02/21/05 — Chief says entire block was in danger

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Chief says entire block was in danger

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on February 21, 2005 2:04 PM

"We had the potential to lose the whole block," Fire Chief Bobby Greenfield said today.

That's how he summed up Saturday's predawn fire that destroyed the 123-year-old Paramount Theater at 139 S. Center St. and threatened adjoining businesses.

"You have to stick with a fire like that, because once you lose it, it will beat you," Greenfield said.

The chief called the fire "a tragic loss to the community. I hate that it happened, because there are not many recreational activities in Goldsboro for the citizens."

Greenfield said it was difficult to put out a fire of that magnitude and to save the contents after it broke through the roof. The roof collapsed after about 10 minutes. Then, he said, the firefighters' goal was to protect the surrounding businesses.

Fire Department personnel remained at the building until late Saturday evening and returned Sunday to survey for smoldering hot spots.

Police also were posted to secure the building, which remained encircled in yellow tape today. The southbound lanes of Center Street were also blocked off.

Power and gas had not been restored this morning to other businesses in the block. It was not known when they would reopen.

Assistant Fire Chief Gary Whaley, who supervised the operation, said today that his report would not be completed for a few days.

The value of the building, operated by the Goldsboro Parks and Recreation Department, had not been determined.

Whaley said no firefighters entered the theater during the blaze because of the threat of a collapse. The floors and the marquee did collapse, and air-conditioning units fell from the third floor. If firefighters had been inside, he said they would have been trapped and water lines would have been cut.

Police Officer Chris Scott saw the fire and reported it at 3:45 a.m. The first firefighters arrived within about a minute.

"Our main goal after we got there," Whaley said, "was to keep it from spreading to other buildings and to box it in with aerials and large hand lines with a defensive attack. As quickly as the roof burned and fell in, we didn't want to put our people inside to make an interior attack. So our idea was to box it in. ... It would have been difficult to stop if it had reached Maxway and other stores."

Whaley said firefighters "made a terrific stand" with a trench cut to stop the fire from spreading to a warehouse behind Stagestruck.

"Our biggest fear when the roof caved in was that the back and side walls started bowing out," Whaley said. If the walls had fallen, he said, firefighters inside would have been crushed.

"We moved them to a point away from the collapse zone and to where they could still be effective," he said.

Eighty-two firefighters, including county volunteers from five departments, fought the blaze. The city used five engines, a ladder and a command car. New Hope brought its tower truck, Elroy had an engine and a utility truck and Rosewood sent a utility truck. Mar Mac stood by at the headquarters station, and Pinewood stood by at the No. 2 station on North Drive in case of other calls.

"The third ladder really paid off," Whaley said of New Hope's tower truck. It helped to contain the fire to the theater.

Chief Greenfield thanked the city's police and general services department for traffic control and the volunteer departments for their help.

"It will take Goldsboro a long time to recover from this," Whaley said.