On The Job - Michigan: 9-Alarm Fire Destroys Clinton Mill

Jay K. Bradish reports on a nine-alarm blaze with firefighters from nine departments responding to the scene.


Firefighters from nine departments responded to a nine-alarm fire that destroyed a 119-year-old mill in Clinton on April 16, 2007. The four-story Woolen Mill was constructed in 1866 and processed fleece from cleaning to producing wool cloth or fabric. The structure was destroyed by a fire in 1886...


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Firefighters from nine departments responded to a nine-alarm fire that destroyed a 119-year-old mill in Clinton on April 16, 2007. The four-story Woolen Mill was constructed in 1866 and processed fleece from cleaning to producing wool cloth or fabric. The structure was destroyed by a fire in 1886 and promptly rebuilt, reopening in 1888. The mill was a principal employer in Clinton until 1957. A primary customer was the U.S. Navy, which used the fabric to make coats. Later, the building was used for numerous industrial and commercial activities.

The fire building, a four-story, 200,000-square-foot warehouse, was empty at the time of the fire, but three additional warehouses and loading docks were connected to the main building and two of them were filled with automobile windshields, side windows and rear windows. There was no fire damage to any of these products. The Woolen Mill House apartments are just east of the main building and attached to it with hallways. From walk-throughs and previous calls to the building, firefighters knew about the doors in the hallways, so they closed those doors as soon as they arrived, saw the smoke and started searching the apartments. In all, 18 exposures were connected to, or in close proximity to, the fire building, including the apartment building, a doctor's office, a veterinarian's office, 10 homes, a feed-and-grain mill and four other buildings connected to the main warehouse. Firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to any exposures.

The Clinton Fire Department was dispatched at 1:16 A.M. for a fire at 303 West Michigan Ave. Clinton Engines 76-E1 and 76-E2, Clinton Tankers 76-T1 and 76-T2, a brushfire unit and a utility unit responded with 16 firefighters under the command of Fire Chief Dennis Keezer.

Upon arrival, Engine 76-E1 found heavy smoke and fire coming from the basement of the mill and immediately called for mutual aid. The Tecumseh Fire Department responded with Engine 86-E1, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and Truck 86-T3, a 75-foot quint with a 1,750-gpm pump; the Manchester Fire Department sent Engines 7-1 and 7-2, Tankers 7-3 and 7-7; the Adrian City Fire Department dispatched Truck 71-4; the Sand Lake Fire Department responded with Engine 90-3; and the Ridgeway Township Fire Department sent Engine 74-3. The Chelsea Area Fire Authority provided station coverage with Tanker 6-1. Lenawee Community Ambulance (LCA) responded with two ambulances for standby at the fire scene.

A search of the five apartments was ordered even though residents who had evacuated the building believed that everyone was out. While he was performing a 360 of the fire building, Keezer was informed that the resident of Apartment 2 might still be inside because he was not in the group and his car was in the parking lot. The apartment was searched by crews from Clinton and Tecumseh and the resident was found in his apartment sleeping and was escorted with his cat to safety.

With the arrival of mutual aid, two safety officers were assigned and a six-person rapid intervention team and a six-person response team were assembled to transport needed equipment and tools to various locations on the scene. Keezer used both teams during the incident. The only time any of these personnel left the command post was to do a walk-around of the scene for familiarization and to place equipment or tools where the team saw a need. On many occasions during the fire, the response team delivered needed equipment to various sides of the scene and then returned to the command post. As the incident expanded, additional assignments were made, including a draft-site operations officer, liaison officer, public information officer, rehabilitation/medical officer and an officer for each tower truck.

The Clinton operations officer, Assistant Chief Bill Warner, had initiated firefighting operations using water supplies from the village water system. An effective interior attack was not possible because of the high risk this structure posed with an interior operation. Exposures and life safety were the main priorities at this time. Pre-planned tactics were critical to achieving the on-scene goals and objectives.

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