Saturday, June 10, 2017

Provincetown First Responders Had a Busy Memorial Day Weekend With Three-Alarm Fire, and Rescue of 44 Hikers

Firefighters on the Lobster Pot's beach pump
water through the window of the Red Shack.
Photo by a reader

Memorial Day weekend turned out to be very busy for folks in Provincetown who are charged with looking after the safety of the public. These are not only police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel, but in PTown we also depend on the harbormaster and the US Coast Guard to keep us safe in an emergency in any of the huge bodies of water that surround us.
We actually have 21.3 miles of shoreline surrounding this little town of maybe 3,000 year-round residents, with a summer population of 30 to 60,000 on any given day of the week. Holidays like July 4th and Carnival Week, we’re told, can bump those numbers well over 80,000 residents and visitors.
It’s also a wooden town, with homes and apartments, restaurants, shops and galleries in very old buildings, some of them dating back to the middle of the 1700s. Many of these buildings stand only inches apart, making us even more vulnerable to the sort of fire that could literally destroy the town overnight. Just such a blaze occurred a week ago, on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

Ladder trucks shot water down onto the rooftops of four Lopes
Square restaurants. Photo by a reader.
Fire broke out during the dinner hour in the kitchen of the Red Shack, a busy takeout restaurant in the very heart of Provincetown, at Lopes Square. As in most spots in Provincetown, a fire in one building can spread to others in mere moments. 
This fire was in the very center of a single building occupied by several tenants. The Red Shack occupies a space in a very long, slender building. It sits smack in the middle of the structure, between three other restaurants, a large gift shop and a bit of office space. There are apartments adjacent as well.
When the fire was noticed, in the roof and ceiling of the Red Shack, a call to 911 brought firefighters within minutes. Provincetown, by the way, has the last all-volunteer fire department on Cape Cod. Fire Chief Michael Trovato began directing his crew before he even arrived on the scene. When he turned the corner at Standish Street, driving from Shank Painter Road, just a few blocks away, he could see that the fire was already through the roof of the building, so he called for working fire assignments, which immediately brought more local firefighters to the site. In moments, this blaze would send flames rising some 20 feet into the sky.
The Red Shack's roof was destroyed, while others fared much better. Firefighters
did a remarkable job of containing this fire, Photo by Orleans Fire Department.
A few minutes after his arrival on the scene, Chief Trovato put in a second alarm, which began mobilizing firefighters and equipment from other towns, heading to Provincetown to join the battle. Shortly after that, the chief called a third alarm, bringing more personnel and equipment to town, and moving fire fighting personnel from nearly every Cape Cod town to cover other stations left short-handed as their firefighters drove equipment to the tip of the Cape.
This was a three-alarm fire, which could have had disastrous results, yet the town actually suffered very little damage, given the possible outcome we might have had.
I took this photo from Lopes Square the day after the fire. Structural damage
may keep the Red Shack and Tatiana's from reopening till the autumn season,
while the Surf Club may open sooner. The Coffee Pot aims for July 4th or sooner.
The rapid response and skillful work of our fire department, along with the mutual aid of others who joined us, truly minimized the damage done by this very serious fire. Our police department expertly managed the safety of the dozens of thousands of people here for the first big holiday of the summer, while still allowing people on foot and in their cars to move through the center of town and go about enjoying themselves. We applaud the delicate balancing act pulled off that evening by the Provincetown Police.

So that was Saturday.

Then, on Sunday, just moments after PTown’s rising tide reached its peak at 1:43 PM, a 911 call came into the Provincetown Police Department, asking for help at the West End Breakwater.

The Provincetown Harbormaster's boat loads up with several of the
44 hikers stranded on the breakwater during am exceptionally high
tide over Memorial Day weekend. Photo by Provincetown Police. 
Several people were reported actually in the water. A number of parties of hikers had walked out onto the granite barrier that slows down the waves and tides coming into the wetlands in the far west end of Provincetown Harbor. On their walk out toward the spit of sand leading to the Long Point Light, 44 people had failed to notice the steadily rising tide that now had them trapped more than a mile from terra firma.
The high tide was approximately 11.7 feet that afternoon, splashing over the breakwater in spots, making it slippery and rather dangerous to walk on. There were likely spots where hikers couldn’t walk forward or back without getting wet. Had a few people slipped and fallen in, or did some of the hikers foolishly think they could swim back to the shoreline? With the water temperature around 52 degrees, it was imperative that anyone who might have ended up in the water get out of it as quickly as possible.
Provincetown Police and Fire Departments, along with our EMS & Rescue crews and the Provincetown Harbormaster all responded, as did the US Coast Guard and TowboatUS Provincetown. Flyer’s Boatyard sent their water shuttle to join the other vessels in quickly getting the hapless hikers back to safety. Five people required treatment by EMS personnel.
During an "average" high tide, even the low spots in the breakwater are still about
about three feet above the water level, so these fishermen had no trouble this day.
The hike along the breakwater and out onto Long Point is one of the most popular recreational activities in Provincetown, rewarding hikers with gorgeous, uncrowded beaches and a panoramic view of our busy waterfront and spectacular harbor.
There are, however, potential risks in taking this walk. For example, the extremely high tide that day was unexpected to most hikers, rising well above the average high tide line visible along the breakwater. The high tide the weekend before had been about two-and-a-half feet lower, at just 9.2 feet, so the casual observer might have had no clue to the possible danger at hand. A tide chart could have helped hikers avoid being caught off guard amidst the rise of very deep water.
This fisherman didn't know what to do when he realized he was
trapped by rising water. He must have been in a low spot. This
tide was three inches lower than Sunday's, stranding 44 hikers.
To help folks safely enjoy this marvelous walk and amazing view, I wrote about it in June of 2012. It’s probably time to review these tips for fun and safety on this walk, so here’s a link to my post Hike The West End Breakwater to Wood End Light. Be careful and have fun, and remember, no flip flops on the breakwater. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, at least for that part of the hike. And if your legs and feet aren’t used to walking in soft sand, a few gentle, thorough stretches of all these muscles after your hike, and again before bedtime, will help prevent sore muscles the next day, especially if you’ve walked barefoot in the sand for a fair distance. This walk, all the way to the lighthouse and back, will use a whole new set of muscles that you never knew you had.
Another way to get to Long Point Light is to catch the shuttle boat operated by Flyer’s Boatyard. Weather and demand permitting, the Long Point Shuttle is running daily, every two hours, from Flyer’s dock, at 131A Commercial Street. That’s actually down a little alley called Good Templar Place, between Joon restaurant and the Provincetown Antique Market. Flyer’s is behind the restaurant. Times and departure location will change for the summer season on June 23rd. I’ll write about this great way to get to Long Point in another week or two.
In the meantime, once again, we sincerely thank all the men and women who are PTown's First Responders: our police department, harbormaster and coast guard, as well as firefighters, rescue workers and emergency medical personnel in Provincetown and beyond, who work so diligently to keep us safe here at the tip of Cape Cod.

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