NORTH ATTLEBORO - A specialized technical rescue team was brought into town Sunday night to help local firefighters with a fire that broke out 60 feet underground that shut down one of two electric motors that pumps sewage in the busy Route 1 area.
Firefighters were alerted of a possible fire in a manhole about 5:30 p.m. by employees of the Emerald Square mall who noticed smoke coming from near a pumping station that
is located across Route 1 and near a mobile home park.
The first arriving firefighters quickly shut off power to the facility, North Attleboro Fire Capt. Ron Darling said.
Fire Chief Ted Joubert called for the Bristol County Technical Rescue Team when it was determined it was too dangerous to send anyone into the manhole without specialized gear and air quality test equipment.
The town's water and sewer department and the electric department also responded, and police helped shut down one of the northbound lanes.
The pumping station, according to fire officials, is used to store and then pump sewage from homes and businesses around the mall and that end of town uphill into a high-pressure sewage line, where the sewage eventually reaches the North Attleboro wastewater treatment plant.
When the fire broke out, firefighters said dangerous levels of fumes and smoke accumulated in the manhole and needed to be vented out before anyone could enter the facility to check on the pumps.
Once the Technical Rescue Team arrived on the scene, they set up equipment over the manhole, and outfitted firefighters with gear to perform a confined rescue if needed.
They also lowered air quality meters into the manhole, and after it was determined the air was safe, a technician went into the manhole and determined that one of the two motors had burned out, and was the source of the fire.
While fire crews worked in the manhole, large septic pumping trucks worked to pump down the levels of the accumulated waste that had built up when the pump burned out, and power was turned off to the second, working pump. That was to avoid the threat of sewage backing up into nearby homes and businesses.
Joubert said having regional teams is necessary because no single town can afford to have the specialized equipment. The chief said having firefighters from individual towns who train together on such teams is an added bonus.
In Sunday's incident, equipment from Norton and Seekonk responded with firefighters from throughout the county.