September 17, 2019

Quick Reaction Saves CT River Museum from Wednesday Evening Fire

A quick response and a used ladder truck purchased by the Essex Volunteer Fire Dept. last year saved the historic Connecticut River Museum from a fast moving fire Wednesday night.

The fire in the riverfront museum at the foot of Main Street was reported by boaters around 9:20 p.m. Essex volunteer firefighters, already gathered at the nearby firehouse for a training session, arrived on the scene within minutes to find the east side of the three-story building that faces the river ablaze. Essex firefighters were quickly joined by volunteers from Deep River, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. About 75 firefighters and a dozen fire trucks and emergency vehicles responded to the blaze.

Susan Daniels, marketing director for the museum, said firefighters inside the building were able to cover and save all of the museum’s artifacts and exhibits while other firefighters battled the fire that was burning on the exterior east side of the building. The museum has about 75 exhibits on the history of the lower Connecticut River, including a painting of the British raid on Essex in 1814 and a replica of the Turtle, a small submarine that was used during the American Revolution.

Essex firefighters deployed a ladder truck to extinguish fre that had begun to burn through the roof on the east side of the building. The Essex Volunteer Fire Department purchased the 1994 Sutphen Corp. ladder truck from the Palm Beach, Florida Fire Department for $234,000. The truck arrived in Essex last November.

Selectman Joel Marzi, who was in the downtown village when the fire began, said the ladder truck and the skills of the volunteer firefighters saved the building. “I think that truck paid for itself last night,” he said.

Fire Marshall Keith Nolin agreed the ladder truck was very helpful in allowing firefighters to douse the blaze from above. Nolin said the cause of the fire remains under investigation, though he has determined it started under the dock that abuts the east side of the building.

Nolin said firefighters had the blaze under control by 11 p.m. and remained on the scene until around 1 a.m. He said the fire does not appear to be of suspicious origin.

Daniels said crews from Bogaert Construction of Essex have already begun securing the damaged area and repairing the roof. She said exhibits have been movedĀ  to allow crews to clean the interior of the building from smoke and water damage.

“It could have been much worse,” she said. “The fire department responded quickly and they came prepared to put out a museum fire. We are very grateful for their phenominal response.”

Daniels said insurance is expected to cover most of the cost of repairs, with the museum expected to reopen in September. She said schooner cruises on the Mary E and other outdoor activities will continue while repairs are underway.

The Connecticut River Museum was founded in 1974 by a group of area residents who obtained a loan that allowed the purchase of the Steamboat Dock building for $200,000. The building was constructed as a warehouse for steamboats in 1878, and later operated as a restaurant called the Upper Deck in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The museum formally opened in May 1982, though some areas of the building had opened to the public for exhibits in the late 1970s. The museum attracts about 10,000 visitors each year and has a staff of 12 full and part-time employees.

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