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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The main section of the building was destroyed and major smoke and water damage was sustained by the three adjoining sections. No contents were salvageable in the main building, and much of the remaining structure was damaged. Some manufacturing equipment was preserved and subsequently relocated. Nine firefighters were transported to Milford Regional Hospital from the scene. Most were suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration; two suffered from sprains or strains. All were treated and released from the hospital and most returned to the fire scene. No civilian injuries were reported. Weather conditions throughout the incident were clear and seasonably mild with moderate temperatures and low humidity.

Lessons Learned

  • Problems -- The biggest problem experienced was the water supply from the municipal water system. Firefighters were fortunate that there was an adequate supply in the nearby rivers, but there was a delay in gaining access to it while trees were cut from the river banks and engine companies deployed large-diameter hoselines. The multi-use occupancy presented challenges as the interior layout had been changed several times in recent years. Poor visibility from the earliest entry to the building made firefighting operations difficult. No formal pre-plan was in place at the time of the fire.
  • Successes -- Through the excellent work of interior crews providing accurate information in addition to making a strong interior attack, all personnel were removed from the structure without sustaining major injuries. Deployment of hose streams and appliances prevented extension of the fire into adjoining sections, one of which had a significant fire load of unexpanded polystyrene foam pellets. The atmospheric conditions allowed the smoke to move out of the area quickly. The drafting operations were executed perfectly in spite of some high lifts and difficult access conditions supplying the bulk of the water used in the incident. The mutual aid systems used were flawless and the resources of the local departments, Massachusetts Fire District 7, the Executive Office of Public Safety, the Massachusetts and Rhode Island State Mobilization Plans, the support of the Department of Fire Services, State Police, Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Protection and other state and federal agencies were key to the success of this event. The fire department has adequately prepared and trained for structural fires, but not for one of this magnitude. Firefighters are increasing their knowledge of the multi-use buildings in the community, including better monitoring of the activities within them.

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.