FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Jason Burns, the president of the Fall River Firefighters Union, said the crash and following fire at the Four Winds Apartment Complex on New Year’s Day was a recipe for disaster.
“We often have cars that go into buildings. This one happened to sever a main gas line, so it was a gas-fed fire,” Burns said. “It was a holiday. You had 85 people to get out of the building. I think it wore guys thin because they kept having to come up with a new plan.”
When fire broke out that Tuesday morning, Burns was not at work. At home with his family, he got word of the incident and turned on his scanner.
“Just intensity and chaos,” he said. “You could hear it in their [firefighters] voices. You just know.”
Burns said he expected to see smoke billowing into the sky on his drive to the scene. Instead, he said he did not see flames until he arrived at the apartment complex. He called the scene “pretty chaotic.”
“Day one, it was just grunt and bear it,” Burns explained. “Everybody was down there [at the scene]. Everyone was working hard, start to finish, the entire time.”
Burns said crews initially attempted to make an interior attack, but a firefighter fell through the floor. They eventually pulled back and executed an exterior attack.
He said they kept water on the apartment complex through the afternoon and evening as they waited for the flames to rise, which they did that night.
“The only way we knew it would be officially put out was having the excavator come in and rip down the walls,” he said. “They would grab a whole bunch of debris, while we were spraying it down. That’s generally how that entire area was put out.”
Burns said more than 100 firefighters were at the scene over the course of two days, and that 10 of them were taken to the hospital.
“Most of it was smoke inhalation. Even when you weren’t in the building, you were just breathing in that toxic smoke,” he said. “We were down there [at the scene] for probably 35 hours. So, that entire time people were breathing that in. It wasn’t good.”
Since the fire, Burns said the department has been looking into making operational changes, including the possibility of adding more air bottles, possibly a mobile air unit.
Burns also said considering the number of firefighters transported to the hospital, he said the department is looking into a better way of notifying their family members in the event something were to happen in the future.
“We’re going to learn, we’re going to teach, we’re going to coach, and we’re going to mentor,” he said. “We’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again, or we’re going to go down trying.”
Burns also said part of the conversation right now is trying to get new radios for crews, plus trying to strengthen the radio signal in the north end of the city.
In the meantime, the community continues to rally around the 80 people who were displaced. Donations are still pouring in to help the victims, though the Fall River Firefighter’s Wives Association says they no longer need clothing and are instead asking for monetary donations, gift cards and toiletries.