On The Job: Rhode Island

A general-alarm fire tore through a five-story, U-shaped, 217,000-square-foot mill at 85 Fairmount St. in Woonsocket, RI, on June 7, 2011. At the height of the fire, with the mill complex fully involved and major structural collapses occurring, some 250...


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The 100 off-duty Woonsocket firefighters were told to report to their shift deputy chief for ease in accountability and knowledge of their members. An EMS sector was established to evaluate any injured or exhausted personnel. A physician from Landmark Hospital responded to the scene as a precaution.

Hazardous materials were also a concern. The building was used to manufacture and store many known and unknown chemicals and products throughout its history. The 122-year-old, oil-soaked, heavy-timber flooring of the complex also contaminated the water runoff. The acrid smoke that sat throughout the city also concerned the officials and residents.

A mobile command center was brought into the scene for unified command to plan the events of this extensive operation. Residents were forced to evacuate their homes throughout the neighborhood due to smoke and or power loss. National Grid reported that about 600 residents were without power during the fire.

 

Investigation & Recap

The Rhode Island Fire Marshal’s Office responded to the scene to assist Woonsocket fire investigators and police detectives in determining the origin and cause of the fire. After interviewing workers in the building, the officials determined the cause as residual heat from a blowtorch used in cutting plumbing on an upper floor about two hours before the fire broke out. The company had not sought a permit from the fire department for the use of a blowtorch, which is required by code. There should have been a fire watch detail on scene prior to the start of this type of work. No charges were filed against the current owners, authorities stated.

Engine 6, the first-due pumper to this address, was located at 504 Fairmount St., roughly 10 blocks away. The firehouse was closed in 2009 due to budget cuts. Ladder 1, the first-due truck company, was also browned out in January 2011 due to economic demands on the city. The city has seen many cuts over the years. Manpower is now 23 on shift with two members in the dispatch center. The city does approximately 12,000 runs a year.

Mutual aid companies that covered the empty firehouses handled 30 runs while the fire was raging out of control. One firefighter was transported to Rhode Island Hospital after he suffered a heat-related injury and fell, striking his head on the front bumper of an engine.