Oak Bluffs downtown fire quickly doused

A fire was quickly doused at the Madison Inn, but owners almost waited too long to call fire department. - Rob Gatchell

Updated Nov. 17

The Madison Inn on Kennebec Avenue is still standing today, thanks to a stroke of good luck and a rapid response from the Oak Bluffs Fire Department.

At around 2 pm Mary Ibsen stopped by the inn, which closed three weeks ago for the season, and noticed smoke and the building’s alarms going off, her husband and co-owner Caleb Caldwell told The Times. She called her husband and he arrived within minutes.

“It was scary for both us,” he said. There weren’t flames, but there was smoke coming from a ceiling fan,” Mr. Caldwell said. The ceiling and the floor in the room above were charred, he said. “It was pretty dramatic.”

In a letter to The Times, Mr. Caldwell said he “waited seven precious minutes after finding our building full of smoke before we called 911 in an effort to find and extinguish our fire on our own, and so as ‘not to be a bother.’”

Mr. Caldwell said once he called 911, the fire department response was lightning fast. “Once we finally did put in the call we had Scott Hershowitz (Mocha Motts Scott) at our door in about a minute, and the rest of the department there shortly after. Fire put down. Building saved. Epic effort by everyone involved (and did Edgartown back-up? All thanks to you firefighters too.)”

“When Scotty went in with the fire extinguisher the fire had already popped up through the second floor,” Chief John Rose said. Chief Rose was on scene just after Mr. Hershowitz arrived and he said the entire department was on scene within a few minutes.

“There fire was in the bathroom; it had burnt through to the upstairs bedroom and through the outside wall,” Chief Rose said. “ We knocked the fire down with foam pretty quickly. There was a really stiff breeze coming off the water and with that old wood frame construction things can go up really fast.”

Mr. Caldwell said attempting to douse the fire on his own was a big mistake. “In hindsight a terrible hesitation, and please never make the same mistake yourself,” he said. “We did eventually locate our fire but were certainly ill-prepared to do battle with it on our own.”

“Small fires can become big fires very rapidly, and people can become trapped in the blink of an eye, so let the pros handle it,” Chief Rose said. “It’s safer for everybody if you call 911 right away, it’s safer for the homeowner and it’s safer for my guys to hit a fire before it’s fully involved.”

Mr. Caldwell was effusive in his praise for the OBFD.

“Mary and I would like to give a big thanks to the entire Oak Bluffs Fire Department, even if you weren’t at our fire at the Madison Inn, for being firefighters,” he said. “Needless to say, all the men and women who attended our fire, or served as backup for those that did, are individually and collectively responsible for saving our building.”

In a conversation with The Times, Mr. Caldwell said things might have been different had his wife arrived 20 minutes later. He said the insurance company is coming next week and repairs will be ready for next season.

George Brennan contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: updated to correct how the fire was discovered.