On The Job: Rhode Island - Rhode Island & Massachusetts Units Converge On Pawtucket Mill Fire

Jay K. Bradish details a fire that started in a nearly century-old mill in Pawtucket, RI, that destroyed three mill buildings and 13 residential structures, leaving more than 100 people homeless.


A fire in Pawtucket, RI, that started in a nearly century-old mill that was undergoing demolition threatened to become a conflagration that could destroy a large area of the city. Before the fire was controlled, three mill buildings and 13 residential structures were destroyed, and 17 other...


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A fire in Pawtucket, RI, that started in a nearly century-old mill that was undergoing demolition threatened to become a conflagration that could destroy a large area of the city. Before the fire was controlled, three mill buildings and 13 residential structures were destroyed, and 17 other structures were damaged. Over 100 people were left homeless. Twenty-one mutual aid departments from Rhode Island and Massachusetts took part in firefighting operations and six other Massachusetts departments were on standby across the state line in Seekonk.

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Photo By Michael Gleason
A house located near the mill building on Kenyon Avenue is fully engulfed. Three mill buildings and 13 homes were destroyed, and 17 other structures were damaged.

PAWTUCKET FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Timothy McLaughlin
PersonneL: 146 career firefighters
Apparatus: two pumpers, two aerials, two ALS units, one reserve ladder, two marine units, one special rescue vehicle, one mass-casualty vehicle, one hazmat trailer, two reserve engines, two reserve rescues
Population: 72,206
Area: 82 square miles

The three-story, 300,000-square-foot Greenhalgh Mill was built in 1906 of typical mill-type construction: brick, Class 3 heavy timbers, yellow pine flooring, and an asphalt and gravel roof. The wooden floors were saturated with oil that had leaked from cotton looms during the mill’s 93 years of operation. All utilities to the mill had been cut off on Oct. 22, and the sprinkler and fire alarm systems were out of service. It was a clear day with gale force winds reaching 50 mph from the northwest. Temperatures were in the 30s, falling below freezing as night fell.

At 2:46 P.M. on Nov. 14, 2003, the Pawtucket Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire at the Greenhalgh Mill at 314 Woodbine St. Responding on the first alarm were Engines 3, 4 and 6 and Ladder 2, a 110-foot aerial, with 12 firefighters under the command of Third Battalion Chief Richard Meerbott. The Engine 6 crew was operating Reserve Engine 7 at the time, as the Engine 6 apparatus was in the shop for repairs.

The Cottage Street Fire Station, home to Engine 4 and Ladder 2, was located directly across the street from the mill. As Engine 4 firefighters were donning their turnout gear, Lieutenant John Leite notified the Fire Alarm Bureau that he had heavy fire showing and requested a second alarm. Engine 4 reported on scene at 2:47. The fire grew rapidly from the northwest corner of the mill to being fully involved in a matter of minutes. Engine 4 and Ladder 2 were positioned off of Woodbine Street (side 2) for defensive operations. Engine 3 laid dual three-inch supply lines from a hydrant on Woodbine Street (side 1) to the northwest side of the mill and supplied Engine 4. Firefighters from Engine 3 and Engine 4 placed numerous handlines into operation, and also laid supply lines to Ladder 2 for aerial master stream operations. Lieutenant David Byerlee had Firefighter Christopher Kinch position Engine 6 on the corner of Kenyon Avenue and Baxter Street after they laid two three-inch supply lines to themselves from a hydrant on Baxter Street. Multiple lines were stretched from this engine to protect exposures on the south side of Kenyon Avenue.

Responding on the second alarm at 2:52 were Engine 2, Ladder 1, a 110-foot aerial, and Rescue 2, an EMS unit with eight firefighters. Meerbott requested a third alarm at 2:59. Engines 1 and 5 and Rescue 1, an EMS unit, responded with an additional eight firefighters.

Off-duty Lieutenant Steve Parent responded to Station 4 and brought Reserve Ladder 3, an 85-foot aerial, to the scene. That unit was positioned on Woodbine Street (side 1) and set up for water tower operations. Fire Department Mechanic Joseph Coccia was just completing repairs on Engine 6 when he heard Meerbott call for more engines. Coccia drove Engine 6 to the scene. This engine, supplied by dual three-inch supply lines, was positioned on Woodbine Street and supplied Ladder 3 along with several handlines and its deluge gun.

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