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By Asst. Chief Joseph Fusaro
May 19, 2022

Thursday May 8, 1986 was a typical early May day. Temperatures were in the low 60’s and the nights were slightly cooler in the mid to high 40’s. Clouds would be moving in overnight and a light drizzle was expected. Members of the Calabrese Society had two meetings that Thursday evening and the club was closed up around 10 pm. Around 2:35 am on Friday May 9 fire boxes 4121 for West St and 4115 Pleasant and Marriott were pulled for a fire discovered at the Calabrese Club 28 Pleasant St. Three members who lived at the fire station responded quickly in Engine 3. As they proceeded through downtown Westerly they could smell the smoke and as Engine 3 turned from Canal St onto Railroad Ave the glow from the fire was visible. When they turned and crossed the West St. bridge it was evident a well advanced fire was in progress at the club. Engine 3 pulled into the parking lot and took a position near the C/D corner of the building. The fire involved this corner of the building. The crew of Engine 3 stretched a 1 ½ inch hose line into the bar area. They were driven out as the fire rapidly extended upward taking possession of the attic of the building. The building the Calabrese Club occupied since 1934 was originally the Pleasant St School. Records indicate it was built sometime in the early 1870’s. The type of construction used then did not include fire stops in the walls and once the fire started there was nothing to hold it in check. Fire codes did not require sprinklers or a fire alarm for buildings of this age.

Engine 2 arrived and took a position at the hydrant at Pleasant and West. Ladder 1 was directed to back in and set up their ladder pipe on the A/D corner. Before this could be accomplished a large section of the white picket fence that surrounded the front and left side had to be removed. Engine 1 arrived on Pleasant St after hitting the hydrant at Pleasant and Marriott to supply Ladder 1. Westerly Fire Chief Robert Mackay responding and listening to radio reports requested Pawcatuck Fire Department for an engine and their ladder truck. He also ordered Reserve Engine 1 (1953 Seagrave pumper) to the scene. Reserve Engine 1 would feed Westerly Engine 1. Pawcatuck would respond with Engines 41 and 42 as well as Ladder 45. Engine 41 and Ladder 45 were positioned on Pleasant St. near West St. Ladder 45 positioned its aerial at the A/B corner and placed its ladder pipe into operation on the roof consuming flames fed by Engine 41. Engine 42 was directed to lay additional supply lines from the hydrant in front of the Rushlow-Iacoi Funeral home on Friendship St. They took a position at the entrance to the driveway and set up a deluge set. An additional call was put into the Hope-Valley Wyoming Fire Department to respond with Unit 500 (Special Hazards 900 today) to fill air bottles at the scene. Westerly Ambulance and Rescue stood by at the scene as well. No injuries were reported by any of the 100 firefighters that operated at the scene. The fire was placed under control around 6:00 am but firefighters remained on scene until about 8:00 am.

The blaze caused major damage to the building’s roof which was totally consumed with the remnants collapsing into the second floor. A partial collapse of the D side near the C/D corner left the rear wall bowing out and presented a threat for further collapse. Investigators from the Westerly Police and the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal’s office led by investigator Jerry Leddy would attempt to seek the cause of the fire. Due to the severe structural damage, close examination of the area of origin, the bar area on the west side, was impossible. The cause was listed as undetermined. Westerly Building Official Morton H. Koske was called to the scene and ordered the building demolished because of its structural instability. Not only were momentos of the Calabrese Society lost, but also records of Local 15 International Laborers Union and some belongings of the Westerly Democratic Town Committee. The membership quickly rallied to build a new modern hall on the site and the Calabrese Club remains an active participant in the Westerly community.

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