EAST PROVIDENCE — As part of answering in excess of 350 calls over the three-day stretch, the East Providence Fire Department responded to a pair of house fires during Winter Storm Nemo last weekend.
Late Saturday evening, Feb. 9, the EPFD answered a call at 60 Ide Ave. Engine 5 from Broadway was the first vehicle on the scene. The residence was occupied at the time.
The occupants had been using their fireplace throughout most of the day. Later in the evening, they began to sense an increased level of smoke then saw puffs emanating from two light sconces on the wall to each side of the fireplace.
Upon arrival, firefighters evacuated the house and found heavy smoky conditions, according to EPFD Acting Chief Oscar Elmasian. The fire had infiltrated the fire box around the fireplace, which was built inside the framing of the home.
The fire had been smoldering for quite some prior to the department’s arrival, the chief added. Firefighters opened up the wall and needed to access the roof to put the flames out. The residents were unable to return to the home.
“The guys did a great stop, a quick stop,” Chief Elmasian said.
Roughly eight hours later, early Sunday morning, Feb. 10, EPFD crews answered a call at 55 Hazelwood Ave. in the same Kent Heights neighborhood. Engine 1 from Broadway was first on the scene. Upon arrival, firefighters found a full-on structural fire taking place.
Heavy flames engulfed the entire house, Chief Elmasian said. The fire was burning in the basement and the second floor. Firefighters advanced hose lines into the building only to find the floor had been burned out.
At that point, crews still did not know the house was unoccupied. It was later relayed to firefighters the residents, an elderly couple, were staying with relatives in Smithfield.
Upon notification, the crews began fighting the fire from the perimeter. Chief Elmasian said firefighters basically needed to “cut” through the entire home to reach concealed flames. Chief Elmasian, also the department’s fire marshal, said whether the house needs to be demolished due to the extensive damage is still to be determined.
Chief Elmasian said the department was saddened by the lone fatality in the city attributed to the winter storm. A 65-year-old male resident of Somerset Avenue was stricken Saturday, Feb. 9. He was in cardiac arrest when EPFD paramedics reached the scene. He was transported to hospital where he passed.
In all, the EPFD made 364 runs from Friday morning, Feb. 8, to Monday morning, Feb. 11. On average for the same three-day stretch, the department usually makes about 115 runs.
“We faced a heavy, heavy call volume. We had people stay the entire weekend. As exasperated and fatigued as they were, they never quit,” Chief Elmasian said of his staff. “They just kept digging in and digging in. They never quit. I can’t say enough about them. They went above and beyond any expectation a fire chief could have.”
It was an arduous 72 hours for the EPFD. In expectation of the increased work load, Chief Elmasian said he added seven firefighters to the usual 26 on each shift. Besides the number of calls, the department, obviously, contended with the trying weather conditions.
“We had almost two feet of snow. We had vehicles getting stuck all over the place,” Chief Elmasian said. “I have to give the highway department credit. They did a great job assisting the fire department keeping our trucks on the road.
“It was tough, but our guys just persevered.”
The chief said the department spent the first part of this week taking stock of equipment and inventory, both tested during the storm.
“We took a little breather, but we’re into what I would call Phase 2. Phase 1 was dealing with the storm. Phase 2 it looking at restoring any equipment that was damaged and also shoveling out hydrants, especially as we get ready for any more bad weather,” Chief Elmasian added.
On a similar note, the chief expressed his gratitude to city residents who assisted the department by removing snow from fire hydrants in their neighborhoods.
“I want to thank them for taking it upon themselves to shovel out the hydrants,” Chief Elmasian said. “It’s been a huge, huge help to us.”