Acting fire chief: Not enough firefighters to put two-building North End fire down quickly
Two die and 40 displaced in rare general alarm fire
Two people died in a “very large” early-morning fire in the near North End Monday. Forty others were left homeless and several retail businesses, including a bakery were shut down, as two multi-story buildings on Acushnet Avenue went up in flames.
Acting Fire Chief Scott Kruger on Monday afternoon said that everyone but the deceased had gotten out of the two buildings by the time fire apparatus arrived. It took only 20 minutes to go to a general alarm. “We needed more bodies because the fire was rapidly extending in both buildings,” he said.
All six New Bedford fire engine and three ladder companies responded to the fire while mutual aid from the suburbs came in, as well as some off-duty firefighters. “The guys, they worked hard,” Kruger said. “The building rapidly became unstable, you know, unsafe” with the danger of parts of the structure collapsing.
Kruger said the fire started in a tight alley between 1279 and 1281 Acushnet Avenue where there were multiple dumpsters. The block between Holly and Hallman streets is densely developed. A “comprehensive” investigation is underway involving both the state fire marshal’s office and state police, he said.
As of Monday afternoon, Kruger said the two deceased individuals could not be identified as next-of-kin had not yet been notified.
The blaze was the latest in a flurry of fires in the city this year. The fires come in the midst of a bitter battle between the New Bedford firefighters union and Mayor Jon Mitchell. Even before the pandemic hit, Mitchell had made plans to close two firefighting companies, citing a decline in the number of fires in the country and the transfer of all but the most serious medical duties of New Bedford firefighters to the Emergency Medical department, which is less expensive to operate.
The mayor has consolidated two fire stations into a new public safety center building scheduled to open this spring in the South End and plans to study whether two more fire stations should be consolidated in the North End.
On Monday, Mitchell issued a Facebook statement that there are no current plans to close the four-person, round-the-clock Engine 8 company as was originally planned during the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The city is seeking a federal government “Safer” grant to operate the engine next year.
Engine 8, which is located a few blocks from where the fire occurred, was among six in the city responding to Monday’s fire.
[ Photos by Jack Spillane ]