Small fire prompts big response to Rockland’s Breakwater Building

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 12:15pm

ROCKLAND — It was a perfect storm of situations that made an incident in Rockland seem worse than it was, according to Rockland Asst. Fire Chief Adam Miceli.

Thursday, August 8, just before 11:35 a.m., an electrical smell of smoke drifted through the second and third floors of the Breakwater Building on Camden Street (Route 1).  Due to the smell, a pull-station alarm was sounded, and the students, workers, and visitors inside the building’s multiple entities evacuated to the parking lot.

As rain drummed from the skies in intermittent spats, and the building’s occupants hunkered in their vehicles, Rockland’s four B-shift duty crew members arrived to find a small fire in an exterior electrical outlet near a rear door. Adding to the illusion of a bigger emergency, the rain and the humid summer temperatures caused an HVAC system on the north side of the building to blow steam into the air, increasing the anxiety of those who witnessed it.

As automatic mutual aid from Rockport, Camden, Thomaston, and South Thomaston raced to the scene, Rockland called for a second alarm.

Along with dealing with the electrical fire itself — believed to have been caused by water penetrating the waterproof seal — firefighters also worked with the human aspect.

According to Miceli, the building’s protocol is that any handicapped person is required to enter the nearest stairwell when a fire alarm sounds, and wait for firefighters.  Today, as firefighters entered stairwells  — some to attack the nearby fire, others to go office to office, room to room in the area of the fire, they encountered handicapped people. One was brought down at least one flight of stairs by a firefighter. Another was kept company in a stairwell by a firefighter.

“This was a 98% perfect evacuation by people following procedure,” said Miceli.

Miceli said that the Breakwater’s evacuation was extremely helpful to those first four firefighters on scene as they tried to go in 6 different directions, especially in a building with multiple organizations and no head coordinator. In a school, or a single business, one person at the top can be relied upon to give the “all-clear,” to say that everyone is out of the building. But with the Breakwater’s many tenants — DHHS, Child Development Services preschool for children with disabilities (children were in the process of leaving the morning session when the incident occurred), a pharmacy, a college, and other businesses — all operating individually, that “all-clear” took longer to realize.

Still, that evacuation was quick, allowing time for the firefighters to carry into the building their assigned tool – that they always carry with them just in case it’s needed – and tear the sheetrock from behind the electrical outlet after the building’s electrician cut power to that area.

All fire units were clear of the scene around 1 p.m.