On Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008, a five-alarm fire destroyed a historic railroad roundhouse in White River Junction, VT, that was being used by several businesses. The 150-by-150-foot, heavy-timber-and-brick structure was built in 1929 by the Central Vermont Railroad and used as a roundhouse for repairing steam locomotives until the late 1950s.
The crescent-shaped building contained eight overhead bay doors in the front. This large area was used by three tenants. The building had an attached, 50-by-40-foot, three-story ell on side B. The first floor contained an office area occupied by the New England Railroad and a single apartment occupied the second and third floors. Bays one and two were used by the building's owner for storage of collectible vehicles, a large motor home and other business items. Bays three and four were used by K&W Tire for storage of approximately 2,600 tires for cars and light trucks. Bays five through eight were occupied by Pete's Tire Barn and contained two service vehicles, a fork lift, tools and approximately 600 large truck tires. Four railcars containing propane were near the building on side B.
The Hartford Fire Department in White River Junction was dispatched to a reported structure fire at Pete's Tire Barn at 127 Round House Road at 12:36 P.M. The on-duty shift of four firefighters under the command of Lieutenant Michael Whitcomb responded with Engine 2, a 1,000-gpm pumper. Recalled off-duty staff and paid-on-call personnel responded with Engine 1, a 1,000-gpm pumper; Engine 3, a 1,500-gpm pumper; and Ladder 1, a 75-foot aerial ladder with a 2,000-gpm pump; and Rescue 1. A total of 22 Hartford firefighters responded on the initial alarm. Automatic mutual aid consisting of Lebanon, NH, Engine 2, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and Hanover, NH, Tower 1, a 95-foot tower ladder with a 2,000-gpm pump, also responded.
Hartford Engine 2 arrived on scene at 12:40 and was positioned on side A. Whitcomb reported a one-story building with heavy fire showing from the front. He assumed command and requested a second alarm. Engine 2's crew deployed a 200-foot, 2½-inch attack line to the front of the building. A 300-foot, four-inch line was hand-laid by Engineer Shawn Hannux to a hydrant on the C/D side of the building to supply this engine. Whitcomb confirmed that all occupants had evacuated the building and asked the railroad to move the propane railcars from the area.
Responding on the second alarm were Norwich Engine 1, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Hartland Engine 1, a 1,000-gpm pumper and Lebanon Ladder 1, a 110-foot aerial ladder. Hartford Fire Chief Steven Locke arrived on scene at 12:43, assumed command of the incident and requested a third alarm. A large volume of fire was now venting from overhead doors three and four, the area occupied by K&W Tire. Heavy smoke that was later reported visible from 40 miles away was pushing from overhead doors one and two and the rear of the structure. The manager of Pete's Tire Barn advised Locke that there was a large quantity of tires in the area that was involved. A Green Mountain Power Co. representative reported to Locke that the power to the building had been shut off.
Due to the size of the building and the fire load, Locke determined that all operations would be defensive. Hartford Ladder 1 was ordered to a position at the rear of the building. The unit laid a 500-foot, four-inch supply line from a hydrant on Lantern Lane to the C side of the building and set up for aerial master stream operations. Ladder 1's crew forced a pass-through door into bay four and deployed a 150-foot, 2½-inch hoseline with a 500-gpm blitz fire monitor. The aerial master stream was operated horizontally through the door. Hanover Tower 1 was positioned at the A/B corner and set up for aerial master stream operations. Hartford Engine 3 reverse-laid 800 feet of four-inch line from Hanover Tower 1 to the hydrant on Lantern Lane where Hartford Ladder 1 had dropped its supply line. Hartford Engine 3 hooked onto the hydrant and pumped both supply lines.
Captain Raymond Bushey was assigned as Division C supervisor and Whitcomb was assigned as Division A supervisor. Lebanon Ladder 1 was positioned at the A/D corner and set up for aerial master stream operations with its initial water supply being a 200-foot, four-inch line from Hartford Engine 2. The crew from Norwich Engine 1 connected to a hydrant on North Main Street and hand-laid a 500-foot, four-inch line to supplement the water supply to Hartford Engine 2. Hartland Engine 1 deployed a portable monitor on side A supplied by a 200-foot, four-inch line from Hartford Engine 2.
Responding on the third alarm were Woodstock Engine 1, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Plainfield, NH, Engine 2, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Hanover, NH, Engine 5, a 1,250-gpm pumper; and Claremont, NH Ladder 2, a 110-foot aerial. In order to provide an additional water supply to Hartford Ladder 1, Hartford Engine 1 and Woodstock Engine 1 laid a total of 1,300 feet of four-inch supply line from side D to a hydrant on Fairview Terrace off of Route 4. Hartford Engine 1 hooked onto the hydrant with a soft sleeve and pumped to Woodstock Engine 1, which supplied Hartford Ladder 1. Claremont Ladder 2 was positioned at the B/C corner and set up for aerial master stream operations. This unit was supplied by Norwich Engine 2 through a 200-foot, four-inch line from Lantern Lane. Lebanon, NH, Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Libbey was assigned as Division B supervisor.
Command requested a fourth alarm at 1:21. Responding were Windsor Engine 1, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Lebanon Engine 1, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Thetford Engine 2, a 1,500-gpm pumper; and Bradford Tower 1, a 95-foot tower ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump. In order to supply Lebanon Ladder 1 with additional water, Hanover Engine 5 and Plainfield Engine 2 laid a 2,700-foot, four-inch line to a hydrant on North Main Street. Hanover Engine 5 hooked onto the hydrant and pumped to Windsor Engine 1, which inline-pumped to Lebanon Ladder 1.
A fifth alarm was requested at 1:34. South Royalton Engine 1, a 1,000-gpm pumper; and Enfield Engine 5, a 1,500-gpm pumper, responded. South Royalton Engine 1, Thetford Engine 2 and Lebanon Engine 2 established a 2,700-foot, four-inch supply line to a hydrant at the Pleasant View Motel to feed Hanover Tower 1. The initial supply line to this tower had been switched to feed Claremont Ladder 2.
Four aerial devices, one at each corner; three portable monitors on side A; one on side B; two on side C and one on side D were used to control the fire. Bradford Tower 1 was staged at the scene. The Sharon and Ascutney fire departments provided standby coverage at Hartford's stations. At 3:30 P.M., command requested that the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources be notified due to the large amount of runoff. Firefighters placed numerous booms and pads to collect pollutants before they entered the White River, which is a direct tributary to the Connecticut River. Environmental officials were satisfied with the containment measures that were in place upon their arrival.
Locke declared the fire under control at 6:20 P.M. The release of mutual aid units began at 7 P.M. and was completed at 11:30 P.M. An overnight fire watch was established with Hartford Engine 1 and Ladder 1. The last Hartford equipment left the scene at 6:41 P.M. on Tuesday, Nov. 4. More than 100 firefighters operated 20 engines, six aerial devices and seven support vehicles at the scene. A total of 1.5 million gallons of water was used to extinguish the fire. The water source was six hydrants on the municipal water system.
An investigation conducted by the Vermont State Police; federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Division of Fire Safety and the Hartford Fire Department is ongoing at this time. Investigators do not believe that the fire was suspicious. Damage was estimated at $4 million.
JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.