Massachusetts and New Hampshire Units Battle 7-Alarm Fire in Mixed-Use Structure

Jay K. Bradish describes how repeated training on the incident command system was critical to successfully managing a large incident and the extensive mutual aid resources needed to control the fire and safely evacuate occupants.


Seventeen fire departments from Massachusetts and New Hampshire battled a seven-alarm fire on May 26, 2004, that destroyed a 104-year-old building in downtown Amesbury, MA. Fire officers credited repeated training on the incident command system for their success in managing the large incident and...


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Seventeen fire departments from Massachusetts and New Hampshire battled a seven-alarm fire on May 26, 2004, that destroyed a 104-year-old building in downtown Amesbury, MA. Fire officers credited repeated training on the incident command system for their success in managing the large incident and extensive mutual aid resources needed to control the late-night fire and safely evacuate the building’s occupants.

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Photo by Steve Perkins
Thick, black smoke issues from the third floor of the mixed-use building, which had businesses and the first floor and apartments above.

AMESBURY FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: William F. Shute
Type of department: Combination (40 members)
Apparatus: Two engines, one aerial, one technical rescue unit, one collapse trailer, one forestry unit, one marine unit, two ALS units, one reserve engine
Population: 17,000
Area: 14 square miles

The three-story wood-frame building of balloon-type construction was 50 feet deep and 150 feet wide. The structure had a flat tar and gravel roof and was equipped with a Type 1 Fire Alarm System with a Master Box. Three businesses occupied the first floor and eight apartments were located on the second and third floors.

The Amesbury Fire Department was dispatched to a structure fire at 69-73 Main St. at 10:39 P.M. Engines 1 and 3 and Ladder 1, a 110-foot aerial, responded with six firefighters under the command of Lieutenant James Kukene. Engines 1 and 3 were positioned at the rear of the building (side C). Engine 3 laid a 300-foot four-inch supply line from a hydrant at 45 Friend St. to supply Engine 1. Ladder 1 was positioned on Main Street at the A-B corner of the structure. The building was situated in the center of a block, thus there was no access to sides B and D.

Firefighters from Engine 1 advanced a 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line into the rear entrance of the building to protect occupant removal. First-due firefighters found three to four occupants struggling to leave the building on floors two and three. Those occupants had to be assisted out with conditions rapidly deteriorating due to heavy smoke and heat. Firefighters at this time reported they could hear fire running the walls.

At 10:42, Kukene requested the “working fire” alarm be transmitted. Upon the arrival of Chief William F. Shute and Deputy Chief Jon Brickett, Shute assumed command and quickly realized the severity of the incident. A command post was established in front of exposure B. Shute ordered the second alarm at 10:48, initiating the callback of all off-duty personnel. Amesbury Engine 2 responded to the scene with callback personnel and was positioned on Main Street. This pumper was supplied by a 200-foot four-inch supply line from a hydrant at Main and Aubin streets. Engine 2 supplied Ladder 1 with a 100-foot four-inch supply line.

Firefighters from Engine 2 advanced a 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line into the Greenery Design, a florist shop on the first floor of the building. This crew encountered heavy fire in the rear of the flower shop and attempted to knock down the fire and contain it. Crews at the rear stretched an additional 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line to the second floor for protection and extinguishment operations. These crews operated three lines inside the structure for 30 minutes. Also on the second alarm, Newburyport Engine 4, Merrimac Engine 31 and Merrimac Tower Ladder 1 filled in at the Amesbury Fire Station.

Shute requested a third alarm at 10:55. Newburyport Engine 4, Merrimac Engine 34 and Tower Ladder 1, a 100-foot tower, responded to the scene from standby at the Amesbury Fire Station. Newburyport Engine 4 responded to the A side of the building and hooked on the hydrant in front of the fire building on Main Street. Merrimac Engine 34 and Merrimac Tower Ladder 1 went to the rear side C to assist Amesbury Engine 1. Merrimac Tower Ladder 1 was set up at the C-D corner of the building. The crew from Merrimac Engine 34 assisted Amesbury firefighters with fire attack operations at the rear.

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