Months after natural gas explosions rocked three Massachusetts communities, audio transmissions from one police department calling for backup have been released.
North Andover police hopped from fire to fire, gas leak to gas leak, in a bewildering game of Whack-a-Mole in the first hour of fires and explosions in the Merrimack Valley last September, according to the new police radio transmissions the town released.
Police, including Chief Charles Gray, responded to more than a dozen fires and reports of natural gas odors, keeping their cool but trying to piece together what was happening while rescuing and directing residents.
One officer reported responding to a restaurant where flames were flying from the frying vat.
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“They shut everything off, but they still have flames coming from the frialator,” the officer said.
Two dispatchers, a sergeant and a communications staffer, relayed messages, directed officers and Chief Charles Gray to address the ongoing stream of calls from residents and trying to get the town’s emergency manager on the phone.
“Thirty East Water, 30 East Water, another potential fire in the basement.”
“Will you respond 151 Waverly, 1-5-1 Waverly? Fire Department for fire in the basement, smoke in the basement.”
“Control, I’ve got another fire: 226 Main, basement.”
“Saywer and Mifflin, heavy smell of gas. People are evacuating and moving up the street.”
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The calls came in one after another.
The audio, posted to YouTube by the town of North Andover, paints a portrait of a small department with its hands full, calling in all hands and attending to every report, but nervous about what may happen next.
“Sarge, I’m getting calls from the city, too,” Gray said, referring to Lawrence. “They’ve got, like, nine fires going. They’re looking for some help. I know we’re tied up, so keep me posted with what we’ve got.”
Gray made those radio calls to dispatch while responding to fires himself.
“If 305 can hear me, I’ve got a handicapped woman on the second floor of this fire on Main,” Gray said.
He entered the building to get the woman and didn’t answer calls from dispatch for several harrowing minutes.
A short time later, he was back on the radio, sending an order to alert everyone in town.
“Put a reverse 911 out that if anyone smells gas to get out,” he said. “Any available cruisers, get on their PA systems and drive through the neighborhoods and tell people to get out if they smell gas.”
The explosions on Sept. 13 in North Andover, Andover and Lawrence killed one young man and displaced thousands of people in the three towns. Gas was shut off to the area for days, and to homes that caught fire for weeks, or in some cases, months.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the explosions, and U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren have promised hearings on a whistleblower brought to you exclusively by NBC10 Boston, who said he warned Columbia Gas that cutting corners and staff would lead to disaster.