On Main Street: Heavy Smoke & Fire, Then Boom! Firefighters Down!

As mentioned in the past several columns, we normally don’t identify fire departments here, but several departments have told us that they are willing to openly share their stories. Again, that is a refreshing approach, as difficult as it can be. This...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

It was felt that the B wall had a good chance to survive a fire, as did the B-side exposure because of its later construction. The D side, however, had a wooden wall that protruded out where an old stairway from the front street level was located. At one time, over 40 years ago, these steps would have led to the upstairs to both structures; however, it is our understanding that it appeared to have been changed (possibly when Rose’s moved in) and this wooden wall section was built to divide the buildings.

Two metal fire doors had been provided for the second story of the exposure at the top right of the stairs. This led to an old storage area over the building next door. Years ago, this building had been a hardware store, later a department store, a couple of discount stores and finally the downstairs was converted to a gym. Approximately 20 feet of the A-B-C wall of the first floor had been divided to form a banquet room for the restaurant and a gift shop in the front. The fire wall between them was breached on the first floor to form a walkway with no door. However, the owner was allowed to add drywall on the ceiling and walls to meet local building codes.

The upstairs was not being used at the time; the rooms on the left had a plaster/lath construction while the large rooms on the right had open joists to the roof. Holes were breached between the two areas over the gym, presumably in the 1940s to 1960s. The upstairs right contained old store fixtures and a couple of empty smaller rooms, most not used since the 1940s or 1950s.

The left rear corner was an old kitchen that had been converted to house the separate heating and cooling system for the gift shop and banquet room below. Sometime in the past, both fire doors had been left open and were open at the time of the fire. This building had a five- to-eight-foot-high attic in the front that continued down the back to about six inches. The only attic that Mitchell’s appeared to have was under the A roof in the front, above the metal ceiling. The upper story of the gym front wall was decorative sheet metal (made to resemble a cast-iron building) over a wooden framing/wall (exterior) with bare and plaster lath inside. Mitchell’s measured 8,500 square feet on two floors and the gym took up about 14,500 square feet, also on two floors.

  • Building construction. A 100-year-old building of balloon construction with brick walls and a sheet metal-covered wood/brick front wall. Two-thirds of the roof is sloped to the rear and the front one-third is an “A” with built-up material roofing. The first-floor front is all glass with decorative tin on the second floor.

All three are of brick-walled construction with timber joist/rafters and void spaces. The gym was two buildings many years ago, but now is one building due to wall breaches on the first and second floors. The downstairs wall has been opened in three large areas and upstairs in two smaller openings to join buildings together.

  • Utilities exposure. The main electrical feed for all Main Street buildings, cable TV system main trunk line, local telephone neighborhood main service cable, long distance switching for town/county, fiber optic phone switching equipment located three blocks south (including cellular to ground) were in the alley behind the buildings.

Initial Call and Incident

The building’s owner and restaurant operator were making repairs to a catering trailer parked in the alley with a small welder. The welder was connected to a long extension cord run though the rear door, back into the building, and connected to a 120-volt outlet near a workbench. The workbench was in a converted furnace room under an unprotected wooden stairway leading to the office located a half-story above the main floor and the second floor used for storage and some mechanical equipment.

The owner’s young son saw fire coming from the “shop” (the old furnace room) and alerted his parents. His mother called in the fire, but the fast-moving fire destroyed the telephone wires before she could give the dispatcher all the information. All that was heard was that there was a fire in the alley behind Mitchell’s Restaurant. The building was evacuated by its occupants, including over two dozen Mecklenburg County/Charlotte, NC, SWAT team members and their EMTs (they were training at Fort Pickett that day and were at Mitchell’s for dinner, and they would play a supporting role later). Everyone was out when the fire department arrived.