As a child in the 1950s, I remember the Firestone plant on the waterfront (and its noon whistle); what has happened to that building? - Anonymous

 

FALL RIVER – A quick check of Herald News archives produced the answer for this anonymous question asker. Simply put, it was destroyed by fire in 1973.

On March 8, 1973, fire raced through Firestone complex mill building #2, which was being refurbished by its new owner, Providence Pile Fabric Corp. The loss was estimated at $1 million. Hundreds of onlookers watched as firefighters worked feverishly to battle the flames, according to a Herald News article from March 9, 1973.

Firefighters from nine other communities - Warren, Bristol, Barrington, Dartmouth, Westport, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Swansea and Somerset - assisted the Fall River Fire Department in containing the fire to just the one building in the complex, saving buildings that housed Borden-Remington Company, Tillotson Rubber and Bristol Knitting Mills.

Sprinklers had been shut off in the building during the cold winter months, because there was no heat in the building. Providence Pile was installing a new heating system. The fire chief said sprinklers would have saved the building.

 

At 1:30 p.m. on March 8, 1973, Elliot Holden, an assistant general street foreman for the Fall River Gas Company, noticed a “small light” on the third floor of the mill building. He walked to the company regulator station on Anawan Street and called the fire department. (The article mentions Holden’s nickname was “Smokey.”)

As soon as firefighters arrived, they witnessed flames shooting from the upper floors. They feared fire spreading to the nearby tank farm of the Northeast Petroleum Company on Ferry Street.

As the fire raged on, firefighters draughted water from the nearby Firestone Pond and Taunton River. The fire chief reported that 24 pieces of apparatus were used to fight the fire. The plume of smoke could be seen for miles, and at times “obliterated traffic on the Braga Bridge,” according to the article. Afternoon commuter traffic on downtown streets was slowed, as parts of Davol Street, Water Street and Broadway were closed.

The southwest wall of the mill collapsed at about 5:30 p.m. Among those watching as the fire burned was Providence Pile President Alan Symonds.

The “Firestone era,” according to an article from October 1978, ended in September 1971, after 34 years. Ever since 1937, the company was a major player in the economic, social and cultural life of the city. Some of the buildings formed a sizable portion of the American Printing Co. complex, and many buildings of the old Fall River Iron Works stood in the general area of what, in later years, was known as the Firestone plant. During World War II, the Firestone plant “literally hummed with military goods production” and employed thousands of people.

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