side D. Cumberland Hill Engine 41 also set up this side to protect the multiple dwellings on Fairmount Street that were receiving severe radiant heat. Bellingham, MA, Ladder 1 squeezed through these apparatus to protect the A/D corner of the complex. Burrillville companies with drafting capabilities were assigned to a site along the Blackstone River to supply the scene with unlimited water. The draft site these companies used was created as part of a pre-plan for the vacant mill that was an exposure on side D. Williams stated that water supply was not an issue at this fire due to the pre-planning.
Command requested an additional six ladder trucks to the scene due to embers that were now threatening numerous structures along sides C and D. Several spot fires ignited along the River Street exposure. Fires on the rooftop of the L&R scrap metal yard’s office, the ties along an abandoned train bridge over the Blackstone River and some areas of brush were all quickly doused. Lincoln Ladder 20, a Smithfield engine and ladder, a Millville, MA, engine and ladder, Central Falls Engine 1, along with Woonsocket’s reserve ladder all were placed into operation along River Street. Staging for the out-of-town companies was the parking lot of Grossman’s Bargain Outlet due east of the fire.
A general alarm was now sounded, bringing in companies from 40 minutes away. The original mill complex was now fully involved with major collapses of the structure occurring. Approximately 250 firefighters and command staff were on scene. At the height of the fire, eight ladder pipes along with numerous deck guns, portable monitors and handlines were playing water into the collapsed shell of the mill and protecting the exposures.
The ethanol train did attempt to proceed from Providence through Woonsocket to Worcester, MA. The train was stopped about 100 yards short of the railroad crossing at River Street. The train cars were determined to be empty, but were forced to return to Providence until the fire was placed under control. The train did pose an issue to the mutual aid apparatus as it blocked crossings along the route to the scene, stalling the out-of-town companies.
Brand patrol in the Cold Spring Park area was handled by two engines and a ladder. A 1,000-gpm foam trailer was brought into the scene and placed front and center of side A once the major portion of the front collapsed in.
The command staff also had several other matters to deal with. The weather during the fire was warm and humid. Drinking water was distributed around the fire scene and cooling fans were supplied to the rehab sectors. Scene lighting was acquired from the water and highway divisions. Fuel was brought into the scene by private vendors to refill the apparatus. Frozen-lemonade trucks also responded to the scene to pass out refreshments to the exhausted firefighters. The Special Signal Association’s canteen truck provided food and drink.