Friday night's single alarm blaze that started in a chimney of a home on Turnpike Street exemplified why North Andover needs two new fire trucks, especially a new ladder truck, Fire Chief Andrew Melnikas said.
Friday night at around 10 p.m., the owner of the home at 1459 Turnpike St., called 911 after discovering smoke and heat coming from behind a mirror above his fireplace. Fire and police departments responded and shut down part of Route 114 for about an hour while firefighters put out the blaze.
But because North Andover lacks a ladder truck, dispatch had to call in a Middleton ladder truck. Two other trucks, one from Andover and one from Methuen, were also called in to cover the stations while the other trucks dealt with the fire. This time, the town was lucky because the fire happened to be right near the town that had a ladder truck to spare, he said.
"There was a little delay," Melnikas said. "A couple more minutes than would normally take. But they were on site when I got there."
Luck of the Draw
Fighting Friday night's blaze was relatively quick.
"It took probably an hour and a half, from the call to the time I left the scene and they turned it over to the fire watch crew," Melnikas said, adding that calling in a ladder truck from Middleton did stall efforts for a few minutes.
But Melnikas said Friday's ladder situation was fortunate for two reasons. First, the fire was on Route 114 near the Middleton line, so the Middleton Fire Station was only a couple miles away.
Second, the homeowner called 911 when the fire was still contained in the chimney area. The fire had not yet spread to the attic or the ceilings, so firefighters did not need to battle a rooftop blaze.
If those two factors were not involved and the fire was far from a neighboring town line and the fire had spread to a building's upper levels before anyone had noticed, then there would be a much bigger crisis without a functioning ladder in North Andover, he said.
That is the point Melnikas has been making to town officials in his push for new trucks to replace Engine 3 and Ladder 1. The Finance Committee has approved the purchases, and selectmen have voted to call an emergency Town Meeting on Nov. 17 to let residents decide on whether to go ahead with the purchases. The selectmen will vote Monday whether to endorse the idea for the purchases.
Caution in Home Fire Season
In the meantime, Melnikas is urging caution with home fires. The exact cause of Friday's fire is still under investigation, but it seems to have been a chimney fire, and the homeowner told authorities he had lit a fire earlier in the day.
The peak season for home fires is just beginning. Because of the use of fireplaces and other means of alternate heating, winter always sees more residential fires than any other season.
"You should have your chimneys cleaned every year," Melnikas advised. "Also, have chimneys inspected by a licensed individual who can tell you if the flue needs repair. Often there is no flue, or it's not intact and in place right."
Also, never leave fires burning in an empty house, and never make them so big that they overtake the fireplace and blaze into the home.