On The Job - Massachusetts: 78 Departments Battle $26 Million Fire At Uxbridge Mill

Jay K. Bradish details a general-alarm fire that destroyed the historic Bernat Mill and required large-scale mutual aid.


On Saturday, July 21, 2007, a general-alarm fire destroyed the historic Bernat Mill in downtown Uxbridge. The old mill-type structure presented many challenges to the 400 firefighters from 78 departments that responded from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Originally known as The Capron Mill, started...


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On Saturday, July 21, 2007, a general-alarm fire destroyed the historic Bernat Mill in downtown Uxbridge. The old mill-type structure presented many challenges to the 400 firefighters from 78 departments that responded from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Originally known as The Capron Mill, started by John Capron, the facility was famous for the military uniforms that were made there during the Civil War, World War I (khaki overcoats) and World War II (U.S. Army uniforms). The first U.S. Air Force uniforms, made in what became known as "Uxbridge Blue," were made in the mill. It later became the Bernat Mill and was known for yarns in the later 20th century, and at one time was the third-largest yarn factory in the country.

During the 1990s, the mill was converted to a multi-use facility. At the time of the fire, it was home to 65 small businesses, retail shops and manufacturing companies, all of which were destroyed. The oldest part of the mill, the original Capron Mill, made of wood, was largely saved from the fire by the efforts of firefighters.

The original structure was erected in 1820 with major additions in 1912, 1923, 1929, 1946, 1950 and 1953. The original structure was unprotected steel construction with exterior wood cladding. Most of the major additions were unprotected steel construction with brick exterior walls. One section was steel frame with metal sheathing. The majority of the roof was rubber membrane over plank roofing with insulation and covered with a half-inch of ballast stone.

The structure could be broken down into four distinct sections with a total floor area of 350,000 square feet: the main building was three stories high, with each floor measuring 100,000 square feet; an attached storage area and loading dock on the B/C corner comprised approximately 20,000 square feet; a small manufacturing area on the C/D corner contained 20,000 square feet; and the original three-story wooden structure contained 10,000 square feet. The entire premise was protected by a full sprinkler system supplied by the municipal water system. It was connected to the municipal alarm system using a master box triggered by flow switches on each sprinkler system. There were no other detection devices in the building. There were no public life safety issues as the building was closed and unoccupied at the time of the fire.

The Uxbridge Fire Department received Master Box 2111 at 4:15 A.M. from the Bernat Mill at 19 Depot St. The first response was two on-duty personnel from Station 1 with Engine 1, a 1,250-gpm pumper. Twenty-five off-duty and on-call personnel immediately responded from home on the first alarm. Engine 2, Engine 3, Engine 5, Ladder 1 and Rescue 1 responded from Uxbridge's three stations on the first alarm with off-duty firefighters.

Captain Melissa Blodgett and Firefighter Roger Lavallee from Engine 1 went to the enunciator panel at the main entrance of the building on side A. Based on the zone displayed, they relocated Engine 1 into the courtyard on the D side to investigate the indicated area. Blodgett reported light smoke conditions from the rear of the building near the C/D corner of the main structure. Proceeding into the main structure through a closed fire wall door, they encountered heavy smoke conditions on the first floor of the main building.

The first fire the crew located was on the first floor between the B and D sides of the main structure, closer to the A side than the C side. Second-due Engine 5 was positioned at the A/B corner of the main structure and personnel went to Engine 1 to assist the crew. Firefighters advanced a 150-foot 1¾-inch line from Engine 1. Engine 2 took a position on Mendon Street near the gate entrance to the courtyard on the D side of the building. This engine's crew entered the building to assist the crews from Engines 1 and 5 in locating the fire and initiating fire attack. A 200 foot, 2½-inch line was taken into the building as directed by Engine 1's original entry crew. Engine 3 laid a 200-foot, four-inch supply line from a hydrant on Depot Street to a position on the B side of the building near Engine 5.

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