Fire crews praised for 'flawless' work on Lonsdale mill fire

Fire crews praised for 'flawless' work on Lonsdale mill fire

LINCOLN - In 36 years of fire fighting, Lonsdale Fire Chief Timothy Griffin had never seen a bigger blaze than when the old Lonsdale Bleachery Mill on Carrington Street caught fire Halloween night.

"It was my worst nightmare coming true," Griffin said as he surveyed the damage Tuesday morning, when investigations into a cause, and demolition of a tower and walls, were still ongoing.

Close to 20 trucks responded to the six-alarm fire at the 150,000-square-foot building from all six Lincoln fire districts and several neighboring towns, he said, with at least 60 firefighters on scene, ready for the worst.

But the worst never came.

Thanks to training exercises and pre-planning, Lonsdale Fire Department members arrived on the scene that evening knowing exactly what they were doing, as they were familiar with the building's layout, where to park equipment, how to access the bleachery pond for water.

Helping, too, the part of the mill on fire was vacant and a wooden section in the back of the structure had been torn down years prior. There were no strong winds, and water was plentiful.

Fire doors and fire walls contained the flames so adjacent buildings sustained minimal exterior damage and loss of electricity, which was expected to be back on by this weekend. The owner of the neighboring Ryco's even reported that smoke had not entered her fabric store.

"A major tragedy was averted," Griffin said, noting that fire marshals told him this was the first mill fire they had seen where the entire building was not burned to the ground.

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond said that is in large part thanks to the organization and communication of the firefighters that night.

"What I saw was very impressive," he told The Breeze. "I would probably describe it as flawless."

Almond said the situation is something that could be used in training, for any fire department, for the next 20 years.

"It went that flawlessly," he said. "Overall, the whole thing was a best case scenario."

Griffin noted that two firefighters - one from Lime Rock Fire District and one from Lincoln Rescue - sustained knee injuries, and both were treated and released. One Lonsdale engine is temporarily out of service after its lights and hose were melted.

Lonsdale Deputy Chief Tom Ryan and firefighter Adam Pontbriant were first on the scene after the fire was reported from a box alarm at 5:12 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31.

Six alarms were eventually sounded, and units responded from Johnston, Cumberland, Central Falls, Cranston, Providence, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Millville, Mass., the Rhode Island State Fire Marshals Office and Red Cross, either to assist with the working fire or assume posts to fill vacant districts.

"If the trucks weren't working we were using the manpower," Griffin said.

Griffin ran point, using the Central Falls chief's car as a command station because it had access to different radios, but he was quick to give credit to everyone involved.

"It takes more than one person to run the show," he said. "It was a total team effort. I can't give enough credit to everyone involved."

But it was Griffin who made sure his Lonsdale firefighters were familiar with the Carrington Street mill. Every firefighter was walked through the structure when they were hired, and then again a couple times every year.

While there had always been plans in place, formal pre-plans for mills were drawn out and color-coded about 10 years ago, said Griffin, who started volunteering for Lonsdale when he was 15 years old.

Part of the plan included two trucks drafting water from the 3.5-million gallon mill pond just at the other end of the mill, he said. Two hydrants within the mill complex were used, as well as one on Front Street and one on Lonsdale Avenue.

"We elaborated on it," he explained, "We put more detail and more emphasis."

At least one truck was on site from Thursday night until Monday at 2 p.m., when Griffin said the team determined there were no longer any hot spots.

And in the end, "our plan worked great," Griffin said, noting that the biggest concern was protecting the surrounding businesses.

The investigation is still ongoing with fire marshals as to what started the fire, Griffin said. Dogs brought in to sniff for bodies came up empty, but others on the hunt for accelerants did get some hits, he said, explaining that the presence of accelerants does not necessarily point to arson.

As of Tuesday, crews were still working to tear down walls left standing, but structurally compromised, from the blaze. Now separated into two structures by the damage, the rest of the mill must still be investigated, Griffin said, to determine whether the entire building is a loss.

Fire fighters from the Limerock Fire District battle the fire at the Lonsdale Bleachery Mill on Carrington Avenue in Lincoln, Thursday evening. The first alarm was sounded around 5 p.m. Photo by Bill Murphy
Fire fighters from the Limerock Fire District battle the fire at the Lonsdale Bleachery Mill on Carrington Avenue in Lincoln, Thursday evening. The first alarm was sounded around 5 p.m. Photo by Bill Murphy

Comments

Chief Griffin deserves our accolades for a job well done. He was prepared. Also thank you to all the brave firefighters for doing this dangerous job.