PARIS – Despite some challenges, the firefighting operation at last week’s NEPW Logistics warehouse blaze was praised Wednesday night by scores of fire officials from southern and central Maine.

“It went very, very well,” said Paris Fire Chief Brad Frost moments after 100 or so fire chiefs and deputy chiefs from many of the 44 communities in central and southern Maine that responded to the blaze met here to review what went right and what went wrong during last week’s warehouse fire.

Fire broke out in the Pine Street warehouse in the early afternoon of Dec. 3 when a spark, possibly from a welder’s torch, ignited a pile of shredded paper in the north end of the 1,200,000-plus-square-foot building, sending 15 workers scrambling for their lives.

Despite destruction of a large part of the building and the collapse of a 259- by 70-foot section of roof, only one injury was reported during the five-day event. That happened when a firefighter cracked a bone in her foot.

The last flames in the building were doused early Sunday morning.

“There was a lot of very positive comments,” said Scott Parker, Oxford County’s emergency management director, after the meeting.

South Portland deputy fire Chief Richard Wassick called the firefighting operation a “model” for other large events.

About 200 firefighters and equipment, including two 100-foot bucket trucks, were used to quell the roaring fire fueled by 20,000 tons of paper pulp from Canada on its way to Maine mills.

Parker said from the command center, headed by Frost, to the Oxford and York counties incident management assessment team, firefighters said it was a top notch job.

Despite the success, firefighters also faced challenges, he said.

“Staging was a challenge,” Parker said of the need to use both the Paris and Oxford fire stations to stage the scores of firetrucks and firefighters coming to assist at the fire. With 18 departments from Cumberland County, 11 from Androscoggin and three from Franklin County, Parker said it became apparent that it is critical that more work be done on the staging aspect of operations. Staging, he said allows departments to gather at an area away from the fire to receive orders before they get to the fire.

And “Water was a real big thing in this event,” he said.

Decisions had to be made quickly as to how to use the municipal water system for 96 hours straight without affecting area services. Eventually a decision was made to connect municipal systems and later to pump water from the nearby Little Androscoggin River, he said.

It is also necessary to develop a plan to better handle the rotation of firefighters over long periods, Parker said. Although most firefighters wanted to stay for the entire event, Parker said many had jobs, families and other obligations.

Parker praised the work of the emergency management services, the regional county communications team, and businesses and community members who sent everything from cheeseburgers and fries to coffee. C.N. Brown offered round-the clock fueling for the firetrucks.

“There was no one on that strip (Route 26) that didn’t step in,” said Parker.

Parker said the group determined that a task force should be formed to develop a county plan for mutual assistance similar to one Cumberland and Androscoggin counties have.


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