DEPARTMENT STORE AND MASONIC TEMPLE DESTROYED IN LOWELL
General Alarm Sounded to Gall Men on Off-Shift Assistance Rushed from Nearby Towns—Business District in Danger
A BLAZE that was discovered on a Saturday afternoon in the Pollard Department Store in Lowell, Mass., developed into a fire that destroyed the department store buildings and the Masonic Temple with an estimated loss of $1,500,000. The store had closed at noon, and only the janitors were in the building.
The fire started in the basement and bad gained considerable headway before it was discovered by the foreman of a gang of street workmen who saw smoke issuing from the rear windows of the basement and ran to the Central Station nearby to report the fire. About the same time. Chief Saunders, who was on the street near the firehouse saw smoke and turned in an alarm from a nearby box.
There was the crash of glass from the window of an upper story and the head of one of the janitors appeared in the aperture” He shouted “The whole building is on fire!” and rushed down on outside fire escape.
Chief Saunders, realizing the seriousness of the situation, ordered all the apparatus in the city to the scene at once, by telephone. Half an hour later the general alarm signal was sounded on the bells and whistles to summon the men of the off platoon. Meanwhile the apparatus had arrived and had been placed in service unhampered by the automobiles and crowds which would otherwise have quickly gathered.
The flames spread through the upper floors and fire was showing at the upper windows by the time the department got into action. Dense clouds of smoke hampered the firemen and within fifteen minutes the flames were issuing from every window on the Merrimack Street front of the main store. The department store occupied four brick buildings which were joined together. Two of these buildings fronted on Merrimack Street and two on Middle Street with one of the latter also fronting on Palmer Street. Between the buildings were narrow alleys bridged by two story corridors and with tunnels connecting the basements. The two front buildings and the two rear ones were separated by fire walls, but doors had been cut through to permit of easy access and several of the existing fire doors were found to have been left open. There were no automatic sprinklers or thermostatic alarms. All four buildings of the Pollard store and the Masonic Temple adjoining were completely destroyed and for a time the entire business section of the city was endangered.
At 6:30 p. m. aid was asked from Lawrence, and Chief McPhee sent two Stutz 750-gallon pumpers. Assistance was also called from Billerica, Tewsbury, Dracut and Chelmsford. The fire was attacked from all sides and a water tower was placed in operation on Middle Street where it poured tons of water into the upper floors of the 5-story structure facing that street. A deck gun wagon was used on the Merrimack street side. Two Eastman deluge sets were used from the street. Bresnan nozzles were used through floors and cellar pipes in windows. During the height of the fire fifty lines of hose were in use, according to Chief Saunders. The chief was assisted by District Chiefs J C Su livan and T. E. Saunders who responded on the first alarm and by District Chiefs P. H. Crowley and R. K. Burns who came on the general alarm. There were 250 Lowell firemen at the scene.
Nozzles in use on hose lines were 1 1/8 and 1 1/4 , inch and 2 inch on tower and deck guns. The hose was all 2 1/2 inch cotton rubber lined except for about 400 feet of 3 inch hose. There were about 25 post hydrants and two Lowery hydrants in the vicinity of the fire. Water pressure averaged 70 pounds on the city mains. Puntps and hydrants of the Bigelow Carpet Company plant were also used with pressure from 85 to 90 pounds. Engines from Lawrence and Chelmsford drafted water from the mill canal. Nashua sent ati engine to the scene, but its services were not required.
The following apparatus was in service at the fire: from the Lowell fire department, nine 600 gallon White motor pumping engines, one Ahrens-Fox 1000 gallon pumper, three Roberts hose wagons, one Knox hose wagon, one Hale water tower with deck gun, one 85 ft. aerial ladder truck mounted on a White chassis, fire patrol wagon, city service truck, chiefs’ cars, and fuel wagon; two 750-gallon Stutz motor pumping engines from Latvrence; a Maxim motor pumper from Chelmsford; a Maxim pumper from Tewksbury: a 600 gallon White pumper from Dracut; and an American-LaKrance pumper from Billerica.
The Building of the Middlesex National Bank on the corner adjoining the Pollard store was saved after a hard fight and the flames were prevented from spreading to the Parker building adjoining on the other side. The heat was so intense that windows were cracked across the street and casings ignited.
Lieut. Edward Welch, Lieut. Joseph Fontaine, and Hosemen Michael Slattery and Arthur McLaughlin, of the Lowell F. D., received cuts from flying glass, Hoseman Fred Farrell, of Lawrence, received a fractured hand, and a sergeant of the army recruiting office, was cut by glass. Members of the water tower crew had a narrow escape from injury when a part of a falling wall just missed the apparatus. The fire was brought under control at 7:45 p. m., hut continued to burn for hours longer.
The Pollard store was established in 1874 and employed 250 persons. Chief Saunders had advised the installation of automatic sprinklers, but the management thought the expense too great.
State Fire Marshal George C. Neal, in commenting on the fire, said: “I inspected the burned Lowell buildings five years ago and found one of them the worst I had ever been in. I then made a report recommending that laws be passed to require sprinklers in mercantile establishments, especially in basements.”
In a report made to the legislature in 1920 Neal wrote as follows: “Mercantile business is mostly centered in the congested area of Lowell and many of the buildings are filled with light, combustible goods unprotected from fire, and until the firemen reach the scene a fire would have full sway, and once Started it would increase very rapidly under such conditions.
“Six years ago this was pointed out as an element of danger by the committee on fire prevention of the National Board of Fire Underwriters. Since then the floor area in such places has been increased very much. This condition should not continue longer; such buildings should lie equipped throughout with automatic sprinklers.
“On the upper floors of some of the large buildings there are halls for the use of fraternal and social organizations with large banquet rooms. A fire once under way in the lower stories in some circumstances would IKdifficult for the firemen to reach.’
On June 9, within a week of the Pollard store fire, the Lowell department was called upon to cope with another serious general alarm blaze which broke out in the basement of the Harrison block, formerly known as the Dartmouth block, a brick structure occupied by the Thompson Hardware Company and several other stores. A number of firemen were overcome while fighting this blaze which caused damage estimated at $200,000.
As a result of these two fires the insurance rates tor the business section of I Atwell have been increased ten per cent on buildings and fifteen per cent upon the contents of buildings.