Rockland fire chief concerned over Post Office delay in evacuating smoke-filled building

By Stephen Betts | Dec 20, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts Fire trucks line Limerock Street in Rockland outside the post office.

Rockland — Rockland's fire chief expressed concern and frustration Thursday afternoon, Dec. 20, when crews responded to a smoke-filled post office and the staff initially refused to evacuate.

Fire Chief Christopher Whytock said that he got a call on his day off on his personal telephone asking if there was a fire at the post office on Limerock Street. The person told him the smoke was thick at the federal building.

Whytock contacted both the fire department and Knox County Regional Communications, and crews from Rockland and neighboring communities responded shortly after 1 p.m.

Whytock said when he entered the lobby, the smoke was so thick that it made his throat burn. He then observed customers in line and clerks waiting on them.

He said he directed the clerks to evacuate the building, but they refused. The postmaster then came out and initially refused to leave, but after a few minutes agreed to evacuate, Whytock said.

The chief said this was the first time he has dealt with a situation in which occupants of a building have refused to evacuate when first directed to do so.

The source of the smoke was a boiler that had been experiencing problems, the chief said. The building had no heat on the previous day, Whytock said he had been told, and when mechanics were restarting it, the smoke filled the building because there was no other ventilation other than the chimney.

The chief said the absolute first rule in such a situation is to evacuate.

"We have five people responding, if we have to perform rescues we will have no one on fire suppression," he said.

There were two nonworking smoke alarms in the building and no carbon monoxide alarms, a matter the chief said he would be looking into further.

Postmaster Christopher Choate said he could not comment on the matter.

"We deliver the mail," he said when asked why he couldn't comment.

Comments (11)
Posted by: James Clinton Leach | Dec 27, 2018 11:47

The Post Master should be relieved of his Post, he is an arrogant self absorbed person and the position he now holds has gone to his head...What next from this idiot ....

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Dec 21, 2018 13:24

Oh! To add to this fiasco, professionals, who rent offices in the building, were not notified by anyone!

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Dec 21, 2018 13:22

What a fiasco the fire department had to face. Refusing safety orders to evacuate is ultimate foolishness and wasting precious time. As for the customers, they were there because it was the last day for mailing Christmas packages to arrive on time. They could have safely gone to another post office. Lives are more valuable than packages.

Posted by: Don Dickinson | Dec 21, 2018 12:09

This news story brings the term ignorance to a whole new level. If a building is full of smoke, get out and call the fire department regardless of whether it was "just" somebody working on the boiler. This could have easily turned into a lot more dire situation if something were to go wrong. Furthermore, the boiler should have never been re-fired while the building was occupied in the first place. And to top it off, non working smoke alarms in a Federal Building? Pitiful!!!

Posted by: Alan Heal | Dec 21, 2018 11:52

First off I will say I am a retired Fire Fighter,and yes we react with safety in mind. Any building that is full of smoke is a potential life-threatening scene. The gases from something as simple as a chair on fire can over come you in seconds, possibly permanent disablement or death. The Chief was totally in his right to demand the building be evacuated. When you have gone into a building full of smoke and fire and search for a child or adult and knowing they were not going to make it,then you can second guess the Chief's decision. When a firefighter puts on an air pack he knows the danger of the fumes he will be exposed to. Lastly when the chief evacuates a building he assumes the responsibility of security of the building.. He has personnell  at all unsecured accesses.            Alan Heal Retired Captain Rockland Fire


Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Dec 21, 2018 09:14

Valerie I agree there is more to this story.  Chief enters the building and there are many people waiting in line ??  Anyone entering a building full of smoke would NOT stay and wait in line and why did the Post Master not want to evacuate the building.  Naturaly a fireman just like a policeman would overact to a situation.  That's their job, what they are trained to do.  If you have a package that needs to get out before Christmas, you will most likely wait until you see the flames.  Also there is a security issue here no one is talking about.  The Postmaster does not want to leave all those packages unattended.  I am more interested in hearing "the rest of the story"

Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Dec 21, 2018 08:33

Why yes you do deliver the mail, but if you become incapacitated from smoke inhalation you won't be. Commons sense-gone in this instance.  And to the customers, a simple why?


Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | Dec 21, 2018 08:33

Why yes you do deliver the mail, but if you become incapacitated from smoke inhalation you won't be. Commons sense-gone in this instance.  And to the customers, a simple why?


Posted by: Gary W. Havener | Dec 20, 2018 19:22

I would think a normal person, seeing a fireman enter a building and ordering an evacuation, be it the chief or otherwise, would be prudent enough to do so. That person may know something that those inside the structure might not. Not rocket science.


Posted by: Valerie Wass | Dec 20, 2018 15:24

I do not understand why they wouldn't evacuate.  I still am stunned that customers stayed in the building.  I would have my butt out some fast.  If the article is correct and the smoke was so thick it made his throat burn.  What about the customers and employees.  Why did the Postmaster disregard protocol?  Is there more to this story?  Most of the time, no story is black and white.


Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Dec 20, 2018 14:26

Arrogance. :(

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