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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Ostroskey ordered the evacuation of the building at 5:49 A.M. and the initiation of defensive operations. The crew from Uxbridge Ladder 1 made a large trench cut near the A/B corner of the building above the area in which the crew from Northbridge Ladder 1 had been operating. The crew then advanced a 2½-inch line to the roof and attacked the fire breaking out around a large air handling structure near the A/B corner of the building. Ladder pipes were placed into service beginning at 5:51 A.M. Uxbridge Ladder 1 and Northbridge Ladder 1 were repositioned to allow for a collapse zone on the A/B corner. Millville Ladder 1 moved its aerial from the roof line on the D side and went to ladder-pipe operation.

Kessler initiated efforts on the B side of the building to establish drafting sites along the Mumford River. Upton Fire Chief Michael Bradford assumed responsibility for firefighting operations at the A/B corner of the building. Douglas Ladder 1 was set up on the B/C corner for master stream operation. Blackstone Ladder 1 was positioned near the A/D corner and began ladder pipe operations. Worcester Ladder 5 joined Douglas Ladder 1 on the B/C corner and Worcester Tower 1 was positioned between the Blackstone and Northbridge aerials on the A side. Webster Tower 1 was positioned on the D side with the Millville Ladder. Portable monitors were placed on the A side on top of the wall in the Prospect Hill Cemetery along Depot Street. Two additional portable monitors were deployed to the C/D corner with one inside on the second floor with a stream directed down a conveyor as the second played in the windows on the D side nearest the C wall. Mullaly deployed two deck guns on the interior of the occupancy attached to the D side of the main building to prevent extension into that section of the building. The second District 7 Strike Team (West 2) was requested at 6:15 A.M. Charlton, Dudley and Southbridge responded with engines; Sturbridge sent an engine and a heavy rescue; Webster sent an engine, a tower ladder and a heavy rescue, Spencer sent a communications unit and Worcester sent a ladder. The third District 7 Strike Team (West 1) was requested at 7 A.M. North Brookfield, Brookfield, West Brookfield and Warren sent engines, Spencer sent an engine and a ladder, and East Brookfield sent an ambulance.

Water Supply

Hydrants on Depot Street in front of the fire building and adjoining Mendon Street were originally tapped for water supply. As companies set up to protect the exposures along South Main Street and later to begin an attack from the C side of the building, hydrants on South Main Street were used. The combination of streams used by firefighters and the sprinkler system in the fire building eventually depleted the municipal water supply. Extensive drafting was needed to replace it Access at three points along the Mumford River was used. At one point, 14 engines were at draft, including the Oakland-Mapleville, RI, engine company that pumped from the Blackstone River, nearly a mile east of the incident.

At 7 A.M., Bradford saw a large amount of combustible liquid burning on top of the runoff coming from the building. Within two minutes, the fuel fire ignited in the parking lot with flames reaching the height of the building on side B. This exterior fire was knocked down by repositioning master streams that were operating on the building. Booms were deployed in the Mumford River to contain any unburned liquid from reaching the pumpers that were drafting and to limit any environmental impact. Uxbridge Firefighter Kevin Feen responded to the scene with the Uxbridge hazmat trailer and helped Kessler place the booms.

At 7:44 A.M., Mullaly reported that the fire was advancing toward the section of the building that contained the Foam Concepts Company on the D side of the building. Foam Concepts had an inventory of unexpanded polystyrene foam pellets ready for processing in their portion of the building. Mullaly deployed two portable monitors and a 2½-inch line inside the Foam Concepts area to operate through the openings in the fire wall to keep the fire from spreading through it.