WATERVILLE — People were ordered not to drink water from their taps Monday after firefighting foam entered the public water system as emergency personnel fought a deadly fire at an apartment complex for senior citizens near downtown.

One person was killed and three others were injured in the three-alarm fire at Elm Towers at 60 Elm St., according to the Waterville Fire Department. The Fire Department was dispatched to the scene around 5:40 a.m.

Firefighters found flames in a fourth-floor unit and discovered a person inside that apartment, according to a news release posted to the department’s Facebook page. Attempts to resuscitate the person, who authorities have not yet identified, were unsuccessful.

It took firefighters a couple of hours to account for all of the building’s residents because the complex has 50 units and limited personnel were available, the release said. Some residents were escorted outside by firefighters, but others were asked to “shelter in place.”

The fire proved to have an impact across the region because firefighting foam entered the water distribution system, according to the Kennebec Water District. The foam is not safe for consumption so the district issued a warning to customers to not drink the water.

Meanwhile, at Elm Towers resident Roland Chase, 63, was missing for two hours before he was found by firefighters, his family said. Relatives described the long wait to hear from authorities combing the building if he had been found alive.


“It’s definitely not something you want to wake up to,” said Kellie Thompson, Chase’s daughter, who is nine months pregnant. “We were all crying. … It was really, really scary.”

Chase lived on the sixth floor of the apartment complex and was eventually found in another apartment on that floor, disoriented but OK, his family said. Chase had inhaled smoke and was taken to MaineGeneral’s Thayer Center for Health in Waterville for treatment.

Officials said two other residents also were hurt in the fire but did not elaborate on the extent of those injuries. Both were taken to a hospital.

Firefighters gather Monday during the aftermath of a deadly fire at Elm Towers on Elm Street near downtown Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The fire drew a mutual-aid response from surrounding communities, fire officials said. The fire was under control by at about 6:30 a.m.

An American Red Cross representative at the scene Monday said not all residents in the building would have to be displaced, but the organization will help relocate those whose apartments aren’t safe to live in.

The fourth floor of the building sustained fire and smoke damage, and floors below sustained water damage, officials said in the news release.


The water district issued its warning for customers systemwide, but said the order was primarily limited to customers in the area of Elm and Main streets. A notice the district released said even water used for food preparation or to brush one’s teeth shouldn’t be consumed. But the water was safe for bathing and cleaning, the district said.

The extent of the contamination wasn’t clear Monday, so the warning was issued out of an abundance of caution, the district said. District staff was at various locations working to flush the contaminated material out of the water system.

Anyone with questions regarding water conditions, or customers experiencing persistent foaming in their water supply, should contact the district at 207-872-2763.

Elm Towers is a property that mostly houses seniors and those with disabilities, according to the Waterville Housing Authority, the organization that manages the building. The complex is primarily comprised of one-bedroom apartments, according to the authority’s website.

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