At 1544 hours on Saturday, March 15, 2003 the Manchester, NH Fire Alarm Office began receiving numerous reports of a building fire at 594 Silver Street, in the inner-city. One of the initial alarms was sounded by a Manchester Police Officer who came upon the fire during his routine patrol of the neighborhood. He immediately entered the building to facilitate the evacuation of occupants.
Box 416 was transmitted, sending Engines 7, 10, and 1, Trucks 7 and 3, Rescue 1, and Car 2 (District Chief Edward O'Reilly). Engine 11 and ALS 1 were also automatically dispatched as the FAST companies at the same time due to the number of calls being received.
Engine and Truck Co. 7 commenced their response from their quarters at the intersection of Somerville and Hall Streets, just two blocks from the scene. As they opened the bay doors heavy smoke, fire, and embers were visible over the roof line of the buildings across the street. A Second Alarm was immediately transmitted at 1546 hours, adding Engines 9 and 1, Truck 1, and ALS 3 to the assignment.
Seconds later, Engine and Truck Co. 7 arrived on the scene and reported a 50 foot by 100 foot wood frame tenement which was four stories tall in the front and three stories in the rear. The building housed a leather goods shop on Floor 1, with nine apartments on the upper floors. To complicate matters, there was not a common hallway connecting the apartments. Rather, three apartments were accessible from a stairwell on Side 1 and the remaining six units could only be accessed via a Side 4 entrance.
Extremely heavy fire conditions were visible racing up the Side 2 exterior porches of Floors 2, 3, and 4. The fire was clearly extending rapidly both upward and to the interior of the large balloon frame building. As Engine 7's crew approached the building, they were met by a distraught occupant who reported that his two children were trapped on Floor 2. Engine 7 immediately notified Fire Alarm of this information and removed the man from the building.
Engine Co. 7 took Side 1 of the building and immediately entered the structure to commence a primary search with a hand line. As they quickly discovered they could not access the entire building from their point of entry, Rescue Co. 1, with their thermal imaging cameral, was directed to enter Side 4 to assist with the primary search. Rescue 1 also advanced a line from Engine 7 and the two companies worked together to confirm an All Clear on Floors 1, 2, 3, and 4. The initial reports of trapped children proved to be unfounded as a later headcount of occupants confirmed the building was All Clear.
The Third Alarm was transmitted at 1552 hours, with orders for Engines 2 and 6, Truck 5, and Air 1 to stage at Station 7. This also ordered the callback of all off duty Manchester Firefighters.
Engine Co. 7 then began an attack on the fire from the interior on Floor 3 (the top floor in their area), attempting to push it back out onto the Side 2 porches. Conditions quickly deteriorated from clear visibility to heavy dark smoke and increasing heat throughout the building as the interior fire continued to spread rapidly.
The interior became untenable as heavy fire began rolling over their position and the company was forced to retreat to the relative safety of the stairwell, closing the apartment door behind them. At this time the members' low air alarms began sounding, and they were forced to withdraw from the building.
Truck Co. 7 set their aerial ladder to the roof on Side 3, although they were delayed in this process as hundreds of bystanders had jammed the street and people were attempting to move their parked cars from the area. A moving truck was also blocking their access to the scene. Once in position, they immediately threw several ground ladders to provide additional egress points for the interior crews. They also prepared their aerial ladder for defensive operations.
At 1559 hours the exterior porches collapsed and all companies were ordered to evacuate the building. As additional companies arrived defensive operations were initiated. Engine 7 was moved to a position further from the now well-involved building. Engine 9 went to Side 3 to support Truck 7, while Truck 3 set up on Side 1 with Engine 7. Engine 10 took the alley on the 2-3 corner with Truck 1 on Side 2. Truck 5 was also put into service on the 1-2 corner.
Engine 11 took a hydrant at the intersection of Wilson and Lincoln Streets and pumped into Engine 1 at the corner of Wilson and Silver Streets (the 1-4 corner). Engine 1 then distributed water throughout the fire ground. Several other engines had also established independent water supplies.
Shortly after the defensive operations commenced, all companies in staging were ordered to report to the fire scene via Hall Street. The Fourth Alarm was then struck at 1604 hours, bringing Engines 22 (Bedford), 26 (Goffstown) and Truck 2 to staging. Engine 27 (Londonderry) was Special Called at 1635 hours.
A total of ten master streams were put into operation to contain the fire to the building of origin in the tight urban neighborhood. With little warning, at 1718 hours one-half of the building collapsed on the 1-4 corner. All four floors came down in a pancake collapse and covered the area where Engine 7 had initially set up with a large debris field. Demolition equipment was later called to the scene to assist in overhaul operations, as the portion of the building that did not collapse was unlikely to remain standing.
Mutual aid companies from Auburn, Bedford, Concord, Derry, Goffstown, Hooksett, Litchfield, Londonderry, and Nashua responded to the fire and/or covered Manchester