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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Ladder 1 was positioned on the A side of the building and raised its ladder to the roof of the structure. The initial report from the roof crew was that smoke was showing from numerous vents and that fire could be seen at the bottom of a four-inch vent pipe. Engine 3 was relocated to the loading dock area located at the A/B corner of the main structure.

Captain Thomas Dion from Engine 5 requested a second alarm at 4:23 A.M. Responding on this alarm were Northbridge Engine 3, Mendon Engine 1 and Heavy Rescue 1; Millville Ladder 1; a communications unit from Sutton; and North Smithfield, RI, Engine/Tanker 1. Uxbridge Deputy Chief Bill Kessler arrived at 4:24 and assumed command. Northbridge Engine 3 laid a 300-foot, four-inch supply line from a hydrant on Mendon Street to Uxbridge Engine 1. The crew from Northbridge Engine 3 was assigned to assist with the interior attack. Mendon Engine 1 was assigned to the A side, main entrance and connected a 25-foot, four-inch supply line to a hydrant on Depot Street in front of the building. This crew stretched a 150-foot, 2½-inch line through the front door to the second floor, where it encountered untenable conditions due to high heat and moderate smoke.

Millville Ladder 1 was assigned to the D side courtyard and raised its aerial to the third floor. This crew advanced a 200-foot, 2½-inch line to the third floor from Uxbridge Engine 1. Heavy smoke was encountered upon entering the main section of the building near the A/B corner. Captain Josh Poznanski and the Millville ladder crew used a thermal imaging camera to locate heavy fire on the third floor and placed the handline into operation.

Uxbridge Fire Chief Peter Ostroskey arrived on scene at 4:37 and took command of operations. A command post was initially established on Depot Street at the A/B corner of the main structure. Kessler was assigned to coordinate operations on the B side of the building with Uxbridge Engine 3 and Millville Fire Chief John Mullaly was assigned D-side operations. Ostroskey special-called the third-alarm aerial ladder from Northbridge to the scene. Northbridge Ladder 1 was positioned on the B side and firefighters advanced a 200-foot, 2½-inch line through an oversized window on the third floor. The Northbridge ladder crew encountered moderate smoke while checking for fire along the B-side wall while advancing toward side C. Not finding any fire, the crew returned to the entry window and proceeded along the A-side wall toward the Millville ladder crew until being driven out by heavy, acrid smoke. No fire and minimal heat were encountered by the crew.

Ostroskey requested a third alarm at 5:02 A.M. At this time, the command post was moved to a parking area on Mendon Street opposite Depot Street facing the A/D corner of the building. Mendon Fire Department Deputy Chief Mark Poirier was assigned as the staging officer at the command post to coordinate the incoming companies on the third alarm. Sutton Engine 1 and Douglas Engine 1 responded on the third alarm. The crew from Douglas Engine 1 assisted Mendon Engine 1's crew on the second floor. Ostroskey requested a fourth alarm at 05:13. Blackstone Engine 55 and Ladder 51; Upton Engine 1, Hopedale Engine 2 and Harrisville, RI, Engine 22 responded on this alarm. Ostroskey requested a fifth alarm at 5:32 A.M. Douglas Ladder 1, Millbury Engine 1; Oakland-Mapleville, RI, Engine 11; Pascoag, RI, Engine 44; and Nasonville, RI, Engine 32 responded. Initial firefighter rehab was done by ambulance crews from Uxbridge, Mendon, Northbridge and a paramedic unit from Milford Hospital. Ostroskey ordered interior companies out of the building, beginning with Engine 3 at 5:35, after receiving a report of a structural collapse from Kessler operating inside the ground floor on the B side of the main structure.

Mutual Aid

Fire District 7 mutual aid response is initiated after the local mutual aid resources (running cards) are exhausted. "Strike teams" consisting of four engines and two ladders are made up of units from other fire departments within the district. Units from two of the strike teams were already included in the five-alarm mutual aid response, leaving only three additional strike teams to be requested. Apparatus and manpower from the strike teams were used for drafting operations, fire suppression and relief crews. The first Fire District 7 Strike Team (Central) was requested at 5:39 A.M. Leicester, Auburn, and Paxton responded with engines; Worcester sent an engine, a tower and a ladder; and Oxford responded with a tower ladder, an engine and a communications unit. A special request was made to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services to send an incident support unit and a rehab unit.