Efforts to extinguish a stubborn fire on Sept. 2 at the Portside Grill restaurant in Bar Harbor, while preventing its spread to other downtown buildings, required personnel from nine area communities and millions of dollars of apparatus. Meanwhile, volunteer firefighters from other towns throughout the county provided coverage for the towns having sent responders to Bar Harbor.
The results of that mutual effort were impressive.
Even though the old wood buildings involved were separated by only a few feet, and actually attached in places, the fire did not spread to adjoining structures. The rain of flaming debris and ashes usually associated with such disasters easily could have ignited new fires blocks away. That was prevented.
Even after an internal attack effort had to be called off, due to the risk to life and safety, firefighters were able to pour water onto the burning building from the ground, from nearby rooftops, and from aerial ladders strategically positioned on all four sides.
Unlike the standard practice decades ago, “surround and drown,” the effort last week was deliberate, calm and effective.
Adjacent buildings sustained smoke and water damage, but, most important, they remain standing. Even the hardest hit neighbor, the Thirsty Whale Restaurant, was able to reopen after a week.
The fact that all that equipment and expertise were brought to bear so quickly and effectively was no accident. The Bar Harbor Fire Department, and the departments of its neighbors, regularly train for scenarios involving major fires in the downtown’s crowded older core. The willingness of the chief and officers in charge to immediately call in help from other departments, and the town’s longstanding commitment to maintaining a robust system of fire hydrants insuring a generous water supply, provided key advantages.
In addition to Bar Harbor’s ladder truck, similar units from Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Ellsworth were employed. The only ladder truck in the county that did not participate was Bucksport. Each ladder truck costs in the vicinity of $800,000. In addition, numerous pumper trucks, emergency equipment vans, ambulances and other vehicles participated in the joint effort.
While some have questioned spending so much hard-earned taxpayer money on new fire trucks, the outcome could have been much different had those resources not been available on Sept. 2. An entire downtown block could have been lost. That those same well-trained and equipped units are available to assist any area town in similar emergency circumstances should be a comfort to every county resident.