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 Chief Richard Siegel arrived on scene at 7:19 and took command of the fire from a command post on Daniel Webster Highway. He assigned Belmont Deputy Chief Jim Davis to operations, Laconia Chief Ken Erickson as division A officer, Tilton-Northfield Chief Steve Carrier as division D officer, Franklin Chief Scott Clarenbach as division A ventilation, Gilford Captain John Beland as division B officer and Belmont Deputy Chief Brad Lawrence to accountability and manpower staging.

Crews from Belmont Engine 2 and Laconia Engine 1 stretched two attack lines from Belmont Engine 2 into positions along the front of the structure. One crew advanced a line into the book store and the other crew advanced a line into the antiques store. The crew in the book store encountered heavy smoke conditions down to eye level and observed fire in the rear of the store. The firefighters advanced the line and attacked the fire. The crew in the antiques store found little heat, but some smoke at the ceiling level. Firefighters had begun to pull the ceiling to check for extension when conditions rapidly deteriorated as the fire spread through the attic, forcing the crew to evacuate the store.

Beland took his crew and advanced an attack line equipped with a blitz fire nozzle from Laconia Engine 1 to the B-C corner to attack the fire. As the crew from Laconia Ladder 1 started opening the roof at 7:22, all interior attack crews reported heavy fire in the attic areas of the book store and the antiques store. The Laconia Engine 1 firefighters reported the fire was already over their heads in the antiques store and extending toward the D division. Laconia Ladder 1 reported that fire blew out as the crew made the first cut in the roof. These firefighters also reported they could hear the roof trusses failing over the book store and were forced to abandon roof operations.

Davis ordered all interior crews to evacuate the building and notified command that all operations would be defensive. All store fronts were ventilated and another attempt was made to ventilate the roof by a crew in Franklin's tower ladder, halfway down the complex over the restaurant. This operation was abandoned after only cutting a two-by-two-foot hole due to heavy smoke and heat conditions. The fire was rapidly spreading horizontally through the truss roof toward the exposure on the D division. This exposure was a second strip mall 25 feet from the fire building. The exposed structure was 100 by 300 feet, constructed similarly to the fire building.

The first hydrant supply was established 30 minutes into the fire. Belmont Engine 1 hooked onto the hydrant at Belknap Mall with 15 feet of six-inch suction and pumped the 1,200-foot supply line laid by Laconia Engine 1 to Belmont Engine 4. Belmont Engine 4 was placed inline and pumped the 1,600 feet of supply line laid by Gilford Engines 1 and 2 to Laconia Engine 1. There was approximately a 60-foot drop in elevation from Belmont Engine 4 to Laconia Engine 1. In turn, Laconia Engine 1 supplied Laconia Ladder 1 with a supply line and an attack line with a blitz-fire nozzle positioned on side B. At approximately 9:30, water pressure was lost on this hydrant and it had to be shut down. At about the same time the first hydrant supply was established, the first supply from the lake was established. Tilton-Northfield Engine 2 set up to draft from Lake Winnisquam with six-inch hard suction, supplying several engines.

At 7:47, Siegel requested a fourth alarm. Barnstead Engine 2 responded from standby in Belmont and New Hampton Engine 1 responded from standby in Winnisquam. Also responding to the scene were Meredith Engine 3, Concord Fire Department Engine 7, Loudon Fire Department Engine 1 and Bristol Fire Department Engine 4. Canterbury Fire Department Engine 1 responded to Belmont, East Andover Fire Department Engine 3 responded to Winnisquam and New Durham Engine 3 responded to Gilmanton.

At 7:53, Siegel ordered a fifth alarm with apparatus and firefighters to be staged at the Belmont fire station. Responding to the staging area were Canterbury Engine 1, East Andover Engine 3, New Durham Engine 1, Ashland Fire Department Engine 1, Pittsfield Fire Department Engine 2, Pembroke Fire Department Engine 1, Alton Ladder 1, Chichester Fire Department Engine 1 and Andover Fire Department Engine 3.