By Don Stacom and Christine Dempsey, The Hartford Courant SHELTON — Firefighters early Monday rushed to rescue trapped tenants from a furiously burning four-story building that later collapsed. Ambulances took at least five people to area hospitals, but at 2:30 a.m. it still was unclear whether others had been hurt.
Firefighters rescued about 30 occupants from the building, which still was burning at 7 a.m. “It was unbelievable,” said Kenneth Main, who worked at one of the first-floor businesses. “To see the building down…” he trailed off. “We were rushing in, knocking on doors,” said Assistant Chief Nick Verdicchio. “Pulling people out. … It was quite an extensive rescue operation.” A ladder truck was used to rescue some occupants, he said.
Route 110 was closed at its intersection with Route 714, the state Department of Transportation said in an emailed alert.
The four-alarm fire at 466 Howe Ave. was reported before 12:30 a.m., and raged out of control for more than an hour and a half before the hulking building fell in.
The first firefighters on the scene sent a radio dispatch that multiple people were trapped on the third floor, and fire commanders declared a mass casualty response. A half-dozen hospitals were put on alert to expect multiple injuries, and crews from Seymour, Ansonia, Derby, Orange and other towns were called to help.
Firefighters rescued at least 30 people from the building before it collapsed.
See Angelica Spanos’ report below.
Flames tore through the roof and walls of the building, and commanders twice ordered firefighters to evacuate. Emergency crews set up a triage area behind the building, and more than a half-dozen ambulances were dispatched Firefighters set up a command post at Bridge Street and coordinated frantic efforts to get water for hoses.
At least two tanker trucks were called in – one from Monroe – as firefighters struggled to get pressure from nearby hydrants, apparently because of a water main break.
During the worst of the fire, an engine was dispatched to connect a line to a hydrant on the Derby side of the Housatonic River and link a series of hoses across Bridge Street to reach the scene. At 1:27 commanders sent out an urgent order for all crews to back away from the building because of an imminent collapse. Minutes later part of the gutted structure fell in, and the commanders upgraded the fire to four alarms.
They called for two more pumpers, a ladder truck and a rescue unit to help deal with the collapse. At 1:37, the fire department’s radio frequencies again filled with orders for all firefighters to get back from the building because walls were leaning and commanders expected more of it would collapse. Another alert went out at 2:01 when the rest of the structure was about to fall in, and moments later dispatchers did a radio roll call to ensure all the emergency crews were safe.The upper floors of the building had apartments and the ground floor was retail, including a florist and a convenience store. A two-story section of the building also was destroyed. Emergency dispatchers at 2:30 a.m. couldn’t say whether all tenants had gotten out safely, and couldn’t provide details about the severity of injuries.
One ambulance crew radioed that it was taking a 51-year-old woman to a hospital with smoke inhalation, After the collapse, about 15 tenants gathered at the firehouse for temporary shelter. Dozens of firefighters from the lower Naugatuck Valley worked at the scene. As the fire worsened and more trucks were dispatched from nearby towns, Derby and Seymour put out a call for outlying departments to send crews to stand by at their stations in case of fires in their communities.