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North Adams Firefighters Battle Blaze, Nonworking Hydrants
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
07:46AM / Friday, February 12, 2021
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Firefighters work to contain a structure fire on Veazie Street on Friday morning.

Smoke could be seen billowing over the city at dawn.

The hydrant across the street was nonfunctional and a second one at the bottom of Veazie had 'disappeared' forcing firefighters to run hundreds of feet of hose trying to find working hydrants. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nonfunctioning fire hydrants again hampered efforts to douse a raging fire in a two-family home on Veazie Street on Friday morning. 
"This is not acceptable. We have to do something with this," Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said later in the morning as what was left of the two-story building was demolished. "Too many years of  lack of maintenance led to this point, we have to do something now."
The first two trucks that arrived on scene shortly before 6 a.m. could not use the hydrant across the street from 47 Veazie and were forced to run hundreds of feet of hose down to River Street and, on the other side, down School Street trying to find working hydrants. 
Meranti said the first hydrant was broken so they moved to the next one down on Veazie but the cap was frozen and it couldn't be opened. They tried for the next one, but it was gone — capped off at the street near where Porches had put up its new building. Another on River Street had a frozen cap as well. A hydrant at the corner of School and Cady was working but low pressure. Firefighters were finally able to tap into hydrant near the top of Veazie and around the corner east on River Street. 
"You can say that there's only 100 hydrants out of service but if I can't get a cap off a hydrant, that hydrant's out of service," the chief said, adding that maintenance is a major issue. "We have a Water Department with one guy who's way over his head with work."
This fire was "way ahead" before firefighters arrived to find massive flames coming through roof and second floor. The smoke billowed over the city and could be seen from Middle Road in Clarksburg. A worker on a nearby project had driven by at 5:30 a.m. and seen no smoke or flames. Meranti said the fire was probably smoldering inside for some time. 
An all-call was issued at 5:50 a.m. and the department had all trucks on scene with water flows hitting the building from three angles. Clarksburg Fire Department was covering the North Adams station and Northern Berkshire EMS arrived with its rehab setup. The Department of Public Works sent a truck to sand the steep street that was turning to ice in the frigid temperatures. 
The first floor was being renovated and the second floor occupants were not there when firefighters arrived.
"This building was gonna be torn down. The fire was all through second floor and through the roof. When we got there, it was a total loss," Meranti said. "However, if we had to rescue somebody out of there, we had no water to do it, and we have to protect our people going to do a rescue, they would have been unprotected. And we can't accept that, we cannot allow that to happen."
The building is a total loss — by 6:20 the roof was gone and firefighters were working to contain flames from the second floor to the basement. Meranti said the owner had mentioned recent trouble with the electrical circuits on the second floor but the damage is so extensive there is no way to determine the cause. At 7, he had not yet spoken with the occupants. 
Veazie Street was closed off and as was School Street and the eastbound lane of River Street between Veazie and Brown Street. 
The 1880 wood-frame house sat on a quarter-acre lot at the corner of Veazie and School Street. The building is owned by Kurt and Joey Collins. What was left of the structure was considered dangerous and the owners contracted with A1 to demolish the building immediately. The entire thing was rubble before 11 a.m. and the scene was cleared shortly before noon.
Marenti said it was the first fire for acting Lt. John Lancto. 
"He went defensive right off the bat, which ws the right call to do. He had hydrant issues to deal with so he did a very good job, Meranti said. "They all do a great job."
The status of the city's fire hydrants was raised last month after a fire at the Greylock Valley Apartments. In that case, again, firefighters found a nonfunctioning hydrant directly across from the apartment block. The North Adams Housing Authority, which owns the apartment complex, had taken it upon itself to purchase new hydrants when it discovered the majority were nonfunctional but most had not yet been installed. 
The issue was raised at last week's Public Safety Committee meeting and again at City Council on Tuesday. Officials say the main obstacles are funding, manpower and a way to survey and track maintenance. While they estimate about 100 of the 631 hydrants need complete replacement, others need parts and there's an ongoing issue of hydrant caps freezing up — making them nonfunctioning. 
Mayor Thomas Bernard posted on Facebook after visiting the fire scene that "As a first step I will meet with leadership and front line staff from the fire and public services departments to lay out an updated fire hydrant plan to bring forward to the City Council and the community."
Complete write-thru with updates and clarifications at 11:30 a.m.
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