HAMMOND — Fire crews responded Friday to the former Polish American Veterans Post No. 40 at 241 Gostlin St. for a report of the building on fire.

Crews were called to the scene at 3:49 p.m. to find the heavy smoke billowing from all the windows, Battalion Chief Don Koerner said.

The building is believed to have once housed a local grocery, before becoming the home of the post from 1948 to as late as 1996, according to Times archives.

Koerner said fire officials suspect arson because the building was vacant, boarded up and electricity was cut off.

"It was all boarded up. Someone had to have gotten in there," he said.

The blaze originated in the basement, traveling up an interior staircase to the first floor, Koerner said. The basement is badly damaged, the stairways are scorched and heavy smoke damage was reported on the second floor.

The entire basement ceiling collapsed into the basement, he added.

Crews forced entry into the front door and ventilated the roof.

"When we got here and saw all the smoke, I thought we'd be here all night but these guys got it knocked down pretty quick," he said.