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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Engine 1 from Salem came down South Union and made a right on Market, stopping near the far end of a large parking lot on the left side of the street. The crew pulled a 2½-inch line off and, using only the water in the tank initially, started putting water onto a three-story wood-frame building that was one of three extremely close to one another. The crew soon jockeyed a feeder line from the manifold at Ladder 4.

Shortly after the engine arrived, the aerial tower rolled in and took a position in that parking lot, affording firefighters a perfect spot to attack the fire, as this put them next to the long alley in the center of the fray. Ladder 4 was at the front of the buildings on Market Street and the aerial tower was in the back. When the tower arrived, the Salem engine shut down and moved back, taking its feeder line and tying it into the tower. To make matters worse for the firefighters in the aerial tower, they were caught in the heavy, acrid smoke from 11 buildings that would be summarily destroyed before daylight. In this job, you do what you have to do. Good jakes.

Water supply was urgent, with numerous engines relay pumping into large-diameter hose. Middleton, Reading, Dracut and Haverhill linked up a monster relay from a hydrant 2,700 feet away. As indicated by the alarm assignments, 13 cities and towns provided assistance. Prompt and efficient mutual aid was critical in holding this inferno to the neighborhood of origin.

One thing was surely evident on this night: you can't put out a fire until you get the call.

WALTER F. PUTNAM is a retired captain from the Salem, NH, Fire Department. He has written several "On The Job" articles for Firehouse®.