Friday, February 9, 2007
Fire department saves historic landmark on South Street
Worried neighbors watched in the cold last Thursday afternoon as flames swelled out of the roof of one of Carlisle's historical landmarks, the 1780 Jonathan Heald house at 68 South Street. Fire units from three towns assisted 20 of the town's 27 on-call firemen who were struggling to contain and then extinguish the blaze in what Fire Chief David Flannery described as "one of the greatest saves in the 81-year history of the Carlisle Fire Department."
The Fire Department is still investigating the cause of the fire, talking with everyone in the two apartments in the building, checking out the electrical system and "putting the process in order." According to Flannery, they are able "to rule out arson, absolutely."
Fire spotted by Assurance Technology worker
A man sitting at a meeting next door in the Assurance Technology building was the first to spot the fire when he looked out a window at about 2:30 p.m. and noticed smoke and flames in the rear area of 68 South Street. He went out to investigate and immediately ran back to get the fire extinguisher and men to help contain the fire. The police were the first emergency responders; they secured the scene because they felt the Assurance Technology men with the fire extinguisher were in danger. Although the helpful workers had moved the barbecue grill away from the flames, the propane gas tank was still there.
The first fire call was received at 2:33 p.m. and the first fire crews arrived at 2:37 p.m. By the time Engine 3 arrived from another call, noticeable flames were coming from the area. By this time, South Street was closed at both the Concord and Cross Street intersections. A hose line was set up and a wall was knocked down to access the burning area. Flames were coming from the rear of the building and thick smoke from the left hand corner which was a sign, Flannery said, that indicated the fire was spreading in the wall of the building.
At various times, the Bedford, Acton and Westford Fire Departments were called in to cover the station. Fire crews from Concord, Acton and Westford responded to the second and third alarms with men and equipment. Although the Hanscom tanker was available at the scene, Flannery said his men did not need to lay down a hose line because not much water was used.
Two Mosquito staff members who were at the scene described the large number of emergency vehicles, at least five engines and a tanker truck, and the many lengths of fire hoses. They said quite a few people were drawn to the fire: reporters from out-of-town newspapers, concerned neighbors and members of the Canteen Committee, who brought food and liquid for the firemen. It was an "all call" for the Fire Department and, according to one observer, "they were doing a lot of hard work."
The slate roof of the house presented a series of problems. It trapped the heat, was slippery and was difficult to cut through. Flannery explained that "you can't just poke a hole" through slate, so it was necessary to get a hand saw from the new truck. He added that the new ladder truck was useful because the house was a high building and required second story equipment. Also, it carried a lot of essential equipment: a lighting plant, rescue tools, air bottles and saws.
Mutual aid fire crews from Acton, Westford and Concord were released around 6:30 p.m. and the scene was cleared at 7:28 p.m. There was no personal injury in the fire, although firemen recovered the bodies of two cats that lost their lives in the fire. There were two apartments at 68 South Street. Some personal property, belonging to Aaron and Gail Cohen who lived in the larger unit, was removed safely from the burning building. The second, smaller apartment was heavily damaged but no damage estimate is available at this time. The present owner, H. Larue Renfroe, is said to be hastening clean-up efforts so the buiding can have the necessary electrical and other inspections to clear the way for tenants to move back in. A work crew was there over the weekend cleaning up the site and work there continues.
The Fire Department's "great save" was doubly appropriate, because it demonstrated the hard and skillful work mentioned by onlookers. It was also the birthplace of the town's first fire chief, Waldo Wilson. The town established the Fire Department in 1926 and in 1928, Wilson, who was born at 68 South Street when it was still the Wilson Stock Farm, became its first chief.
© 2007 The