BLAZE FROM THE PAST-Main St. Shopping Center May 22, 1960
By Asst. Chief Joseph Fusaro
May 25, 2023

Sunday evening May 22, 1960 was a quiet one. About 9:15 pm Box 4111 Canal at Friendship was sounded. For some reason, the box was stuck and could not be turned off. Chief Pasetti was forced to turn it off at the station. While this was happening, a fire was discovered in the new Main St Shopping Center. It was formerly the site of the R.A Sherman Lumber Co. Several old buildings were converted to stores and a newer building was erected on the north side of the property. Businesses in the new building included Ruisi and Zygun Pharmacy, Main St. Meat Market, Foberg Paint Store, Crystal Luncheonette, Barone’s Laundromat and a small office used by WERI. Box 1125, Main & School, was sounded to report the fire. However, the alarm signal did not reach the station as the signal was blocked by the stuck box on Canal St. While apparatus was returning to the Union St station, Westerly Police Captain Anthony Terranova stopped firefighters and sent them to the Main St Shopping Center.

Arriving firemen encountered heavy smoke showing from the center of the new structure but no visible fire. Chief Pasetti ordered hose lines stretched and water was applied through the windows to snuff the fire. Unknown to Chief Pasetti and his men the fire was travelling concealed in the void space above the ceiling spreading laterally through the building. No fire stops were incorporated into the new building when it was constructed in 1958. Fire finally erupted from the roof and Chief Pasetti requested mutual aid from Pawcatuck at 10:30 pm. Chief Donahue and a crew of men responded with their ladder truck and one engine. Pawcatuck’s engine was placed in the rear with Westerly Engine 2 where they drafted water from the river and supplied their ladder truck and several hose lines. The fire was not declared under control until well after midnight and not declared out until after 1:00 am. Five firefighters suffering minor injuries were treated and released from the Westerly Hospital. Chief Pasetti estimated losses at $250,000.00. Investigation by the State Fire Marshal, Westerly Police and Chief Pasetti revealed the cause to be a defective light fixture above one of the dryers in the laundromat.