Portsmouth fire chief gives timeline for State Street Saloon fire at city council meeting
PORTSMOUTH — The Portsmouth fire chief gave a detailed account of the events that unfolded the night of the State Street Saloon Fire and an update on the subsequent investigation at a city council meeting Monday.
Portsmouth Fire Chief Steven Achilles said despite the building collapsing; there were no civilian or firefighter casualties in what could have easily been a fatal situation.
Chief Achilles said they received a 911 call from employees at the State Street Saloon at about 12:32 a.m. on April 10, 2017. All companies were dispatched to the scene, and upon arrival, they observed flames in the alley between the State Street Saloon and Louie's restaurant.
At about 12:39 a.m. the first alarm was raised, dispatching three more units from surrounding towns to the scene. At this time, Achilles said their top priority was search and rescue and getting all the occupants away from the fire.
He said conditions in the building began to deteriorate quickly, and that they were concerned that the fire would reach nearby buildings. He also said they were concerned that conditions on the upper floor of the building were un-survivable, putting firefighters searching for occupants at extreme risk. One occupant had to be rescued from the 4th floor using a ladder truck.
At about 1 a.m., a second alarm was raised and shortly after at about 1:20 a.m., a third alarm was raised. Achilles told the council to think of every alarm as about six more units from other communities being dispatched to the scene.
At this time, Achilles said their main focus was finding any people who were unaccounted for.
At about 1:31 a.m., the decision was made to evacuate all firefighters from the building, and Achilles said they concentrated on putting a lot of water on the fire.
The fire eventually breached the roofline of the State Street Saloon building, as well as the front.
Achilles said four minutes after they had confirmed everyone was out of the building there was a massive structural collapse.
He said the fire was eventually raised to a general alarm fire and that units from fire departments as far as Milton, Farmington and Amesbury, Massachusetts, responded to the blaze.
Crews were still battling the fire as of 6 a.m. Monday morning and Achilles said firefighters remained on scene for two-and-a-half days to make sure the fire was completely extinguished. Only two firefighters were injured in the blaze; one suffered a broken finger and the other a shoulder injury.
Achilles said an investigation into what caused the fire is ongoing.
Brian Goetz, the Deputy Director of Public Works, gave a presentation at the meeting regarding water usage in the city that included water usage statistics from the fire. He said that 10,000 gallons of water per minute was being delivered at the peak of fighting the fire. In total, 800,000 gallons of water was used to extinguish the blaze.
Some members of the council expressed concerns about the lack of a sprinkler system in the older building and whether or not there should be fire suppressants added to older building or changes made to the building code in Portsmouth.
Achilles said the fire department would be having a conversation with the deputy city manager and inspection department to discuss possible strategies moving forward. He said he thinks they will have better recommendations in the future.
Achilles also said the State Street Saloon building would probably still be standing today if it had a sprinkler system.