By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson said yesterday that the response to a fire in a three-story, multi-family building at 63 Gilford Ave. on Wednesday reflected the efficiency of the mutual aid and recall systems, which enabled the department to deal with several emergencies at one time.
The fire was reported at 5:07 p.m. and firefighters from Laconia, Gilford and Belmont were immediately dispatched to the scene. En route, Erickson spotted the smoke from Church Street and requested a first alarm, which called in off-duty firefighters while alerting the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Association to deploy engines to cover the city.
Erickson arrived to at 5:09 p.m. to find smoke showing from the first and second floors and requested a second alarm, which brought crews from Meredith, Franklin, Tilton-Northfield and Sanbornton to the scene. Firefighters from Belmont and Holderness staffed the empty stations and responded to three calls for service in the city.
A man was found on the lawn at the scene of the fire suffering from smoke inhalation. Since both ambulances from Central Station were on other calls, Stewart's Ambulance Service transported the victim to Lakes Region General Hospital.
Erickson, Lt. Chad Vaillancourt and firefighter Dwayne Mann were first at the scene, but had no ladder truck. Erickson requested Meredith to dispatch its ladder truck and one of the ambulances from Central Station left the hospital and came to the fire. Vaillancourt entered the first floor apartment, located the fire and closed the door until two hose lines were run to the fire. Gilford firefighters started a backup hose line then went to the second floor to check for fire and search for occupants. A man was found on the third floor and taken from the building to the hospital where he was treated for smoke inhalation.
As more firefighters arrived, ladders were raised to the upper floors and the front and rear of the building, enabling crews to open walls and ceilings. Fire was found within interior walls climbing to the second floor, where it was stopped. Erickson said that five off-duty firefighters arrived before the first mutual crew while others brought the Laconia ladder truck from Central Station, which reached the scene before ladder truck from Meredith.
Erickson described the fire as "a grease fire that rapidly got out of control." He estimated the damage at $70,000. In addition, four adults and five children were displaced by the fire and provided with food, clothing and shelter by New Hampshire/Vermont Region of the American Red Cross.
Erickson noted the two men taken to hospital brought the number of victims suffering from burns or smoke inhalation this year to five. He stressed the importance getting out of the reach of fire and smoke as quickly as possible. He explained that research shows that fires in modern homes, built and furnished with synthetic materials, burn much hotter and spread much quicker than in the past. Moreover, the volume and toxicity of smoke from modern synthetic materials is much greater than from the natural materials used in construction and furnishings in the past.
Underwriters Laboratories has found that the temperature of a fire in a modern home can jump from 250 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,500 degrees in a matter of seconds. At the same time, in modern rooms "flashover," when most exposed surfaces within a space heat to a temperature at which they ignite of themselves and emit flammable gases, occurs in less than five minutes.
Erickson recommends that renters insure their belongings. He said that 40 percent of the fires in the city occur in rental units, which is three times the national average, while estimating that nine of 10 renters have no insurance. Renters' insurance, he said, is relatively inexpensive, particularly compared to the cost of replacing clothing, furniture and other property damaged or destroyed by fire.
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