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Community emergency contingency plans really work

The following is a special article written by Michael Schneider Sr., Colden Fire Company member:

The usually quiet Town of Colden is located in the glacier designed hills of Western New York. On Saturday Jan. 6, the residents of that quiet town went to bed with an outside temperature of minus 18 F.  On the coldest night in the past two weeks of subzero weather, the Colden Volunteer Fire Company is called out for an EMS call around 11:30 p.m. The call is to the northeast side of the fire district. Right after the EMS assistance, the Fire Company received a second call at 5 minutes past midnight for a chimney fire that led to a structure fire on the south end of the fire district. The EMS-assisting firefighters pack up and proceed to the structure fire leaving a skeleton crew to complete the EMS call.

Upon arrival at the fire call in the southern end of the district, Fire Chief Mike Spagnola reports the house is fully engulfed in flames and requests mutual aid. In the meantime, the Colden Fire Auxiliary members heard the full assignment fire and started to arrive at Station 1 in anticipation they will be called out to serve hot beverages to the firefighters in the extreme cold. The Auxiliary started coffee and hot water. In time, 15 fire companies answered the call to assist in containing the fire.

The fire was located on Hayes Hollow, in a small tree covered area lower than road elevation, with a three-home grouping in close proximity. It was like the firefighters were fighting the fire up and down an icy ladder all night. The three homes are on well water, meaning water to fight the fire must be hauled in from somewhere else. Two of the first arriving engines set up portable water ponds behind their vehicles, while other engines and tankers set up a rotation of trucks to deliver water to the portable ponds. They traveled north up Hayes Hollow, west over Heath Hill with its steep graded slopes – as steep as 25 degrees in some spots – south on State Road to the fire hydrant in front of Southtown Tireman. After filling their water tanks they continued south on State Road to Holland Glenwood Road then north onto Hayes Hollow.  

As the rotation of trucks was being set up Colden Squad 10 (Colden Auxiliary) was called in to assist. By this time, all the area stores and restaurants were closed for the night. The hot beverages were just about ready and some peanut butter sandwiches were being made from hot dog rolls found in the freezer. Hillcrest Fire Company members, who were staged at Colden Fire Station 1 waiting to be called in as different fire engines froze, volunteered to assemble the sandwiches. On the contingency plan was the private phone number for Mike and Tracy Newman, who own The Colden Country Inn. They were very helpful by returning back to open their restaurant and prepare subs, pizza and a high protein Spanish rice, cheese and chile casserole.

Meanwhile, the Colden Highway Department was called into action to keep the roads sanded and cleared as the road iced up from the transferred water. When the Colden Fire Auxiliary arrived with the hot beverages and peanut butter sandwiches, they were led to the neighbor across the street, who offered the garage to set up the rehydration and/warming station. The garage was located above road level, to indicate how steep this hill was that the firefighters had to traverse. When the hot pizza, subs and casseroles arrived, all the neighboring ice covered firefighters were amazed how the Auxiliary was able to coordinate all the hot food with everything being closed.

After the fire was contained, Erie County arranged to have an excavator show up to tear the structure down, allowing firefighters to put out the piles of burning wood. At dawn the clean-up started, frozen hoses were located up and down the road. Fire Chief Spagnola and Assistant Chief Michael Schneider Jr. both had pick-up trucks on site, where the hoses were placed and transported to Colden Fire Station 1 to thaw and be sorted out to the different fire companies.

Once the hoses were thawed, a crew was assembled to restock the now-thawed fire engines to make ready for the next call. One cannot say enough about proper contingency plans and practice. The one house burned and could not be saved, but the fire was knocked down causing no further damage. No firefighter was injured that night.  Colden Fire Company thanks all who participated in this call, especially under such extreme weather conditions.

One other service the Auxiliary provides is to give the homeowner the “Carrie Bag,” a bag full of needed comfort supplies and important phone numbers after someone has a house fire. The bag is named after Carrie DePasquale, who came up with the idea after being displaced by fire in her home years ago. It is a wonderful feeling when a community comes together. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the displaced residents, search Helping the Palmateer Family on GoFundMe.com, or visit https://www.gofundme.com/helping-the-palmateer-family.

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