Thursday, January 29, 2004

30 Years of a Family Business, 10 Years of Redevelopment, and a 100-Year Old Historic Building Gone

Buffalo ABC affiliate, WKBW, has video available of last night's fire

Here's the local paper's story.

More Than 100 Battle Massive City Blaze
Post-Journal 1/29/04

Over 100 firefighters from eight departments battled a blaze that completely destroyed the El Greco furniture building on East First Street in Jamestown.

Flames raged for four hours Wednesday night while firefighters fought to maintain the stability of a crucial firewall and barrier for a dozen 129-year-old attached buildings known as the old Broadhead Mills complex.
Dozens of police officers, fire police and other support staff maintained a police barricade that closed East First, East Second and parts of East Third streets through the night. Dozens more people were evacuated from apartments and businesses along East Second Street and redirected to Jamestown High School's gymnasium.

By 10 p.m., Police Chief/Director of Public Safety William McLaughlin said decisions were being made ''minute by minute'' to coordinate firefighters in and out of the burning firewall area between the destroyed west end of the complex and the untouched buildings to the east.

''Asst. Fire Chief Lance Hedlund has had crews to the firewall and brought them back out because it became too dangerous,'' McLaughlin said. ''The most important thing at this point is supporting the fire wall. If that goes, the whole thing goes.''

McLaughlin said the city followed a coordinated plan to get personnel and equipment in place, with rotation of crews, refueling, evacuation and even snow removal as part of the operation. McLaughlin, Hedlund, county fire coordinators and other rescue crew managers set up a command post in the parking lot across the street from the fire department to maintain communications.

Hedlund gave commands to direct the firefight, while every Jamestown firefighter was called to duty and mutual aid in the form of equipment and crews came from departments in Lakewood, Celoron, Busti, Falconer, Gerry, Mayville and Fluvanna, with additional crews standing by from Kennedy, Falconer, Fredonia and Stockton. Jamestown's fire department's building was filled with trucks and personnel from all over the county.

If another ladder truck is needed, Battalion Chief Jim Winchester said, ''we'll have to go out of state (to Warren, Pa.) to get it.''

Salvation Army, American Red Cross and auxiliary volunteers set up tables filled with refreshments and plenty of hot coffee.

''We love the firefighters,'' Sandy Ahlgren of The Salvation Army said.

Elwood Ford said he was sitting in the Grog Shop with friends when they noticed five or six windows on the third floor of the Broadhead Mills Building on fire at about 6:55 p.m.

''There were a few windows broken out by the fire. Nobody called it in right away. It took about 25 minutes before anybody realized there was a fire back there,'' Ford said.

Ford said the first responders on the scene ''worked hard to get the fire out, but they needed more help.'' In addition, he said, the building did not have a sprinkler system in place.

Mayor Sam Teresi, who maintained a presence at the fire department throughout the emergency, said, ''Obviously, it's devastating - a substantial loss. What we are seeing here tonight, though, is the true meaning of community. We've had a tremendous response from firefighters. It's overwhelming to me to see this kind of mutual aid response. This is a textbook example of why we have mutual aid. My heart goes out to the building owner and the business owners and my admiration goes out to firefighters. This (fire) is going to take a couple of days of monitoring.''

By 11 p.m ., fire coordinators said crews were at the firewall to maintain its stability. One major structure - El Greco - was fully engulfed and destroyed from the fire wall west. Residents of apartments on East Second Street were still housed at the High School and the roads still blocked off to traffic.

''They (firefighters) are just deluging the fire wall with water, just dowsing it,'' McLaughlin said.

Former fire chief Charles Hajduk said coordinators were already planning the clean-up schedule in order to coordinate things like removing hoses that will be frozen to the ground by the time the fire is out.

''Right now they are rotating crews to get firefighters who have been out there for a few hours back in here for some coffee and warm up. It's cold and wet out there and these guys are tired,'' he said. ''They'll need to get other crews out there to replace them and so on. It's all a matter of protecting that fire wall. If the fire wall is breached, it's all over.''

Hajduk said people will be allowed to return to their homes at the command of Asst. Fire Chief Hedlund.

''When he feels the fire is under control and considers things like whether the utilities are on in the apartments. Everybody is going to have roily water in the morning,'' he said.

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