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Nashua;56.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-07-31 07:23:15
Friday, July 11, 2014

Nashua sent firefighters, ladder truck to help fight fatal Lowell fire that killed seven

One look at the amount of blackened, smoldering rubble where, just hours earlier, as many as 50 people slept in multiple apartments was all Nashua firefighter Jim Douzanis needed Thursday morning to recognize just how rapidly and intensely flames had roared through the rambling tenement on Branch Street in Lowell.

Douzanis was one of a crew of four Nashua firefighters manning Ladder 2 out of the Lake Street Station who were dispatched to the four-alarm pre-dawn blaze at 81-85 Branch St. that claimed seven lives, including five members of one family, injured about 10 more and left 50 people homeless. ...

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One look at the amount of blackened, smoldering rubble where, just hours earlier, as many as 50 people slept in multiple apartments was all Nashua firefighter Jim Douzanis needed Thursday morning to recognize just how rapidly and intensely flames had roared through the rambling tenement on Branch Street in Lowell.

Douzanis was one of a crew of four Nashua firefighters manning Ladder 2 out of the Lake Street Station who were dispatched to the four-alarm pre-dawn blaze at 81-85 Branch St. that claimed seven lives, including five members of one family, injured about 10 more and left 50 people homeless.

But as bad as was the fire damage, Douzanis said it wasn’t until he and his crew returned to Nashua that he learned of the horrific death toll.

Capt. Rick Conway, head of Nashua Fire Rescue’s Training and & Safety Division who also responded to the fire, said he was also unaware that there were casualties until he got back to Nashua.

“They weren’t saying much of anything,” Conway said of Lowell officials. “We just got our assignment and followed it through.”

Conway said he acted as a liaison between the Nashua crew and Lowell’s incident commander to help coordinate their role at the scene.

“We do whatever we can to help them out,” he said.

Nashua’s ladder was initially called in to cover Lowell’s Civic Center fire station, but shortly after the crew arrived, Conway and Douzanis said, they were redirected to the scene.

“They were running ladder pipes (a nozzle attached to the tip of the ladder that can be extended over the fire), so we set ours up like they asked,” he said. “The worst of the fire had been knocked down by then, but there were still plenty of hot spots.”

Eyewitness accounts paint a picture of chaos and terror erupting in and outside of the massive building moments after a police officer on patrol spotted the blaze and called it in.

Some people raced from doors, others out of windows and some were seen tossing children and infants from windows to people on the street below.

Others ran the roughly 100 yards to the nearest fire station, where they were met by the trucks roaring off to the scene. First-arriving firefighters initiated search and rescue operations, reaching and saving as many people as they could before conditions became too dangerous for them to continue.

The searches and emergency medical treatment of injured individuals were over by the time the Nashua crew arrived, Douzanis said.

“They still had a couple of lines in there, but everyone (firefighters and civilian survivors) was out of the building when we got there. We were there for a couple of hours, helping with the overhaul,” he said of the process of watering down remaining pockets of fire and checking for hidden hot spots.

“We didn’t know anyone was missing. It wasn’t until we got back and saw it on the news that we found out,” Douzanis said, shaking his head. “It was a shock. It’s just such a tragic thing.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).