On The Job: New Hampshire - Firefighters Endure Sub-Freezing Weather, Water Supply Problems At Belmont Strip Mall Fire

Jay K. Bradish reports on a nighttime fire, battled in below-zero weather, destroyed a 28,040-square-foot strip mall and caused $2 million in losses.


BELMONT FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief: Richard Siegel Personnel: 11 career firefighters and 24 call firefighters, plus 28 volunteer firefighters from the Winnisquam Fire Department Apparatus: Five engines, one tanker, three forestry units, one medium-duty rescue, three ambulances Population...


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BELMONT FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief: Richard Siegel
Personnel: 11 career firefighters and 24 call firefighters, plus 28 volunteer firefighters from the Winnisquam Fire Department
Apparatus: Five engines, one tanker, three forestry units, one medium-duty rescue, three ambulances
Population: 7,005 town residents (12,000 in summer)
Area: 32 square miles

Truss failure, frozen lines and water supply problems confronted firefighters during a six-alarm fire at a strip mall in Belmont, NH. The nighttime fire, battled in below-zero weather, destroyed the 28,040-square-foot strip mall and caused $2 million in losses. Mutual aid was called in from numerous communities.

The original building was constructed in the late 1970s with additions erected in 1981, 1984 and 1985. The entire building was of wood-frame construction and a wood-truss roof with plywood and asphalt shingles. A metal roof was put over the existing roof in the late 1990s. Currently occupying the mall were the book store Read All About It, Country Time Antiques (on the first floor and in the basement), Studio Lighting, Eggcelent Restaurant, Nails 2000 and the Galaxy Gym. The building contained heat detectors and manual pull stations connected to Central Alarm Monitoring.

The Belmont and Winnisquam fire departments were dispatched to an automatic alarm from Read All About It at 7:04 P.M. A telephone call received a minute later from a nearby business confirmed a fire at the store. Responding on the automatic alarm were Belmont Engine 2 with Lieutenant Bob Laraway and Firefighter-Paramedic Gina Harris and the 2,500-gallon Belmont Tanker 1 under the command of Deputy Chief Brad Lawrence. Upon confirmation of the fire, Belmont Engines 1 and 4, Ambulances 1 and 2, and Rescue 1 responded with 15 firefighters and Winnisquam Engines 1 and 2 answered with four firefighters. The only business occupied at the time of the fire was the Galaxy Gym with fewer than 10 people inside. Patrons and employees were evacuated by two officers from the Belmont Police Department.

At 7:07, Winnisquam Lieutenant Rusty Wyatt arrived on scene and reported heavy smoke showing and requested a second alarm. Winnisquam Chief Kevin Nugent also reported heavy smoke from the eaves in front of Read All About It. Hearing the second-alarm request, Laraway jumped to a third-alarm "commercial response" at 7:12. Responding on the third alarm were Laconia Fire Department Engine 1 and Ladders 1 and 2, Gilford Fire Rescue Engines 1 and 2, Franklin Fire Department Engine 4 and Ladder 1, Sanbornton Fire Department Engines 1 and 3, Tilton-Northfield Fire Department Engines 1 and 2 and Ladder 1, Gilmanton Fire Rescue Engines 1 and 2, and Alton Fire Department Engine 2. Station coverage was provided by Barnstead Fire Rescue Engine 2 in Belmont, New Hampton Fire Department Engine 1 in Winnisquam and New Durham Fire Department Engine 1 in Gilmanton.

Belmont Engine 2 was positioned in front of the building on the A division near the corner with B division. Backdraft conditions that had been observed by both Winnisquam officers were no longer visible. Laraway saw light smoke conditions in the book store, and checking the rear of the building he found smoke venting from the B division gable and from the B-C corner. Laraway directed Winnisquam Engine 2 to begin a forward lay from Lake Winnisquam, 3,800 feet away, to the scene. The Belmont Police Department was requested to shut down Daniel Webster Highway to let the Winnisquam units lay a four-inch supply line. Laconia Engine 1 was directed to start a forward lay from a hydrant at the Belknap Mall, 2,800 feet away.

Laconia Ladder 1 was positioned in front of the building and set up to perform ventilation operations on the roof above the book store. After laying 1,200 feet of four-inch supply line, Laconia Engine 1 was positioned off the B side to protect an exposure 50 feet away, a 70-by-70-foot cement block building with a wood truss and steel roof.

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