November 1971 was unusually cool for the time of year. Temperatures were lower than normal for the month. As Wednesday November 17th turned to Thursday November 18th temperatures were dipping towards freezing. At approximately 12:50 am Box 4113, Pleasant St at Canal St was pounded for a fire at 71 Pleasant St. The two and a half story ell shaped house was occupied by three families and held a vacant storefront on a portion of the first floor. The building was owned by Joseph LaPere, occupant of the first floor with his wife and daughter. The fire began on the second floor in the apartment occupied by Manuel Laires, his wife and two small children. Also occupying another second floor were Joseph and Irene Raven. When the fire was discovered members of the Laires family fled and warned the Ravens to evacuate. Mr. LaPere turned in the alarm.
The first emergency personnel to arrive were Westerly Police officers Byron Brown and John Smith. They assisted the Laires family with completing their escape from the flames. Westerly Resident Fireman Edward Greene was in the process of taking a telephone call from a Rose Avenue (Geranium Lane) resident when the fire alarm box began ringing into the fire station. As Fireman Greene came through town in the first truck, flames were visible in the night sky. The fire had gained head way and had extended into the attic space of both the main house and el wing. The fire produced heavy smoke forcing Chief Columbus Pasetti to order the use of Scott Air Paks for firefighters entering the second floor to attack the fire. Water was supplied to the fire by hydrants at Pleasant and Canal as well as one at Pleasant and Pierce. Flames considerably damaged the roof and second floor of the building. Smoke and water damage were significant on the first floor. In addition to the Westerly Fire and Police departments response, the Westerly Ambulance Corps and Westerly Rescue Squad responded. Members of the Rescue Squad provided supplemental lighting on scene. Ambulance attendants stood by to aid anyone who became injured. Fortunately there was only one very minor injury and that occurred when a fireman dropped a nozzle on his foot. He did not require transport from the scene. Firefighters cleared the scene around 5:00 am. Coffee was served by the Red Cross and neighbors. Neighbors also provided shelter to those displaced by the fire.
Chief Pasetti reported the fire was undetermined and continued investigation was needed to find the cause. Damage was significant with large, gaping holes in the roof. The owner had only partial insurance on the building. He would most likely raze the building as repairs may not be feasible. The building was eventually razed and a new single story home was erected on the site.