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Firefighters called to Port Townsend Paper Mill after vault fire discovered

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. (From news reports) -- A firefighter was transported to Jefferson Healthcare for exhaustion-related symptoms from fighting a fire Tuesday morning, Dec. 13, at the Port Townsend Paper Mill.

Both East Jefferson Fire Rescue and Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue responded to the mill, with the first-arriving firefighters observing light smoke coming from the sixth floor.

"The firefighters were able to lay a water supply and put water on the fire within approximately

7 minutes of arrival, which is pretty remarkable considering the access limitations and stairs," said Battalion Chief Jason MacDonald, the incident commander for the fire response.

The fire originated in a large concrete vault.

No other damage was reported.

Although the fire was contained, firefighters stayed at the scene Tuesday to spray water into the vault from a safe vantage point.

"It is not safe to put firefighters in the confined space to fight the fire, so they are taking a defensive posture," said East Jefferson Fire Rescue Chief Bret Black.

Other responders are being checked for any health impacts from fighting the fire.

"We have formal rehab set up with medical monitoring for our people," Black said.

Volunteers from Station 13 helped staff the rehab unit for the incident, and numerous off-duty personnel were called in to staff stations.

Even so, more help was needed Tuesday, Black said.

"We had other emergencies occurring during the mill fire, leaving the first alarm assignment suboptimal. Once again we found ourselves spread too thin. But, even if we had all on-duty personnel available, we still do not have enough firefighters," Black said.

Black said a standard response for a commercial structure fire at an industrial complex would warrant a robust firefighting response requiring dozens of firefighters.

The cause of the fire -- which started in a large, concrete vault -- has not been determined due to access issues.

The building's sprinklers were not activated during the fire, according to East Jefferson Fire Rescue.

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