Thanksgiving Day fire leaves 4 homeless; House saved through the quick actions of firefighters
CHESTERFIELD - Local firefighters were called to the scene of a 'box' alarm at 141 Ireland Street late Thursday afternoon. A 'box' alarm is a response to the report of a fire or smoke inside or coming out of a structure. The homeowner who reported the fire, Edward Stempniewicz, was at home with his visiting elderly mother when he noticed smoke on the second floor where he lived.
Firefighters from Chesterfield, Cummington, Hinsdale, Plainfield, Williamsburg and Worthington stage their equipment on the street in front of 141 Ireland Street on Thanksgiving Day. The homeowner, Edward Stempniewicz, called 911 after smelling smoke in the house that may have resulted from an overheated stove pipe on the first floor.
Deputy Chief Ed Smith, who lives nearby on Rte 143, was first to arrive on scene. He reported seeing smoke coming from the eaves of the building and the homeowner attempting to douse the fire with pails of water.
Retired Chesterfield Fire Chief Winston 'Winnie' Bancroft and his son Firefighter Roger Bancroft staged Engine 3 in the front of the home and deployed a water line to the rear of the building. They were followed shortly by Firefighter Greg Smith and Captain Gary Wickland in Engine 2 who, along with Firefighter Bill Nugent, deployed a foam line to the same location. Engine 1 was driven by Firefighter Scott Judd and was deployed to a nearby pond to supply water to the scene.
As part of their automatic mutual aid response, Goshen and Worthington firefighters responded with tanker trucks. Williamsburg firefighters responded with their engine. Hinsdale firefighters were called to bring their rehab unit while Plainfield Fire responded with the Hampshire County Mobile Air Supply truck. Cummington Fire was dispatched to provide station coverage to Worthington in the event of another call. Highland Ambulance personnel were also dispatched to the scene in the event of an injury.
Chesterfield firefighters made entry to the building through a back door of the first floor where they encountered fire and heavy smoke. They quickly attacked the fire that was burning in the corner of the room and pulled down sheetrock in the ceiling where they found additional flames. In an effort to get ahead of the fire, Williamsburg firefighters accessed the second story of the building from a back porch where they exposed a portion of the wall and ceiling. This was done because smoke could be seen coming from the baseboard on that level.
A crew from Western Mass Electric Company cut power to the home.
A chimney fire that overheated a vent pipe from a wood stove may have been the cause. The wood stove served as the main source of heat for that section of the building.
Additional firefighters from several of the responding mutual aid departments were cycled through the building in shifts. Chain saws and portable sawzalls were used to cut away siding on the exterior of the building. That was done to expose multiple hot spots in the walls located through the use of thermal imaging equipment.
The house, which was originally built in the 1880's, suffered structural damage in the immediate area surrounding the stove. The fire was significant enough to burn a hole in the wall behind it and through several ceiling joists above it. Severe charring was also seen in the space between the joists. As a result, the Town's building inspector declared the home uninhabitable. The homeowner and his mother were assisted with temporary lodging and other necessities through the generosity of the Pioneer Valley Red Cross.
The compressed air foam system or CAFS effectively helped to extinguish the fire. This system allows firefighters to use water more efficiently and put the fire out with less water damage to the structure.
Chesterfield Fire Chief David Hewes established an overnight fire watch and to secure the structure.
Early Friday morning, the first floor tenants arrived home after spending Thanksgiving with family members in eastern Massachusetts. Their first indication that something was wrong was when they saw the 'Emergency Scene Ahead' sign that the fire department had deployed in the road down by the Chesterfield Gorge. Having only been living in town for a few weeks, they seem somewhat dazed at everything that was going on. They too were helped with temporary lodging in Northampton that was coordinated through the Pioneer Valley Red Cross.
In reflecting on the day, Deputy Fire Chief Ed Smith commented on the presence of many of the 'old guard' that responded to the call. This was a reference to members of the department with decades of service whose knowledge of fire ground tactics contributed to a successful operation. 'Everyone knew what their job was and did it well', he said.
(Thursday, November 27th, 2008)