Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008, had been a quiet day without activity for the 34 paid-on-call members of the Paris, ME, Fire Department. The temperature was in the high 20s with relatively clear skies and the county had yet been spared a significant snow storm. Chief Brad Frost was in his office doing...
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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008, had been a quiet day without activity for the 34 paid-on-call members of the Paris, ME, Fire Department. The temperature was in the high 20s with relatively clear skies and the county had yet been spared a significant snow storm.
Chief Brad Frost was in his office doing myriad chores, not something new for him. Reports, inspections, maintenance; it doesn't get any easier as the town moves right along in the mainstream of the 21st century. For a small community of 4,900 people, covering a geographic area of 65 square miles, the number of runs this year had increased markedly, fast approaching 300 calls. The majority of the calls are considered the norm for the fire service, consisting of chimney fires, car fires, alarms in buildings, and the motor vehicle crashes that occur frequently on the busy Route 26, a major route for travelers moving between points to the north, including Montreal, Canada, on down into the greater Portland area on the Atlantic Ocean, a good 50 miles from Paris.
All of this was about to change in a hurry that day. In fact, the entire southern, central and western counties of Maine were going to get a wake-up call that things were not going well for some of their brethren.
At 1:15 P.M., the Oxford County Regional Communication Center received a telephone call from a man employed by the New England Public Warehouse (NEPW) at 164 Pine St. in Paris. He was reporting a fire in a bale of hay on the exterior of the building with the possibility of interior fire extension. The alarm was toned out and Frost headed down Western Avenue. The first-alarm assignment for a structure fire in Norway, Oxford or Paris mandates an automatic response from all three towns, an efficient way to ensure there are at least a couple of pieces of apparatus rolling in a short period. (In putting this article together, it became obvious that towns in this area are adept at managing their resources in a forthright fashion.)
Enroute to the fire scene, responding companies monitored a report from a sheriff's unit of "heavy smoke showing" on Pine Street. The deputy sheriff didn't clarify whether it was inside or outside the building, but this initial report gave notice to the firefighters headed down Route 26 that it might be time to buckle down and get ready to rock and roll. Little did they know.
Frost drove his vehicle onto the NEPW property and headed down the left (B) side of the long building toward the rear of the property and the loading dock, the location of the reported incident. He encountered heavy smoke along a considerable portion of the structure, giving rise to thoughts that it was more than a bale of hay that was about to get all of their attention. On a positive note, the 15 or so employees present at the time the fire was discovered had all exited the building and retreated to a safe location — this would not have been a good time to be forced into a primary search mode.
The crew on Paris Engine 3 ran a 2½-inch handline toward the fire and soon depleted the supply tank on their rig. A Norway engine dropped a five-inch feeder in from Pine Street and tied into the Paris piece, a lay of about 1,000 feet. Another feeder was run from Paris Engine 3 to their ladder truck, a 1,500-gpm quint, as they readied for the likelihood of master stream operations. Paris Engine 3 remained at its original position and supplied water for 95 hours without interruption. The all-out was declared at 12:30 P.M. on Sunday.
With developing conditions that were not going to be controlled any time soon, mutual aid was summoned in a hurry in the form of the Mechanic Falls ladder truck (they also sent an engine company). Additional engines were summoned from Bridgton, Buckfield, Harrison, Hebron, Minot, New Gloucester, Otisfield, Waterford and West Paris. Poland sent a heavy rescue with a rapid intervention team.