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Mohawk Plastics Fire   --   Fatal Accident   --   Bernardston Fatal Accident   --   Mobile Home Fire
2 hurt in crash   --   Tanker Truck Explosion   --   Garage Fire    --   Brush Fires    --   Fatal Strcuture Fire

Fire devastates Mohawk Plastics - 70 workers jobless; 1 firefighter injured
Sunday Republican (Springfield, MA) - February 6, 1994

An early morning fire which continued into last night destroyed Mohawk Plastics Inc., leaving about 70 people jobless and one firefighter treated for smoke inhalation.

"This is devastating and it's just so hard to believe," said Monroe Phillips, a foreman from Bernardston. "I've been working here 16 years and I want to spend the rest of my life working here. It's just unbelievable right now."

Bernardston Fire Chief Lloyd Grover said the Industrial Drive fire was one of the worst he's encountered.

"In my 16 years of fighting fires, this is the biggest one I've ever seen," Grover said of the fire that sent flames more than 75 feet into the air.

100 firefighters

Grover said the fire started yesterday at about 1:30 a.m. and that more than 100 firefighters from 15 fire departments, and 29 fire trucks, fought the fire. He said the blaze was expected to smolder well into today.

Workers were in shock.

"In every negative situation you can find some positive things and build from there. That's what we'll have to do. What else can we do," Phillips asked rhetorically as he stared at the building's crumbled walls and heaps of twisted metal pipes that he said once were machines.

"We've got owners and management that really care about the people that work here and I'm sure we'll build again and it will be even better than before," he added.

The fire was reported at about 1:30 a.m. yesterday by foreman Jack Chase, 23, of Greenfield, who was working the night shift with 11 other employees.

Chase said he smelled smoke and searched for the fire.

"We found the fire between two walls and I tried to get it out with an extinguisher. I couldn't get it out. At that point, I got everyone out and did a head count to make sure everyone was safe, then I went back to call the Fire Department and it just got so smoky so fast, it was unbelievable."

"I almost didn't make it back out because of all the smoke," he said. "I had to put my shirt over my mouth because of all the smoke."

Thought it was over

He said he went home at about 4:15 a.m. because he thought the blaze was contained.

"I come back and there's nothing left; it's so unbelievable," he said. "Times are tough enough, you don't need the 50 or 60 percent cut in pay you get from unemployment. I don't even know how unemployment works, but it looks like I'm going to."

He said workers were unsure about their future.

"I don't know what I'm going to do now; I don't know what anyone is going to do. I'm just thankful that everyone is OK," he said.

Mohawk Plastic President Terry Anderson said the factory is fully insured but he doesn't know what will happen next.

"We don't have any plans yet; we're still watching the flames," he said.

Mohawk Plastics makes polyethylene bags and liners and is owned by Dimeling, Schreiber and Park, a Philadelphia investment partnership which bought the company in 1992.

The company was founded in 1961 by the late Andrew R. St. Hillare. St. Hillare began the company with $2,500 and a plastic bag machine that he bought in New York City in 1961. He operated it out of his garage for about 18 months, before moving to several rented spaces.

In 1967, the Bernardston plant was built and later expanded.

Grover said it was a difficult blaze.

"The water just doesn't have an impact on this kind of fire; there's really not much more we could do," Grover said.

Grover also had praise for the volunteers who supplied the many firefighters with coffee, sandwiches, doughnuts and hot chocolate.

Bernardston firefighter Lionel Gagnon was treated for smoke inhalation at Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield and later released.

State Fire Marshal Michael Mazza said the cause of the fire won't be determined until it is out.

Grover said the firefighting efforts could continue into this morning.

Lisa Jones, an environmental engineer with the state Department of Environmental Protection in Springfield, said the dark smoke from the fire doesn't pose any health threat.



Collision victim is from N.H.
Union-News (Springfield, MA) - November 14, 1994

Police are awaiting results of an autopsy and toxicology tests on the body of a New Hampshire man who was killed Saturday when the car he was driving smashed into the back of a large farm truck.

Keith J. Kirkwood, 36, of 39 Snow Road in Winchester, N.H., was driving west on Route 10 when his 1977 Chevrolet sedan smashed into the back of a 1984 GMC truck driven by Alfred A. Dunklee, 65, of Vernon, Vt., at around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, police said.

The Northfield Fire Department used the Jaws of Life to remove Kirkwood from the car. He was taken by ambulance to Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Dunklee, who was not injured, was driving at about 35 miles per hour west in the slow traffic lane on Route 10 when Kirkwood rear-ended him, police said. Kirkwood was not wearing his seat belt.

The accident occurred about 100 yards east of the Northfield Mount Hermon School's Gill Campus.

Police would not say whether alcohol was involved in the accident, pending the results of the autopsy and toxicology tests, which will be available in a few weeks.

The front end of Kirkwood's car was crumpled up under the back end of the truck. There was extenstive damage to the truck's axle and rear end. The truck was from Vern-Mont Farm in Vernon, Vt. Both cars were towed from the scene.

The state police truck and accident reconstruction teams were called to the scene and are investigating to determine how fast Kirkwood was driving.

Police were on the scene until about 8:45 p.m.

Northfield Police Chief Gary Sibilia said he was pleased with the combined efforts of all departments.

"The state police assisted the Northfield Police Department well, and all departments worked well together at the scene," he said.


Driver killed in collision

Union-News (Springfield, MA) - October 19, 1994

A Bernardston man died yesterday afternoon after his car struck a a parked liquid nitrogen tractor-trailer in the breakdown lane of Northfield Road at an estimated 50 miles per hour.

Rodney O. Burt, 44, of 44 Purple Meadow Road was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:10 p.m.

Truck driver Richard A. Brown, 53, of Granby Road, Granville, was shaken but uninjured.

There was no leak from the truck, which was almost empty, Brown said.

Witnesses said that the white 1993 Ford Taurus station wagon Burt was driving veered into a guardrail on the Interstate 91 overpass, and continued on in the westbound breakdown lane for about a quarter of a mile. It then hit the 18-wheeler, which was coming to a stop in front of Streeter's Market at 1:48 p.m. yesterday.

Burt had no passengers.

"I was just coming to a stop to check my tire and make a phone call, and wham! What a jolt! I never even saw him coming," Brown said.

A driver behind Burt concurred.

"He just kissed off the guardrail and kept going on a line right toward the truck, so I stopped. There weren't any brake lights or anything. He just kept going straight for the truck," said William Barber of Northfield.

Bernardston Police Sgt. Rian Graves said an autopsy will be performed on Burt to determine whether he suffered a heart attack before the accident, among other things.

Burt was a sales representative for Eagle Windows & Doors in Hatfield. Although his car had an air bag and he was wearing a seat belt, he was crushed, investigators said.

He had to be extricated with a jaws-of-life cutter by rescuers from the Bernardston and Northfield Fire Departments.

Barber said Burt's speed remained the same after his vehicle hit the guardrail. Police said that the impact demolished the front of Burt's car, and severed the rear bumper and suspension on the tanker, and snapped all of its axle supports.

The truck is owned by Praxair Inc. from Niagara Falls, N.Y. Brown said there was no danger of explosion or fire because of the nitrogen.

According to police, Burt left a note at home at 1:15 p.m. saying that he was on his way to Westfield on a work-related errand.


Fire guts Northfield mobile home

Sunday Republican (Springfield, MA) - October 9, 1994

A fire Friday night destroyed a mobile home leaving two Northfield residents temporarily homeless.

Michael and Angela Stanley of 21 Ferry Road, were asleep when the smoke detector alarm went off in their mobile home, said Chief Skip Dunnell of the Northfield Fire Department.

When fire fighters arrived at 10:46 p.m. the mobile home was fully engulfed in flames, Dunnell said.

The Stanleys, who were not injured in the fire, escaped through a bedroom window and are staying with family, Dunnell said. It is not known whether the mobile home was insured.

"It is considered a total loss," Dunnell said.

Although the cause of the fire is still under investigation, it is believed to have started in the living room, Dunnell said.

Fire fighters from Gill, Erving and Bernardston assisted Northfield Fire Department. Fire fighters from Hinsdale, N.H. covered the Northfield fire station during the call.


2 Hurt in Northfield Crash

Union-News (Springfield, MA) - December 4, 1993

A mother and son were slightly injured yesterday morning when their car was struck by a trailer truck carrying a modular house. Sgt. Robert Leighton said the car, driven by Susan Currier, 45, of 326 Davis St. in Greenfield, was eastbound on Route 10 and was attempting to make a left turn from Sumner Turner Road into Pioneer Valley Regional High School about 7:30 a.m. when it was struck from behind by the truck. He said the truck's brakes had failed and its driver, Scott L. Davis, 23, of Roland Maine, was attempted to pass the car on the left.

According to Leighton, the truck collided with the driver's side of the car.

Northfield Fire Department and Mercy Ambulance responded and took Currier and her teen-age son Jason VadeVoncover to Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, where they were treated and released. Davis was cited by police for driving to endanger, improper passing and failure to keep to the right lane.


No one hurt in tanker truck explosion
Union-News (Springfield, MA) - October 6, 1992

A highway tanker half filled with liquid asphalt exploded in flames early last night in a field off Route 10.

The only person near the blast, an employee of Bob Cook Excavating and Asphalt Paving Co., was unhurt.

According to Fire Chief Lloyd L. Grover, firefighters found the front of the tanker engulfed in flames when they arrived at the scene - an open field across the highway from the asphalt company's headquarters.

Foam units from both Northfield and Greenfield were called in, and through a combination of foams, the fire was smothered with apparently little of the asphalt escaping, he said.

The tanker, which had been sitting in the roadside field for about two weeks, can hold up to 4,000 gallons of asphalt, but had about 2,000 at the time of the explosion.

Grover said it is not clear if the tanker caught on fire and that led to the explosion, or if the explosion started the fire.

The blast ripped the roof of the tanker open, peeling back metal layers separated by insulation. There was no estimate of damages.

When the fire was out, the tanker lay in a sea of white foam.

Also assisting Bernardston at the scene were firefighters from Gill, and Leyden firefighters were stationed at the Bernardston Fire Station as a backup.


Fire that damages garage blamed on water heater

Sunday Republican (Springfield, MA) - December 22, 1991

A Gulf Road garage sustained nearly $5,000 in damage yesterday afternoon from a fire ignited by an overheated wood-fueled water boiler, according to the fire chief.

About 30 firefighters and eight trucks responded to the 3:50 p.m. blaze. The garage is owned by Richard Young of Gill. The house connected to it is known as the Old Sibley residence, said Northfield Fire Chief F.M. "Skip" Dunnell.

The house and an apartment, both attached to the garage, sustained only slight smoke damage, according to Dunnell.

"Early notification and quick response saved the house and apartment," said Dunnell.

No one was injured.

Young and some other workers were busy cleaning the house, which, Dunnell said, Young had recently bought from a bank. They noticed smoke in the garage and called the fire department, Dunnell said.

Fire departments from Northfield, Erving, Millers Falls and Warwick responded to the fire. The Hinsdale, N.H., fire department covered the Northfield station during the fire. The firefighters were finished by 5 p.m., said Dunnell.

The boiler, which supplied heat for a forced hot water system, had no water in it when it was turned on to heat the building, Dunnell said.

The back side of the garage and its rafters were burned, according to the chief.


Fire crews tackle 2 brush fires

Union-News (Springfield, MA) - April 8, 1991

Eastern Franklin County firefighters battled for several hours yesterday two brush fires that destroyed woodland in Northfield and Orange.

Northfield crews spent 5 1/2 hours battling a 17-acre brush fire in a heavily wooded section a quarter mile north of Warwick Road while Orange firefighters fought a 10-acre blaze in the woods behind a home at 146 Memory Lane.

"It was hard to get to," said Northfield Fire Chief Floyd "Skip" Dunnell. "We had to contain it by hand and then lay in support lines by hand," he said.

Dunnell said some 3,800 feet of hose line was used to put out the fire, including 1,000 feet borrowed from the state along with a brush truck and a portable pump. The area contains a hiking trail used by campers and all-terrain vehicles, but the cause of the fire is undetermined, he said.

In Orange, crews were aided by Athol firemen in the 10-acre fire believed to have been started by a "kid's campfire" that got out of control, said Orange firefighter David Gale. A state brush truck, which is especially equipped to fight brush fires, and an Erving pumper were called to cover the Orange station, he said.


Widow, boarder die in Northfield fire

Union-News (Springfield, MA) - March 29, 1991

A 56-year-old widow and her 20-year-old boarder died early yesterday in a house fire that investigators say was largely hidden from view by dense fog.

The bodies of Verna S. Hardaker and Kelley M. Broughan, who rented a room in the Gill Center Road home, were discovered amid the rubble of the destroyed home several hours after firefighters arrived on the scene.

The fire was discovered by a neighbor who awoke about 2 a.m. and spotted a red glow in the fog-shrouded sky.

Fire Chief Floyd M. Dunnell Jr. said the one-story ranch house was already fully engulfed by the time trucks arrived six minutes after the call was received at 2:11 a.m., and "there was just a cellar hole left within minutes."

Dunnell said the fog was "so thick, we had difficulty getting across Route 10 to reach the fire."

He speculated that if the fog hadn't been so thick, someone might have noticed the fire earlier from nearby highways.

State Trooper Michael Habel of the state fire marshal's office said the cause of death has been listed, in both cases, as asphyxiation and thermal injuries.

The fire began in the basement of the house, but the exact cause is pending further investigation. Habel said there is nothing suspicious about the fire.

The bodies weren't located until about 6:15 a.m. as firefighters searched through the debris of the cellar hole. A dog was also fond dead.

Identification of the two women was not known until dental records helped identify Broughan, and a Medic Alert tag helped to identify the body of Hardaker, Habel said.

About 40 firefighters from Northfield, Gill, Millers Falls and Bernardston responded, with Hinsdale, N.H., firefighters called to cover the Northfield station.

Both Habel and Dunnell said it was difficult to speculate on how long the fire might have been going before it was discovered, but agreed it had to have been a fairly long time because of the condition firefighters found when they arrived.

Habel agreed with Dunnel's speculation that the fog kept anyone from spotting the fire's glow on Route 10 only a few hundred feet away and Police Chief Richard Taferner noted that the located, near the old path of Route 10 where it used to cross the river on an former bridge, is not a heavily traveled area.

The bodies were taken to the medical examiner's office in Springfield for autopsies and were to be shipped back to Greenfield once family members had completed funeral arrangements.