On The Job – Massachusetts: Fire Consumes Historic Ballroom In Lunenburg

Scott LaPrade describes operations at the scene of a fire that engulfed a nearly century-old amusement park.


On the evening of March 2, 2002, a fire swept through the 64-year-old ballroom at the Whalom Amusement Park in Lunenburg, MA. For generations, the 35-acre park has created fond memories to the people of central Massachusetts. Celebrities such as Count Basie, Orson Welles, the Dorsey Brothers...


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On the evening of March 2, 2002, a fire swept through the 64-year-old ballroom at the Whalom Amusement Park in Lunenburg, MA. For generations, the 35-acre park has created fond memories to the people of central Massachusetts. Celebrities such as Count Basie, Orson Welles, the Dorsey Brothers, Elizabeth Taylor and Burt Lancaster played their music or performed live shows, jamming the ballroom to “standing room only.”

At 10:53 P.M., Lunenburg fire and police dispatch received the first of many 911 calls reporting a “very large fire inside Whalom Park.” Residents across the lake reported flames higher than the “Flying Comet,” the park’s 60-foot-tall wooden roller coaster. A full assignment of three Lunenburg engines, along with an engine and ladder from the City of Fitchburg, was dispatched to a fire “somewhere within the park.” The first person to arrive at the scene was a police officer, who reported that a building was well involved inside the park.

Arriving on the scene in just four minutes, Assistant Chief Ken Patton ordered the working fire. Chief Dennis Carrier had heard the dispatch and responded from his home. While enroute to the scene, Carrier – with all the extensive pre-planning in place – knew this job was yet another challenge for him as he awaited his official retirement date of July 1, 2002.

History Of The Park

The park, built in 1893 and one of the oldest on the East Coast, had endured everything from a tornado in the early 1930s and a hurricane in 1938 to massive fires involving major attractions. In 1939, fire struck a large wooden scenery building, followed in 1968 by a blaze in the two-story Rose Garden. In 1970, the facade of the burning bowling alley fell, trapping six firefighters. Two of the men were seriously injured. Five years later, a firefighter had to jump from a Snorkel bucket due to the radiating heat of the large and heavily involved Pirates Den. Although the family that has owned the park for generations tried to raise money to keep it open, the park closed about two years ago. Until the closing, some of the historical rides were still up and running. The roller coaster, built in 1940, is a classic wooden PTC (Philadelphia Toboggan Coaster) figure 8-style coaster. Top speed was 35 mph. The Carousel, dating back to the late 1800s, is a rare three-abreast machine consisting of animals and horses carved in the 1880s.

Building Description

The ballroom, built in 1938 of wooden construction, measured 153 feet by 82 feet with a hung truss roof. A five-foot-high crawl space was under the east side of the building. A storage area at the northeast corner contained restaurant supplies such as pizza ovens and paper goods. In the center was the wide-open ballroom. On the southeast side a small, 80-by-40-foot attached building. There was no sprinkler system.

The first engine to arrive was Lunenburg Engine 4. The crew picked up the hydrant at the rotary on the waterfront side of the park, then laid 750 feet of dual four-inch feeder lines to gate number 3, which is between the roller coaster and the ballroom. As the firefighters pulled into the gate they quickly went to deck gun operation with their tank water and stretched a 2½-inch pre-connect to protect the wooden support beams of the wooden roller coaster, which was 30 feet from the burning structure. Lunenburg Engine 2 picked up the second four-inch feeder line and went into gate 3, also with a deck gun and a 2½-inch line on the ballroom’s A/D side. Patton, who took command as water supply officer, had Lunenburg Engine 3 pump the two four-inch lines at the rotary.

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