On March 9, 1985 an early morning fire gutted a historic 4-story building known as the Machinists Block at 48 Hanover Street. The massive building was home to as many as 100 tenants, several businesses, and the Opera House. The Victorian styled Opera House formerly known as the Strand Theater was built in the early 1880s. The blaze which killed one woman caused several million dollars damage. Seventeen days later firefighters returned to battle a 2-alarm fire at the Opera House.
District Chief Robert DeCotis was promoted to Chief of the Department on July 7, 1987. Among his accomplishments include a method of handling hazardous materials incidents, the implementation of the Incident Command System, the apparatus replacement plan, and the administrative ability to prevent layoffs in bad economic times even when stations were temporarily closed. The chief is the recipient of the Alan Sypek award for heroism.
The new chief presented further changes to the department. August 1987 the department broke 108 years of the tradition of an all male firefighting force by appointing its first female firefighter. Under his direction the department adopted a new uniform patch featuring the Amoskeag Steamer over a silhouetted State of New Hampshire outline.
During the late 80's a need for specialized rescue and hazardous materials equipment was evident. Under Chief DeCotis's direction Rescue 1 was formed November 1988 to fill these needs. By 1993 the department expanded the number of certified hazardous materials technicians to 80, the most in the state. These firefighter technicians are assigned to companies throughout the city as well as Rescue 1.
An arson fire at 543 Lincoln Street on February 25, 1988 claimed the lives of 3 residents. The 5-alarm fire caused extensive damage to the large 3-story Victorian style apartment building. As fire conditions deteriorated interior firefighting crews were withdrawn. Shortly after exterior operations began a portion of the roof collapsed. Through the investigation conducted by the Fire Prevention Bureau a juvenile was arrested in June in connection with the fire.
On June 9, 1988 at 6:19 P.M. an accidental fire claimed the old Walter Fulton engine house. The brick quarters of Engine and Ladder 6 were gutted by fire while the company was out of quarters at a training session. New quarters were built several blocks away.
A 5-alarm fire raced through a 3-story warehouse on the city's west side on September 10, 1988. The fire, reported at 2:28 a.m., destroyed the wooden structure at 305 Second Street. The building, originally the Connare Tire Warehouse, housed 4 businesses, two auto repair shops, a furniture repair business, and a furniture warehouse. The suspicious fire caused $500,000 worth of damage.
During 1989 the city was hit with a rash of arson fires that made the residents living in the inner city fearful at nightfall. Numerous multiple alarm fires lit the inner city skies on many a summer night. On July 26, 1989, firefighters fought a 3-alarm fire at Fibre Processing Corporation on Perimeter Road required 230 air bottles to battle a smoky blaze in the warehouse. The fire consumed about 500 bales of synthetic fabrics and wool, each weighing 600 pounds when dry. Damage was estimated at a million dollars.
On April 14, 1990, a tenement fire at 20 Malvern Street was quickly spread to four other buildings by gusting winds. Firefighting efforts were hampered by the narrow streets of the thickly settled neighborhood known as Janesville.
On Palm Sunday, April 8, 1990 at 6:28 A.M. a 5-alarm apartment fire at 318 Maple Street rapidly spread to 388 Auburn Street where fire involved the 3rd floor. The intense fire also caused heat damage to the 3 decker at 386 Auburn Street despite the numerous hose streams directed on the exposures.
In 1991 an emergency aircraft crash response plan was instituted that requested the Manchester Fire Department's response to the Municipal Airport to assist the private crash crew at emergency incidents by establishing a water supply and assisting in victim removal.