How NFD Battled A Massive Fire Short-Staffed, With No Hydrants

Jason Graziadei •

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When two Nantucket firefighters responded to a report of a fire early Saturday morning on East Tristram Avenue, a remote area along the island's north shore, they arrived to find a raging inferno. An 8,000 square-foot home that was under construction - and just two weeks away from completion - was completely engulfed in flames, and a neighboring cottage had also caught on fire.

Over the next six hours, the men and women of the Nantucket Fire Department would save three other nearby structures from burning down amid a flurry of embers raining down. And that was accomplished despite being short-handed, and with the nearest fire hydrant more than a mile away. In one case, two firefighters were able to remove roof shingles from a neighboring home to expose and extinguish a fire using the residence's garden hose.

"At one point there were four homes simultaneously on fire which required NFD members to spread out with one to two firefighters at each home," the department said in a recap of the incident released on Sunday. Embers from the fire have been discovered as far away as Fisher's Landing and Madaket Marine, more than two-and-a-half miles away from the property.

For Deputy Fire Chief Sean Mitchell - who took command of the incident as it just so happened to occur the day after the town's interim fire chief left the island, and the day before new fire chief Michael Cranson arrived - it was yet another example of the department doing more with less than their counterparts on the mainland.

For the first three hours of the fight, only nine firefighters were able to respond and attempt to bring the blaze under control. And of that group, four firefighters had to take on the job of shuttling water to the scene from the hydrant on Cliff Road, leaving only five actively fighting the fire.

"We had nine for the majority of the morning," Mitchell said. "We should have had 30 to 40 trained firefighters plus an ambulance crew and rehab setup so firefighters could take a break and have a medical check."

Eventually, there was a total of 11 Nantucket firefighters who responded to the scene, along with a crew of four firefighters from the Hyannis Fire Department who travelled to the island on the department's fireboat around 6:30 a.m. after getting Mitchell's plea for mutual aid. A fifth firefighter also made the trip over on the Hyannis Fire Department boat: Nantucket firefighter Alana Macey, who happened to be at Hyannis Fire for the night completing her paramedic internship.

They also received assistance from the Nantucket Police Department, Coast Guard Station Brant Point, Nantucket Memorial Airport firefighters, the Nantucket Land Bank’s wildland firefighters, the Nantucket Sewer Department, Dave Glowacki, and other private companies and citizens who helped track the burning embers and ensure there were no additional fires downwind. The Toscana Corporation also pitched in to help shuttle water.

The owner of the property, Richard Phillips, was staying at the neighboring beach cottage when the fire erupted. Phillips, a seasonal resident who sits on the board of the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club, was uninjured in the fire, and there were no other injuries reported as a result of the blaze.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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