With nearby hydrant turned off, public lends a hand to quell Pittsfield fire


PITTSFIELD — A blaze tore through a multifamily home Thursday on Tyler Street, damaging a nearby building and sending heavy smoke into the air that was visible from more than a mile away.None of the seven residents who live in the building was home at the time, Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said.

Around 2 p.m., firefighters were sent to a blaze at 662-664 Tyler St. A fire that initially was visible on the second-floor porch had spread throughout the building, according to Czerwinski.

When firefighters went to use a nearby hydrant on Plunkett Street, the water source had been turned off without notice, and they had to find an alternative source, he said. 

"It appears that we might have had a fire hydrant that was turned down, turned off, due to local construction work ... we're looking into why that was shut down," he said. "We were not made aware of that." 

When firefighters got to three other working hydrants, they put water on the building from multiple angles, including from an aerial truck. 

"Instead of having a fire hydrant 100 feet away, now we have a hydrant, you know, 500 feet away, down at the corner of Forest Place. Now it takes time and effort," he said. "I understand civilians helped drag this hose down the road to help lay it." 

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately known, he said.

Czerwinski said it's unclear whether having a working hydrant immediately would have made a difference in limiting the damage to the home.

David Turocy, commissioner of Public Services, said that the city also was not made aware that the water had been turned off during ongoing construction at St. Mary's Church on Tyler Street.

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"The hydrant had been turned off by a contractor who was working," he said. "They're not supposed to do that. We were surprised when we got out there."

When asked if the contractor could be penalized for turning off the hydrant, Turocy said, "We're not there yet."

The building, which is owned by Ronald Marcella Jr. and most recently assessed at $135,400, burned for hours due to the fire being caught under the attic dormers. Pittsfield Police said in a tweet around 6:45 p.m. that Tyler Street had reopened for traffic. As smoke billowed from the structure, a thick gray haze hovered over the city for hours. 

Marcella, who was at the scene, said that his tenants were not home at the time. 

The Salvation Army was at the scene, and the American Red Cross and other agencies were working to assist the displaced residents, Czerwinski said. 

Amy Badakin, of Adams, said she was driving by the home when she saw flames coming from the second-floor porch and pulled over to call 911. 

Firefighters arrived within a minute, she said, but "within 30 seconds, flames were 6 or 7 feet tall."

The heat from the blaze, which she described as "unbearable," forced her to cross the street, where she stood with other residents who gathered to watch the response.

Thursday's fire is the third structure fire that the Pittsfield Fire Department has responded to in two days.On Wednesday night, firefighters responded to blazes at South Onota and Wahconah streets. Both fires occurred in multifamily homes and were contained to their rooms of origin, according to a news release from the Pittsfield Fire Department. No one was injured in either fire.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com. @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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