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

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.

Clinton Engine 76-1 was positioned in front of the building on side A and supplied by dual five-inch lines. Approximately 2,000 feet of five-inch supply line was laid from hydrants on two different loops of the water system to obtain maximum flow. Clinton Engine 76-E1 fed a 300-foot, three-inch line that supplied a ground monitor in a doorway at the west end of side A, two 200-foot, two-inch pre-connected handlines operating through another doorway on side A, and a 200-foot, 2½-inch handline operating through a ground-level window on side A.

Tanker 76-T2 was then assigned to the draft site on U.S. 12, 500 feet west of the incident. Clinton Engine 76-E2 was also assigned to this draft site and supplied one of three five-inch lines to the incident. Adrian City Truck 71-4 was positioned on the north side of the building on side A and set up for water tower operations. Tecumseh Engine 86-E1 was positioned at the B/C corner on River Street for exposure protection of multiple homes, a doctor's office, a warehouse and apartments. This engine was supplied by a hydrant a block away.

Firefighters placed a 2½-inch and two 1¾-inch handlines into operation protecting the exposures. Tecumseh Truck 86-T3 was positioned at the B/C corner and set up for master stream operations. This unit was fed by a 200-foot, four-inch line from a hydrant on Church Street. Tecumseh Chief Joe Tuckey, and Assistant Chiefs Scot Long and Bill Tooman were assigned as operations officers on sides B and C.

It first appeared that the fire was being held down for possible extinguishment in the basement, but a flashover occurred and within 30 seconds, the fire traveled from the basement to all four floors, engulfing about 70% of the building. It is believed that the fire traveled up an equipment elevator shaft that ran from Division 1 through Division 4 of the main building. Defensive strategies were initiated at 4:10 A.M. to protect exposures and to initiate the evacuation of homes along River Street. Manchester Engine 7-1 was assigned to exposure protection on River Street, a block from the scene to protect houses exposed by flying embers. Firefighters used two 1 ¾-inch handlines and a deck gun to protect the exposures. Two additional aerial apparatus were requested at this time. Madison Township Fire Department responded with Truck 88-T5 and Pittsfield Township sent Truck 10-T2. Madison Truck 88-T5 was positioned on side A at the A/D corner and set up for aerial master-stream operations. Firefighters also placed a 1,000-gpm ground monitor into operation from this truck. The monitor was supplied by a 500-foot, four-inch line from Manchester Engine 7-2, which was fed by Manchester Engine 7-3 at draft from the River Raisin, 1,200 feet away. Pittsfield Township Truck 10-T2 was positioned at the A/B corner and set up for aerial operations. This unit was supplied by a 200-foot, five-inch hydrant-supply line (this was originally the second supply line laid for Clinton Engine 76-E1). Later in the incident, Pittsfield Truck 10-T2 was repositioned to side C of the building. Pittsfield, Chelsea and Clinton firefighters were assigned to trench ventilate a structure that was connected to the main fire building. This operation, along with water protection, prevented the fire from extending into the connected structures.

When it became apparent that additional water supplies would be needed, drafting operations from the River Raisin on U.S. 12 were assigned to Manchester and Clinton personnel. Clinton Engine 76-E2, Manchester Engine 7-3, Sand Lake 90 Draft 5 and Clinton Tanker 76-T2 were set up at draft. Manchester Assistant Chief Gary Weidmayer, Firefighter Bob Blumenauer and Lieutenant Brian Kunzelman were assigned to coordinate drafting operations.

The Ridgeway Township Fire Department was assigned the task of supplying another large-diameter line from the River Raisin at Water Works Park at the end of River Street to the south side of the incident. Ridgeway Engine 74-3 drafted from the river and supplied 1,500 feet of five-inch line laid by Chelsea Tanker 6-1, which supplied a 1,000-gpm ground monitor and a 2½-inch handline in the courtyard for exposure protection.

During the incident, three ground monitors were moved around on side C and in the courtyard that was accessible only from that side. The courtyard was not accessible by apparatus, so all handlines and equipment had to be hand carried 200 feet through a gate opening. This courtyard was in the middle of the three main buildings.

Keezer declared the fire under control at 10:41 A.M., although crews extinguished hot spots for two days after the fire. The Chelsea and Cambridge fire departments provided standby coverage and crews at the scene during the next day. An estimated 2.4 million gallons of water was used to extinguish the fire from drafting operations and the municipal water system. Ninety-four firefighters from nine departments, including six departments in Lenawee County and three departments in Washtenaw County, responded to the scene.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.