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.