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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By 8 P.M., a second hydrant water supply had been established. Tilton-Northfield Engine 1 hooked onto a hydrant at the mall on the corner of Old State Road with two short supply lines and pumped a 1,200-foot supply line laid by Alton Engine 2 to an inline valve. Another 1,600 feet of supply line laid by Meredith Engine 3 completed the lay to Belmont Engine 2 at the A-B corner. Belmont Engine 1 was set up on the inline valve after shutting down the first hydrant. This water supply operated until midnight, when a 100-foot section of supply line failed, causing the water flow to be stopped. Other sections of the supply line almost immediately froze solid in the 15-degree-below weather, making it impossible to flow water again.

At 8:46, Siegel asked the fifth-alarm companies that were staged to respond to the scene. Nine minutes later, he requested a sixth-alarm assignment to stage at the Belmont fire station. Moultonboro Fire Department Engine 4, Center Harbor Fire Department Engine 4, Epsom Fire Department Engine 2, Pittsfield Engine 2 and Loudon Ladder 1 responded.

A second supply line was established from Lake Winnisquam at 9 P.M. Andover Engine 3 drafted with 10 feet of six-inch hard suction from a dry hydrant and pumped 1,200 feet of supply line laid by Gilmanton Engine 1. This engine pumped 800 feet of supply line laid by Bristol Engine 4. Bristol Engine 4 pumped 1,200 feet of supply line laid by Barnstead Engine 2. Concord Engine 7 laid 600 feet of supply line from Barnstead Engine 2 to Laconia Ladder 2. This line supplied Laconia Ladder 2 until midnight, when lake supply line one was shut down. Laconia Ladder 2 was shut down on the C-D side, and lake supply line two was transferred to Franklin Ladder 1. This line supplied Franklin Ladder 1 until 6 A.M. on Jan. 19. At this time, Belmont Engine 4 replaced Franklin's tower ladder for overhaul and operated until 1 P.M.

A third supply line from Lake Winnisquam was completed at approximately 11 P.M. Ashland Engine 2 operated at draft and pumped 1,200 feet of supply line to Gilmanton Engine 2. This engine pumped 1,000 feet of supply line to Gilford Engine 1, which pumped 800 feet of supply line to Gilford Engine 2; this engine pumped 500 feet of four inch supply line to Belmont Engine 2, which supplied four handlines on division A. A booster line was operated to cool apparatus exposed to radiant heat. This supply line operated for a short time due to freezing and mechanical problems with apparatus.

At 11:16 P.M., command began receiving reports of trucks needing fuel. A fuel truck was requested from a local fuel distributor, but before its arrival apparatus began running out of fuel. At approximately 11:30, Tilton-Northfield Engine 2 ran out of fuel. The supply line was transferred to Andover Engine 2 that was already pumping lake supply line two. Sanbornton Engine 1 replaced Tilton-Northfield Engine 2 pumping lake supply one, but by the time this was completed, ice had already formed in the line. This relay operation pumped for only 30 minutes more before all the apparatus inline had ice in their tanks. This supply line was shut down and picked up.

Siegel declared the fire under control at 1:30 A.M. on Jan. 19. Extensive overhaul operations continued until 2 P.M. Most mutual aid companies were released by 6 A.M., except for units supplying one of the supply lines from the lake, which operated until 1 P.M.

A total of 207 firefighters operated 33 engines and four aerial devices at the scene. One deck gun, two portable monitors and numerous handlines were also used to bring the fire under control. It was estimated that over three million gallons of water was pumped from Lake Winnisquam.

The temperature was 14 degrees below zero at midnight and took its toll on firefighters. A rehab center was established in a business located next to the fire building. The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army staffed the rehab center and provided food and drinks for the firefighters. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation provided large flatbed trailers to pick up the frozen supply lines. Twelve pumpers went out of service; three due to mechanical or fuel problems and nine because of freezing or ice problems.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Belmont Fire Department and the New Hampshire Fire Marshal"'s Office. Damage was estimated at $2 million. No injuries were reported.


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.