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BLAZE FROM THE PAST: Dixon Square Building
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By Asst. Chief Joseph Fusaro
September 2, 2021

Tuesday September 15, 1970 saw a steady, driving rain falling when Fire Chief Columbus Pasetti received a phone call around 8:30 am reporting a fire in the Dixon Square building. He responded to investigate finding smoke coming from the building's second floor. He immediately pulled fire alarm box 1122, the Dixon Square box, and then pulled it again. As Westerly firemen arrived, they immediately began stretching hose lines and raising ladders to enter the building. They found Dr. Francis Gencarella waiting at a window and quickly raised a ladder to him and assisted him down. He had become trapped in his office after hearing explosions and finding thick black smoke in the hallway. Meanwhile firefighters began their attack on the smoky and hot fire on the second floor of the Dixon Square building. Firefighters were driven back by the acrid smoke and had to don air packs to make entry. Chief Pasetti summoned Pawcatuck Fire Department to assist and the attack progressed as firemen reached the seat of the fire and extinguished it. Overhaul of the fire area began, and the fire was declared under control a little after 10:00 am. The subsequent use of water caused a great deal of damage to the upper offices of the building cascading down the front steps. Canvas salvage covers were used in the stores and Old Stone Bank to protect their merchandise and office furnishings. Three firefighters, William McCormick and Ted Cercena of the Cyclone Engine Co. #2 and Robert Beattie of the Alert Hook & Ladder Co. # 1, required oxygen from members of the Westerly Ambulance Corps for treatment from smoke exposure. First Assistant Chief John Keena was taken to a doctor for treatment of a sprained ankle. Chief Pasetti estimated damage at approximately $40,000. Final estimates provided by the insurer totaled $29.000.


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