It has taken me a little longer than others to get my thoughts together to comment on the events in Westerlo yesterday morning. Spoiler alert **** Long post ahead. Cliff notes version **** I am in awe of our volunteer first responders and am so grateful for the caring community to which I belong.
First, let me say that I’ve been a member of Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company for 5 years. When I joined here I was issued a pager so I could hear the calls and know what was going on and if the Auxiliary needed to respond. Prior to moving up here I was at Thomas Corners Fire in Scotia. Their call volume was much higher and the Auxiliary was called if needed. Actually I think most of the wives would just go to the station when their husbands went on a big call. I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to help out there.
Now, and keep in mind that I live 5 houses from the station, I am Westerlo Fire’s Company President, and date a firefighter, the tones going out take on a whole different meaning. Still, when the alarm sounds in the middle of the night, my instinct is to say a prayer for all those that are helping or are needing help then roll over and go back to sleep. 1:30 Monday morning, that was almost what happened. The alarm had stopped before I realized that “Oh shoot! That’s US! And I ran down the stairs for the pager to see what was happening.
STRUCTURE FIRE! Well, sometimes a passerby sees flames that are in a burnpit that’s close to the house and panics. Maybe that’s all it is. Quickly that theory was dispelled by listening to the radio traffic. THIS WAS REAL! THIS WAS BAD!
Still, you have the facts. You know the address and it’s a fire. You know people are injured but you don’t know how badly. You don’t know whose house it is. You don’t know how many of your firefighters are making the call. You don’t know if you are going to be able to get water once you get there.
Being in the Auxiliary and not needed at the scene right away I had the luxury of being able to get dressed, let Bailey out, and pull myself together for whatever lay ahead. Not so for the Firefighters and EMS personnel. They jumped out of their warm beds, threw on whatever and raced to the station to don their gear, load up and rush into the face of danger. I could barely operate the coffee pot at the hall an hour after the tones went out, but these folks were on the scene and actively trying to fight this massive fire within just a few minutes.
We packed up the coolers and headed to the scene with drinks and snacks for all about an hour into the event, then served breakfast at about 6. There were so many people there. We are lucky to have such great mutual aid companies that came in to help. We had assistance from East Durham Fire, Freehold Fire, Greenville Fire and Greenville Rescue Squad, Medusa Fire, Medway-Grapeville Fire, Rensselaerville Fire, Westerlo Rescue Squad, Albany County Fire Investigators, Paramedics and Sheriffs. The scene remained active for over 12 hours. It was amazing to see everyone work together.
The home belongs long-time residents of Westerlo. All were treated at the scene, transported to Albany Med and then transferred to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse for their burns and breathing problems. Please say a prayer for them that they recover quickly and fully.
The family has great neighbors. The family got into their car and drove down the street to a neighbors house in the middle of the night, banged on their door and asked them to call 911. They waited there for help to arrive. Another neighbor found their St. Bernard and one is caring for him while his family is away. Many people stopped by to see what they could be doing to help the family and a fund has been set up at the National Bank of Coxsackie to assist them.
There is one group of unsung heroes that I don’t often see recognized. Thank you to all the employers who graciously allow your staff to leave during work hours or take time off to help their neighbors. We had a number of people who went in to work late or never made it at all because of the fire. We are so fortunate here in Westerlo with Hannay Reels being here. We have always had a number of members that work there and they have been wonderful in supporting our efforts. I am so grateful for them and for all the employers who understand the need for these volunteers in our community.
I am so proud of our Fire Company and want to thank you for a job well done. I am so glad that you all returned home safely. Thank you to all our mutual aid companies that came to our scene and those that may have been on standby for those companies. Oh, and thank you to Albany County Fire Control for being so calm and organized. I don’t know who was on yesterday but he pretty much rocks in my book.
For all those who are not in the Fire/EMS business, please take a moment to thank a First Responder when you can.
And don’t forget that its EMS Week!