Five-Alarm Fire Tests Might of Chelsea, Surrounding Fire Departments

September 4, 2014
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Firefighters were still recovering from Sunday’s brutal, 5-Alarm fire on Arlington Street Monday morning when a surprise came knocking.

Often feeling like the forgotten service in Chelsea, firefighters were surprised to find residents from the affected neighborhood bringing home cooked meals and thank-yous to the crews that had worked so hard to prevent a near-disaster in an area that over the last 150 years has known plenty of tragic conflagrations.

One by one, residents filed in to show their appreciation for the incredible effort in the face of towering flames on a brutally hot late summer day. It was a fire that damaged six homes – condemning four of them – and had no severe injuries, but one that could have taken an entire swath of the city had efforts not been so successful.

“It’s amazing how people surprise you,” said Deputy Chief John Quatieri, who was the initial commander of the operations at Sunday’s fire. “We had so many people just come in to Central Fire to say thanks. They really showed their appreciation. We even had local restaurants bring food over to the station during the fire to feed the fire crews covering our stations.”

In the aftermath of the charring on Arlington Street, things seemed quite calm this week, perhaps masking the severity of the situation when firefighters arrived at the scene around 2:15 p.m.

Upon arrival, firefighters found 255 Arlington St. completely engulfed in flames and alert neighbors knocking on the doors of surrounding houses to tell residents there was a major fire – something which many of them did not know.

Flames were towering out of the home, and were spreading rapidly – coming out of the windows on all sides within minutes.

Chelsea Police and Firefighters immediately went to work to try to rescue anyone trapped in the blaze, and one child was reportedly still stuck in the 255 Arlington St. home.

A search unit from Chelsea Tower 1 was ordered into the building to find anyone still inside, while Engine 2 ran 4-inch hose lines from a hydrant across the street to protect the rescuers.

“Tower 1’s crew entered the structure under extremely heavy fire conditions in an effort to locate the trapped occupant,” said Quatieri. “Engine 2’s crew was ordered to advance a hose line into 255 Arlington to protect the crew of Tower 1 while they conducted a primary search.”

Saving human lives was of utmost importance as most everyone was known to be home during the long weekend, but at the same time fire was rapidly spreading to surrounding homes and Chelsea fire crews began to see things were teetering on the edge of being out of control.

The home at 255 Arlington St. by that time was fully involved and had spread to 253 Arlington St. – prompting a 3rd Alarm call.

“Fire was quickly spreading in all directions,” noted Quatieri in his report of the fire. “[The buildings at] 30 Heard St. and 28 Heard St. …were starting to ignite from the radiant heat. A 40-foot section of wood stockade fencing ignited…causing the fire to spread to 26 Heard St. and 22 Heard St. A 4th alarm was ordered and an additional Chelsea Deputy Chief was requested to respond to the fire. At this point, conditions were deteriorating rapidly. All Chelsea companies were committed to 255 Arlington St, and containing the spread of fire at 26 Heard St. and 22 Heard St., and were heavily engaged removing occupants.”

At this point, Chelsea fire crews were reportedly taxed to the max and a critical decision had to be made in an instant. People were still in one of the buildings where the fire was spreading to, 22 Heard St., but two more buildings on Heard Street were also quickly burning up, though not occupied.

There were not enough resources to cover all three buildings and mutual aid had not yet arrived.

Chelsea crews decided to run a rescue effort at 22 Heard St. and fight the fire there with the last Chelsea fire company on scene. That meant that the other two burning, but unoccupied, buildings on Heard Street would have to wait for additional units to arrive – a move that had to be made but carried the risk of the fire expanding further.

It was no easy decision.

“No fire companies were available to be assigned to 28 and 30 Heard St., which had ignited due to radiant heat from the original fire building,” read the report. “The potential life safety threat at 22 Heard St, an occupied six-family, was too great so a decision was made…to protect that building until all occupants could be removed.”

Lucky enough, Everett crews arrived on the scene not long after and were able to immediately get to work fighting the spreading fire at 28 and 30 Heard St.

It was not long after that when Acting Fire Chief Robert Houghton called for the 5th alarm to be struck.

As mutual aid companies arrived, they were given assignments on either Heard Street or Arlington Street to build a wall around the blaze and beat it back.

The fight went on for hours, but fortunately by 7 p.m., Acting Chief Houghton was able to give the order that all visible fire had been knocked down and companies should begin looking for hot spots. That effort went on into the night, and a fire detail was hired to guard the buildings and keep watch overnight.

Two firefighters were transported to MGH Boston for smoke inhalation injuries, but are expected to be okay.

One resident of 28 Heard St. was transported to the Whidden Hospital with injuries, but nothing serious.

There were no fatalities, miraculously.

Four homes were deemed structurally unsound after the fire and residents were not allowed to re-occupy those homes. They included 255 Arlington, 253 Arlington, 28 Heard, and 26 Heard.

Water damage was heavy to 30 Heard St. and residents were not immediately able to re-occupy that home.

Residents of 22 Heard St. were cleared to return to their homes.

The commuter rail was shut down during the fire in order to run hoses across the tracks.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but Chelsea Fire at this point believes the blaze to be accidental in nature. Still, they are calling on the public to report any gas smells or suspicious activities prior to the fire to investigators at (617) 466-4625.

One displaced family has set up a fund-raising effort online at www.gofundme.com/dur0zg.


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