Lawrence Is Burning!

Walter F. Putnam reports on the multiple-alarm response to a downtown firestorm in the Massachusetts city.


Extreme cold; middle of the night; moderate northwest wind; life safety; delayed alarm. Conditions that can, and all too often do, present serious problems for those who proudly wear the Maltese Cross. It is a scenario that many a firefighter has encountered with the anxiety that things are about to...


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Ladder 5 (Snorkel) came down Parker Street and turned right onto Market. The apparatus went halfway up the block and turned left into the Haffner car wash/gas station parking lot and made its way around to Parker Street again and pulled up to the corner of Springfield Street at a 45-degree angle. This would let them place their streams onto the buildings burning on Parker and the exposures on Springfield. That was a smart tactical decision. The crew from Rescue 1 worked with Ladder 5 for a while. Two members from Ladder 5 were up in the bucket with their third man on the controls at the base of the Snorkel, so Rescue 1's crew set about assisting them with a water supply. Engine 6 came down South Union and took a hydrant at Salem and Parker, dropping a four-inch feeder line to Ladder 5. The lay was only 300 feet, so they did not set their pump at the hydrant. The men on Rescue 1 were ordered by the deputy to the alley. Lowell's ladder was coming into the alley and the men were to assist them with getting a water supply.

Incidentally, about an hour into the fire, the Snorkel was moved a short distance farther down Springfield Street as the danger of collapse became much more evident. Every building on Springfield Street has electric wires that run from the north side of the street to telephone poles directly opposite, an obvious hazard to those who work with ladder equipment and devices that deliver water. A service truck from National Grid promptly arrived at the blaze and proceeded to cut the wires running at the first five buildings. The Snorkel got back into the fray.

When the crew finished tying the big line into the Snorkel, Engine 6 attempted to hook up to the hydrant at Springfield and Parker, but the threaded port broke right off and the hydrant was useless. At a scant 12 degrees and a brutal wind, there were certainly issues with the cold. The crew on Engine 6 then assisted with running four or five handlines into the alley to darken down the fires in a couple of garages, and, to play water onto the rear of the exposures on Springfield. They got their water from the manifold at the Haverhill engine. The men at the rear of Springfield said later that they took quite a beating in the heavy smoke covering the alley and certainly raising hell with the exposures.

As the engine companies established water supplies and both Ladder 4 and the Snorkel positioned their trucks at critical locations, the deputy was trying to determine how many buildings he had involved and what exposures he had to contend with. This necessitated a walk to the large vacant lot beyond 372-374 Market St. where he went through a gated mesh fence and into a narrow alley that ran behind the rows of buildings on both Springfield and Market streets the entire distance between Parker and Foster. At 2:49 A.M., Marsh ordered the fourth alarm, sending him engine companies from Middleton, Dracut and Haverhill and an engine and an aerial tower from Salem. The engines were all ordered to the fire, and a few minutes later, the tower ladder from Salem was ordered directly to the fire.

Lawrence Fire Chief Peter Takvorian had been notified of the fire and was driving down Route 495 along the Ward Hill section of Haverhill. He could clearly see a large column of smoke in the night sky. Once on the fireground, he assumed command of the fire and established a command post in proximity to the buildings on Parker Street. The Lawrence Police Department dispatched a large mobile command vehicle that allowed city officials to examine water supply grids, maps of the immediate area and so on to augment the assignments of both equipment and personnel and strategies should further issues arise. It also served as a place to get warm.

Engine 7 went to Andover and Parker, where it dropped 1,000 feet of four-inch hose toward Ladder 5 at the corner of Springfield. Having laid all of its supply hose, an Andover engine completed the lay that connected to a manifold positioned at the Snorkel (Ladder 5). Engine 7 then set its pump midway along the feeder and the Snorkel was all set where water was concerned.

Engine 8 responded on the second alarm and placed a hose manifold at Ladder 4, then laid four-inch hose down Market Street to a hydrant near Jackson Lumber. That hydrant was apparently frozen. North Andover Engine 1 dropped a four-inch feeder down to South Union Street and tied in its pump. Shortly after it started to feed the big line, whatever the problem was with the first hydrant cleared itself and Engine 8 now had two feeders. That worked out perfectly; later during the fire, the gauges on the pump panel of Engine 8 froze up and it necessitated taking the piece out of service. North Andover's engine connected Engine 8's line to their feeder and continued the water supply. Members from Engine 8, Engine 7, and North Andover Engine 1 went to the alley and operated several handlines onto the rear of the buildings.