North Attleboro building collapses from ice

A historic North Attleboro building collapsed under the weight of heavy ice at 8:30 p.m. on Friday night.

The building was almost entirely encased in a thick coat of ice after fire crews dumped water on the structure all night when a massive fire broke out during Thursday night's blizzard conditions.

Long after the flames had been extinguished, there was still plenty of work to be done.

Demolition crews spent the entire evening picking away at what was left of the large building with heavy equipment, in the hopes of avoiding a major collapse.

For the most part, crews were able to accomplish their goal, but after half of the building had been safely, carefully, and methodically taken down, the North Washington Street side of the mixed-use building crumbled under the weight of the ice left from the water fire crews deposited.

Just as the faade crashed into the street, police honked their horns, and fire crews sounded their sirens to alert the construction workers, and anyone else nearby that the building was on its way down

But, from the initial fire attack, straight down to the ultimate demolition of this building, no one was hurt. And according to all involved, that makes the operation a total success.

Some people were upset that the century old building that had been home to so many, and a place of business to hundreds of thousands over the years, is now gone.

"It's sad, really. I always remember driving by this street, and that building when I was a kid. The building has been there forever," one man quipped as he watched with a camera, waiting for a possible collapse.

NBC10 was the only news crew that stood outdoors through five hours of demolition to capture incredible footage of the building collapsing from two different angles.

"That's the million dollar shot," one woman said to NBC10 photographer Scott Santos after he replied, 'Yes' to the question, "Did you get the shot?" from one bystander.

In the end North Attleboro Fire Chief Ted Joubert says it became necessary for the entire structure to be demolished, because the timing of the fire that ripped through it, couldn't have been worse.

"The entire thing was really impressive, the storm, the cold, the ice, the fire. This is something that fortunately doesn't happen too often, but you talk about a 'perfect storm'" Chief Joubert said.

As fate would have it, the huge North Washington Street fire broke out right smack in the middle of Thursday night's blizzard, making work nothing short of impossible for North Attleboro fire crews, and rescuers from nine other departments that were brought in as mutual aid to help.

Chief Joubert said, "Wind is very difficult for us, especially in this particular environment where the wind is coming out of different directions in a blizzard like situation, and that really pushed the fire through the building. Also we had significant wind chill factors, we had significant fire load, and we had just come from another fire, so for a community fire department it was a pretty significant evening all around.

Incredibly, despite all the odds, no residents or fire crews were injured. But the equipment responding departments were using to fight the blaze wasn't quite as lucky.

Plainville Fire Chief Justin Alexander shared several amazing still photos of the fire scene.

Chief Alexander had snapped the pics on his smart phone in the aftermath of the fire on Friday morning.

In two of the shots you can see a Plainville ladder truck literally entombed in a perfectly fit coffin of ice, and another few photos show the building and power lines covered from top to bottom with icicles in the shape of the blizzard wind that was blowing all night. N

But now that the emergency is over, getting the fire apparatus back up and running for the next call is the hard part, and as it turns out, even that can be dangerous too.

While the NBC10 camera was rolling on an interview with Plainville Fire Lt. Tom Impy standing next to an iced over fire truck in the station garage, a huge chunk of ice crashed to the floor right next to the ten year veteran officer, startling him.

"Absolutely this ice is dangerous. That was a big chunk that just broke off," Lt. Impy said with a laugh.

He continued,"We had to chip away all the ice off of our truck to be even able to move, and get it out of the ally it was in, in north Attleboro."

Lt. Impy says after 15 men chipped away at the exterior of the ladder truck, and spent hours thawing it out at the station, it still wasn't back in service.

Lt. Impy says at one point the command was so worried about the ice that was all over each of their responding trucks, that a phone call was made to the runway crews over at T.F. Green Airport to see if the airport could spare a de-icing truck to help free the stuck vehicles, but because the airport had its own icing problems to deal with, they weren't able to offer any assistance, however, each department managed to eventually figure out a way to get their vehicles back to their respective cities and town.

Given the freezing cold condition, and all the water that was floating around at the scene, you can only imagine how cold it was for the crews working at the fire on Thursday night..

Lt. Impy said, "I wasn't on last night, but the crews who were, they really had a rough night out there, it was so windy, and where our truck was positioned, the reason our truck got more encrusted in ice than others was because the wind was blowing right in their face. So they were spraying water on the building, but a lot of that water was coming right back in their face, and I know several of our guys were encrusted in ice pretty much like the truck was."

Chief Joubert says he was impressed with the way each of the men and women handled themselves in the most extreme of conditions.

Chief Joubert said, "You can't help but be proud of the dedication and the commitment that these people have to this profession. A lot of the community came by to thank us and whatnot, and there was almost a sympathetic type tone to them for us having to be out there, but this is what we do."

Joubert says the work is still far from done, as demo crews will spend Saturday morning removing what's left of the building.