Shetucket Plumbing Fire February 4, 2004
2004 had been an eventful year for winter weather. Temperatures in January reached all new lows and several snowstorms left Westerly with a decent snowpack. February, although still cold brought slightly higher temps but large snow piles still remained in parking lots and near intersections. On February 4, 2004 Westerly firefighters were clearing the Westerly Hospital Helipad after covering a Lifestar landing. Engine 3 had returned to headquarters and Engine 4 was just backing into Station 2 on Beach St. Westerly Dispatch began receiving 911 calls and fire alarm box 1313 Cross and Raymond at 3:47 pm reporting a fire at the Shetucket Plumbing Supply Co. at 114 Cross St. Car 32 First Assistant Chief Stenhouse signed on the air and reported a heavy column of smoke visible from the area. As members were in the stations, apparatus rolled out quickly. Chief Stenhouse arrived on scene to find the rear portion of the warehouse heavily involved with fire and spreading rapidly. Engine 4 was the first to arrive and was ordered to lay a 4 inch supply line into the scene from a hydrant near the entrance to the Shetucket property. Lines were immediately pulled by firefighters on scene down a driveway towards the rear of the building. Heavy smoke obscured much of the drive way and buildings.
Engine 2 arrived and setup at the hydrant and pumped Engine 4’s supply line. Engine 3 was positioned near Engine 4 in the main parking lot and their lines were pulled to protect the show room and retail sales area connected to the warehouse. Chief Sayles arrived and assumed command of the scene. Ladder 1 was positioned next to Engine 4 and began to setup their aerial ladder and ladder pipe. The Pawcatuck Fire Department was requested to respond with 2 additional pumpers and manpower. Since the hydrant hit by Engine 4 was incapable of supplying more water for the ladder pipe, Engine 1 reverse laid a 4 inch supply line from Ladder 1 down Raymond St. to a hydrant at 119 John St. Westerly and Pawcatuck firefighters made a tremendous stop by holding the fire at the fire wall that separated the warehouse from the showroom and retail portion of the building. The smoke generated a great deal of heavy black smoke and required the Westerly Ambulance and Rescue Squad to advise residence at Babcock Village to remain indoors and keep windows shut. Members checked to make sure smoke was not entering the building. Fortunately, it did not.
As the extent of the fire grew, lines were stretched from Engine 4 to the very rear of the building where employees reported they first saw the fire. Besides the heavy smoke from burning fiberglass showers, bathtubs and PVC pipes, firefighters had to also contend with burning propane tanks used to power the forklifts. One tank had toppled over and was venting gas that caught fire. The thick smoke caused an extensive use of air cylinders and the means to fill them. One of the Pawcatuck engines could fill air bottles but its air supply was quickly depleted and a call was made for Stonington Borough Fire Department to respond with is air supply unit. The fire was placed under control around 6:00 pm. Ashaway Fire Department was requested to provide one engine and additional manpower to assist with extinguishment. Dunn’s Corners Fire Department provide one engine to cover the Westerly Station. During this time they responded to an odor of gas call at 9 Granite St. Approximately, 90 firefighters battled the blaze with no injuries reported. Damage to the warehouse and its contents was extensive and required the building be torn down. Westerly firefighters remained on scene monitoring the building and occasionally extinguishing flare ups and hot spots until the next day, February 5th until 4:09 pm more than 24 hours after the original call. Investigator from the Rhode Island Fire Marshal’s office and Westerly Police were investigating the cause.