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Pittsfield Firefighters Battling Stubborn Building Blaze

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Firefighters are battling a stubborn fire in a four-family home on Tyler Street on Thursday afternoon. 

 
Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said at about 4 p.m. that he expected to be on the scene for at least the next few hours if not all night. 
 
"We've got a very stubborn fire in the attic right now, we're not sure where exactly that fire started," said Czerwinski, an hour or so after the call came in. "It looks like it may have been rolling on the front porch when we arrived and extended up into the attic." 
 
Crews were moving a second aerial truck into the back yard to bring more water to bear on the structure because the truck in the front was having difficulty targeting the area under the dormers where the fire was hottest because of the angle. The area around the dark blue two-story building was filled with smoke and flames could be seen licking from the roofline. 
 
"The building's very unstable, the roof is collapsed. There's a lot of water weight on the floors due to the amount of water we've been putting in there, so were afraid to send people in at this point," the chief said. "We're going to try to continue to knock that down with the aerial devices, defensive operations before we send in a crew to see if there's any more hotspots and everything."
 
Tyler Street is currently blocked off between at least Plunkett and Parker streets. There are at least seven people who have been forced from their home and the Red Cross and other resources have been notified to assist them. 
 
"We believe everybody is out. We were told everybody was out," the chief said.
 
Fire crews from Dalton, Lanesborough and Lenox were called in for mutual aid and Hinsdale Fire Department is sending its rehab truck to provide relief for firefighters at the scene. 
 
The building at 662 Tyler St. is owned by Ronald Marcella Jr. and across the street from the former St. Mary's Church. 
 
"When our first crews arrived ... Engine 1 from out on Dalton Avenue said from Dunkin' Donuts he had heavy smoke showing and then he pulled up, he said, and had fire blowing across all the front porches," Czerwinski said. "We're just at a standstill right now because we can't make an interior access to that attic."
 
Firefighter ran into trouble when the two nearest fire hydrants they tried to hook into were turned off. Police officers, emergency medical technicians and civilians grabbed hoses and ran down the street with firefighters to the next hydrant 500 feet away.
 
A new 8-inch water line is being installed to service St. Mary's, which is being renovated into housing. Part of the project included replacing an older hydrant and installing a new one — but both were off at the time because they were being pressure-treated for leaks. The Fire Department is supposed to be notified when a hydrant is out of the service, but that apparently didn't happen.
 
"We're not sure if the Water Department shut that hydrant down, or if a contractor maybe had shut that hydrant down," the chief said. "But we were not made aware of that. Every morning, we're given a report, a list of what hydrants are out of service and that hydrant didn't come up. Our guys hit it and there was no water — it was empty."
 
The Water Department arrived on scene later and turned the water back on to those hydrants.
 
Czerwinski wasn't sure if the proximity of the hydrant was a factor in fighting the blaze because he wasn't on the scene at the time. 
 
"It depends on what the guys found and how much fire they had," the chief said. "They did get another hydrant from the other direction. So they had a water supply relatively quickly. ...
 
"But it's better if we know if the hydrant is working or it's not working."
 
The Fire Department runs into water issues frequently, though usually because of frozen hydrants in the winter, Czerwinski said. But crews responded quickly and at least 18 firefighters were there and facing heavy fire on the outside on arrival.  
 
"We don't have any idea on how this may have started yet," he said. "We have investigators here waiting to get into the building to see what they can find out about it."

 

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Pittsfield Firefighters Snuff Back-to-Back House Fires

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

A police officer talks with children at the Wahconah Street fire. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Firefighters quickly snuffed out two back-to-back minor fires on Wednesday night -- but they were serious enough displace a dozen people. 
 
The first was a dryer fire on South Onota Street that displaced two families, a total of eight people.
 
"It looked like it was just overheated," said Deputy Chief Tom Sammons. "Now again, that got out of the dryer and started a little bit of the surroundings on fire. ... So we pulled an inch and three-quarter line there, knock down the fire that was coming out of the dryer, removed the dryer from the structure. And that house was full of smoke."
 
Firefighters were back at the station with enough time "to eat a salad" when a call came in for excess smoke from a chimney at 252 Wahconah St. 
 
"Engine Five arrived on scene and noticed that there was a lot more smoke than smoke in a chimney," Sammons said. Two additional engines and a truck company and Sammons were called to the scene. "And once I saw the column of smoke, I requested a fourth engine. ...
 
"Once they saw that it was there was smoke on the edges of the windows, they switched tactics and went to an aggressive attack."
 
The fire was on the first floor in the rear one-story section of the building. There are three apartments total in the building but there was only one individual at home at the time, in the front apartment. 
 
"We got in and searched the entire building twice," he said. "We did find somebody in the front who didn't know that there was an emergency."
 
Sammons wasn't sure how many people lived in the building believed it to be at least three to five. The Red Cross was notified. 
 
The deputy chief said he was waiting for the building and electrical inspectors and Health Department to assess the structure. There is fire damage to the rear of the building  and smoke damage through out. The cause is not yet clear.
 
He complimented the efforts of the firefighters in knocking down both blazes very quickly. 
 
"They did an aggressive knock down and great job," he said. "They're safe. They're aggressive. And they take care of business."
 
No one was injured was in the fires but Sammons said both had something in common that was disturbing. 
 
"This is the second fire today and both houses we're at were missing smoke detectors," he said at the scene of the Wahconah fire. "That's a that's a big concern for us."
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Hinsdale Police Searching For Missing Woman

Staff Reports

The woman was last seen on Smith Road Wednesday morning.
HINSDALE, Mass. — Police are asking for help locating a woman who went missing Wednesday morning.
 
Jacqueline Coutinho was last seen on Smith Road at about 10:15 on Wednesday morning. Police and emergency responders have been searching for her for three days now but have been unable to find any clues to her whereabouts.
 
Anyone with information about where Coutinho might be to are asked to contact police at 413-655-0201.
 
Police Chief Susan Rathbun said there nothing to suggest anything nefarious happened nor is there any indication of that the woman was suffering from any mental health issues causing her to wander off.
 
But still, the search conducted by Police, the Fire Department, Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue, and the Massachusetts State Police have so far been unsuccessful in locating her.
 
"Wednesday until dark we searched and then we searched all [Thursday]," Rathbun said. 
 
The search has entailed K9 units, foot patrols, and a helicopter. Rathbun said there are no missing vehicles related to the case. The woman had been visiting her sister in Hinsdale.
 
"She was here with her sister. She had been here about a month," Rathbun said. 
 
Coutinho was last seen wearing a purple/red sweater, blue jeans, and white sneakers. She is described as white with blonde and gray hair, and standing approximately 5-feet-6 and weighing about 130 pounds.


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Pedestrian Pinned Under Pickup Truck at Third Thursday

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

Firefighters were able to extricate the victim from under the vehicle.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Third Thursday-goer was run over and pinned beneath a vendor's pickup truck on Thursday.

Police said the details of exactly what unfolded are still under investigation but 75-year-old Neil Atlas of Lenox was taken to Berkshire Medical Center with "serious but not life-threatening injuries."

The truck was driven by a juvenile, police said, who is not being named. The vehicle is registered to the Northeast Old  Fashion Soda Co.

"The vehicle is a Third Thursday vendor vehicle. The vehicle was being used for the set up for one of the vendor displays. The business owner directed his assistant to move the truck to get it out of the way. We don't know what happened with the operator but a pedestrian was struck, the operator panicked a little bit," Police Chief Michael Wynn said.
 
Wynn said the soda vendor was hanging signs and then was moving the vehicle off the street. The truck was "rolling forward," according to police, when it struck Atlas.
 
The Fire Department arrived on the scene near the intersection of Depot Street, jacked the Ford F350 into the air, and removed the victim from underneath. 
 
"Our officers stayed with them to keep them calm until the Fire Department got here and they did the extraction," Wynn said.
 
The chief did say the driver remained on scene, though some people at Third Thursday claimed otherwise. 
 
"The driver did not flee," Wynn said.
 
The incident occurred around 5 p.m. as the city's first block party of the year was about to begin. It posed an issue in getting vehicles to and from the scene on North Street. However, it also provided for a quick response to secure the scene with extra police officers at the event.
 
"We had a foot patrol officer with no equipment who was here practically right away. But we had difficulty getting the fire vehicles and the rest of our equipment here," Wynn said.
 
The incident does shed light on an issue the Police Department has noticed in the past of the conflicts between vendors setting up with vehicles on North Street until the very last moment.
 
"It is fairly common for vehicles to be setting up — it is one of the issues we've identified. They keep setting up right until we do the road closure and then they move off the block as we do the road closure," Wynn said.
 
Third Thursday is in its 13th year as a summer-long monthly street fair. May is the first fair of the summer. The event continued on despite the incident.
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Camper Destroyed By Fire at Lanesborough Campground

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — A camper at Mount Greylock Campsite Park was completely destroyed by fire Friday evening, on the first day of the season.
 
According to Fire Chief Charlie Durfee, the owner of the camper had arrived that day, set up the camper, put her stuff inside, and then left to go shopping. While she was out, the camper caught fire and the fire took off from there to a point firefighters had no chance of saving it.
 
"There was black smoke billowing in the sky, fully involved, we called Hancock Fire Department for their tanker. We had their tanker, our tanker, and our two engines," Durfee said.
 
Durfee said there was a threat of attached propane tanks and Capt. Cody Sanderson had arrived first, removed those, and moved them away from the scene. But the fire had already been going too strong that firefighters could just put it out with no chance to save it.
 
The camper was toward the top of the hill of the Scott Road campground, with a narrow dirt road leading to it. There are no hydrants anywhere nearby.
 
"The challenges are, there is no water. We are up in the middle of nowhere. And campers are like a mobile home, they go up like that. It's minutes and they are gone. Nine out of 10 times you will never ever save a camper or a mobile home fire," Durfee said.
 
Campground owner Gordon Hubbard said the owner does have insurance on the camper. Interestingly, this is the first year Mount Greylock required all who lease sites to have insurance on their campers whereas before it was optional. Hubbard said in this case, the owner has carried insurance on it for years.
 
Nonetheless, the fire is "devastating" for the owner, Hubbard said, because the woman had lost everything she had put in it.
 
"Everything she has in there is gone, a total loss," Durfee said.
 
Durfee said he doesn't know what caused the blaze but if he had to guess, it was probably electrical.
 
"We'll never know what caused it. It is so burnt, we'll never know," Durfee said.
 
Hubbard praised the work the volunteer fire department did given the circumstances, saying they arrived quickly and put out the fire.
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