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On Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, a three-alarm fire destroyed a portion of the historic Somers Congregational United Church of Christ in Somers, CT. Numerous master streams and handlines were put into operation, but the church became fully involved within 30 minutes of arrival and the roof and steeple collapsed. Accountability was a concern because the incident covered a large area and communications with mutual aid departments were difficult because there was no common radio frequency.
The church, or Meeting House, was built in 1842 with several additions being made over the years. The two-story, Type III/ordinary construction, balloon-frame Meeting House had a 70-foot-high steeple and a 35-foot-high peaked roof covered with asphalt shingles. The interior walls and ceilings were covered with lathe and plaster. The 47-by-125-foot building contained 15,000 square feet.
In 1947, the sanctuary underwent major renovations. The chancel was redesigned with an arch and three steps and one center aisle replaced the original two center aisles. In 1948, a building known as Pilgrim Hall was moved from across Route 190 and connected to the existing church. This two-story building, 25 by 35 feet of Type III construction, was placed on a foundation with a basement. In the 1980s, the 14-foot ceilings were lowered with a new sheetrock ceiling and recessed lighting was installed. Walls were painted, wainscoting was added and new carpet was installed. The five original windows in the building were replaced with eight-foot double-paned windows. A kitchenette was also added at this time. Pilgrim Hall became the church parlor with Hitchcock furniture donated by church members. Six pieces of Hitchcock furniture were salvaged after the fire and are being restored by the Hitchcock Chair Co.
In 1958, the Bugbee Center – a two-story, Type III building measuring 90 by 45 feet – was built as a standalone structure to the rear of the church. The first floor contained five rooms, a chapel and kitchen and the second floor contained seven classrooms. The Somers Co-op Preschool rented two large classrooms on the second floor. The white clapboard building had a center front entrance, two side entrances and a rear entrance. A play yard was on the west side of the building and parking area was behind the building.
In the late 1990s, a two-story, 40-by-50-foot, Type III addition connected the Meeting House to the Bugbee Center, making the facility handicapped accessible with the addition of an elevator. The church offices were on the main floor and the second floor had a large meeting room and a care room for infants. A Memorial Garden was also added in the late 1990s. Granite markers indicate location of burial plots where ashes of church members may be buried. The church buildings had a local alarm system, but no sprinkler systems.
The Somers Fire Department is a combination department that responds with five career personnel Monday-Friday between 6 A.M. and 6 P.M. augmented by volunteers nights and weekends. Last year, members responded to 627 fire calls and 653 EMS calls. At 11:37, P.M., the department was dispatched for a smoke-investigation call in the center of town. The alarm was upgraded to a first-alarm structure fire on arrival of Ambulance 546, which responded immediately with the on-duty ambulance crew. Somers Squad 246, Engine/Tanker 146, Tanker 246, Tanker 146, Heavy Rescue 146 and basic life support (BLS) Ambulances 546 and 646 responded with 38 firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Gary Schiessl. The Hazardville Fire Department in Enfield responded with Truck 31 and a crew of four on pre-established automatic mutual aid.
Due to the large size of the church, a significant collapse zone was established. Extreme radiant heat was also an issue for firefighter safety. Civilian safety in the church was not an issue at that time of day.