By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A man stood outside his School Street home next to a fire deputy as firefighters hosed down sizzling embers at the corner of the building in an enclosed stairwell that leads to each of the four units in the three-story white house.
Doug Duncan said he had returned home from visiting a client in his job as a home aide. He’d just settled in when he noticed a faint smell of smoke.
Thinking the smell must be emanating from a pit fire at one of his neighbor’s homes, he peeked outside and saw the grey smoke rising from the corner of the building in which he was standing.
“I saw flames about 6 to 8 inches high. It was clearly a fire,” Duncan said.
Duncan ran down the stairs from his apartment and aimed first a fire extinguisher, then a hose at the blaze while he and neighbors dialed the emergency number 911.
A ladder truck and a pump truck drove up School Street less than a full block from the station, while police blocked off that portion of the street and part of Prospect Street.
“I’m very glad the firehouse is still where it was,” Duncan said, alluding to the city administration’s study looking at relocating the central station to a combined police and fire station on the Fuller school field property adjacent to the building.
Of the four units in the building, Duncan was the only tenant home at the time of the fire. Fire Chief Eric Smith said his awareness was vital.
“If no one was around, it could have gone right up those stairs and been a lot worse,” Smith said.
The building’s damage was confined to the stairwell at the corner of the building in an area near the ground. After knocking down the fire, firefighters peeled back siding to reveal a gap and then brick that they hosed down to prevent any embers from sparking up again.
Whenever a fire ignites on the outside of a home, firefighters consider whether a discarded cigarette may have caused the fire, according to Smith. But he noted there was no pile or littering of disposed cigarette butts in the area.
“There’s no obvious cause,” Smith said. “There was really no appreciable smoke inside the building.
Firefighters allowed Duncan to return to his apartment once the fire was safely out — within a half hour of its sparking — and he emerged to note there had been no real damage.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.