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Vehicle Towing Boat Catches Fire Near Pontoosuc Lake

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

Reader John Friend submitted this photo of the blaze.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Firefighters were able to save a boat after the vehicle towing it caught on fire.
Deputy Fire Chief Mark Cancilla said he and six firefighters from two engines responded to Upper North Street, near Pontoosuc Lake between Zucchinis Restaurant and Hancock Road, shortly after 2:30 Wednesday to find a Honda Pilot towing a boat fully involved.
Firefighters blocked off the road and ran two hose lines to extinguish the blaze in just 15 minutes — quick enough to save the pontoon boat from further damage.
"It was a hot fire. It damaged the pavement," Cancilla said.
The occupant had gotten out of the SUV and escaped injury and no firefighters were harmed. Traffic was detoured over Hancock Road for about a half hour while the firefighters worked in temperatures approaching 90 degrees.
"It probably wasn't more than 15 minutes to put it out. It was great teamwork, especially in this hot weather," Cancilla said.
The front seats on the boat had begun to melt and catch fire when firefighters arrived, but the crew was able to halt any further damage.
"We saved the boat," Cancilla said.
Cancilla said it appears that the fire started when the trailer hitch broke and jammed into the rear wheel of the Pilot. The spark led to the fire — possibly fueled somewhat by a leak in the transmission line.
The Department of Environmental Protection was called in because a storm drain nearby goes into the river. Cancilla said firefighters plugged the drain up in hopes of preventing any contaminants from finding its way in. 
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association provides the following tips for towing trailers.
General Handling
  • Use the driving gear that the manufacturer recommends for towing. 
  • Drive at moderate speeds. This will place less strain on your tow vehicle and trailer. Trailer instability (sway) is more likely to occur as speed increases. 
  • Avoid sudden stops and starts that can cause skidding, sliding, or jackknifing. 
  • Avoid sudden steering maneuvers that might create sway or undue side force on the trailer.
  • Slow down when traveling over bumpy roads, railroad crossings, and ditches. 
  • Make wider turns at curves and corners. Because your trailer's wheels are closer to the inside of a turn than the wheels of your tow vehicle, they are more likely to hit or ride up over curbs. 
  • To control swaying caused by air pressure changes and wind buffeting when larger vehicles pass from either direction, release the accelerator pedal to slow down and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel.
  • Allow considerably more distance for stopping. 
  • If you have an electric trailer brake controller and excessive sway occurs, activate the trailer brake controller by hand. Do not attempt to control trailer sway by applying the tow vehicle brakes; this will generally make the sway worse. 
  • Always anticipate the need to slow down. To reduce speed, shift to a lower gear and press the brakes lightly.
Acceleration and Passing
  • When passing a slower vehicle or changing lanes, signal well in advance and make sure you allow extra distance to clear the vehicle before you pull back into the lane. 
  • Pass on level terrain with plenty of clearance. Avoid passing on steep upgrades or downgrades. 
  • If necessary, downshift for improved acceleration or speed maintenance. 
  • When passing on narrow roads, be careful not to go onto a soft shoulder. This could cause your trailer to jackknife or go out of control.
Downgrades and Upgrades
  • Downshift to assist with braking on downgrades and to add power for climbing hills. 
  • On long downgrades, apply brakes at intervals to keep speed in check. Never leave brakes on for extended periods of time or they may overheat. 
  • Some tow vehicles have specifically calibrated transmission tow-modes. Be sure to use the tow-mode recommended by the manufacturer.
Backing Up
  • Put your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. To turn left, move your hand left. To turn right, move your hand right. Back up slowly. Because mirrors cannot provide all of the visibility you may need when backing up, have someone outside at the rear of the trailer to guide you, whenever possible. 
  • Use slight movements of the steering wheel to adjust direction. Exaggerated movements will cause greater movement of the trailer. If you have difficulty, pull forward and realign the tow vehicle and trailer and start again.
  • Try to avoid parking on grades. If possible, have someone outside to guide you as you park. Once stopped, but before shifting into Park, have someone place blocks on the downhill side of the trailer wheels. Apply the parking brake, shift into Park, and then remove your foot from the brake pedal. Following this parking sequence is important to make sure your vehicle does not become locked in Park because of extra load on the transmission. For manual transmissions, apply the parking brake and then turn the vehicle off in either first or reverse gear. 
  • When uncoupling a trailer, place blocks at the front and rear of the trailer tires to ensure that the trailer does not roll away when the coupling is released. 
  • An unbalanced load may cause the tongue to suddenly rotate upward; therefore, before un-coupling, place jack stands under the rear of the trailer to prevent injury.
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Pittsfield Man Arrested in Armed Robbery of K&K Liquors

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A 25-year-old man was arrested Tuesday afternoon after robbing a liquor store.
Sean Matthews, 25, of Pittsfield is accused of armed robbery of K&K Liquors on North Street with a knife at about 10:13 a.m. Police says local and state officers arrived on scene and performed an initial search of the perimeter and shortly after detectives developed Matthews was the suspect. No injuries occurred during the robbery.
A short time later, Matthews was arrested and charged with armed robbery and intimidation of a witness. Police are asking any witnesses in the case to contact the detective bureau at 448-9700.
"The Pittsfield Police is proud of the manner in which this case was handled from the initial call in the communications center to patrol division response to detective bureau, crime scene unit and narcotics units followup investigations, the case was handled with professionalism and focus."
Police wrote in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
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North Adams Police Officer Crashes Cruiser

Staff Reports

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A city police officer sustained minor injuries after his cruiser hit a utility pole on Ashland Street.

Sgt. James Burdick said Officer Joshua Tracy was heading south on Ashland Street on Monday around 11:50 a.m. when he hit a utility pole near where the road intersects with Church Street.

"He was southbound on Ashland Street and heading towards the intersection on Church Street," Burdick said. "He ended up off the road where, he impacted with a phone pole. Cause and reason and all that are still under investigation."

He said, Tracy was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening or severe injuries. He was sworn in as a permanent officer in March.

Burdick said a wrecker towed the 2013 Ford Interceptor away.

"The car didn’t fare so well ... it had well over 100,000 miles on it," Burdick said. "So that is where we are at and it was towed away."

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Sprinkler System Saves Louison House

By Jack Guerino
iBerkshires Staff

ADAMS, Mass — Twelve Louison House residents were displaced after a small attic fire that was largely extinguished by the house’s sprinkler system.

Assistant Fire Chief John Pansecchi said the electrical fire broke out in the attic around 11:45 Sunday morning but was quickly snuffed out by the family support center’s sprinkler system.

“There were no injuries and minimal fire damage, and I can’t stress enough how much the sprinkler system probably saved that building,” Pansecchi said. "The sprinklers put the fire out in the area so basically we just investigated and tried to determine the cause.”

He said the water damage was caused by the sprinkler system and two families and four individuals were put up at a nearby hotel. The Louison House and the Red Cross provided this support.

It is unknown at this point when residents can move back into the house; the building inspector must make a ruling first.

Pansecchi said the Adams Police and Ambulance were present and Cheshire Fire covered the Adams Station.

Pansecchi said the knockdown was a great success and went smoothly.

“It was a success,” he said. “It was an hour and a half for us there compared to the four hours we spent on Park Street.”

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Superior Court Briefs: June 20 - June 23

Staff Reports
Cases heard before Judge Maureen Hogan on Monday, June 20.
Patrick Coyne, 34, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of armed career felon, illegal possession of a firearm - his second offense - possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, and discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a building.
He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction without bail. Coyne was arrested by Pittsfield Police after receiving multiple reports of shots fired in the Wahconah Street and Pecks Road areas on May 19, 2016.
Damian Sinclair, 24, of Albany, N.Y. had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on three counts of assault and battery on a disabled person, and three counts of caretaker abuse on a disabled person.
He was released on personal recognizance. Sinclair is accused of assaulting three students while employed at Eagleton School between January 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015.
Cases heard before Judge Maureen Hogan on Tuesday, June 21.
Isaac Harris-El, 41, of Watervliet, N.Y. had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on four counts of assault and battery on a disabled person, four counts of caretaker abuse on a disabled person, and single counts of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, assault, and intimidation of a witness.
He was released on $1,000 bail. Harris-El is accused of assaulting four students while working for Eagleton School between August 1, 2014 and December 31, 2015.
Cases heard before Judge Maureen Hogan on Thursday, June 23.
Christopher Welch, 24, of Watervliet, N.Y. had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of assault and battery on a disabled person and caretaker abuse on a disabled person.
He was released on personal recognizance. Welch is accused of assaulting a student while working at Eagleton School on April 13, 2014.
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