Timing of fire 'incredibly ironic'
The fire started in the garage, after a woodstove chimney caught fire, according to Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis.
The timing of the fire raised some suspicion, McGinnis said.
"It is incredibly ironic," he said. The fire occurred during a transition period for the Bellows Falls Fire Department. Sunday marked the last shift for full-time firefighters. On Monday, the department transitioned from a full-time fire department to an on-call department with a full-time chief.
Earlier this year, after Bellows Falls residents voted to cut $241,290 from the village budget, trustees made cuts to the fire department and it was determined that the village could not afford a full-time department.
Deborah Wright is the trustee designated to work with unions to negotiate employee contracts. Before the fire department budget was cut, labor agreements between the village and the firefighter's union were at a stalemate.
Despite the bad timing, McGinnis said, after a thorough fire investigation, no foul play is suspected.
"It was just a bad circumstance; the timing was bad," he said.
Jonathan Bebey was the one full-time firefighter on duty at the time and he responded along with the majority of the on-call department. All the on-call firefighters, with the exception of three — two of which couldn't respond because they were on plow duty — showed up to the house.
McGinnis admitted that working without the full-time firefighters will be challenging but, he said, the firefighters still remaining are all dedicated.
The response, he said, was pretty typical. There was a storm Sunday night, but firefighters were still at the house within nine minutes of the call.
Wright said that by the time she had gotten herself, her husband and her dog out of the house the police department was waiting to assist the family. There were two families living in the home. The Wrights live upstairs, where she also runs her business, Green Mountain Traffic Control. The Wrights' oldest son, his wife, and three children live downstairs.
No one in the family was injured, not even their pets.
One firefighter was hurt at the scene. McGinnis said the firefighter bandaged himself up and kept working until the fire was out. Afterwards, he was transported to a hospital where he received six stitches.
"He's fine," McGinnis said.
Meanwhile, the Wright family is staying with a son. Wright said space is cramped, but that the family is doing its best.
Their cars were damaged by the fire but, Wright said, somebody has lent them vehicles. She said the house can be rehabilitated but it will take about a year to restore. The two displaced families are in the process of looking for temporary housing in the meantime.
"We are surviving," she said. "We are a tight-knit family; it's one of our strengths."
The fire still has her a little shaken. She's been trying to keep herself busy so she doesn't have to think about it.
After seeing the state of her house on Monday, Wright said she, "burst into tears."
Myles Mickle, the trustee president, described the fire as unfortunate but said he was happy that McGinnis is now in charge of the fire department and happy about the Southwestern N.H. Fire Mutual Aid's response.
Mickle said he doesn't know of any change in the trustees' plans for the fire department. "The money isn't there," he said.
Trustee James McAuliffe, who historically has been one of the most adamant trustees advocating to make the fire department as affordable as possible, said the news about the Wrights' fire hasn't changed his stance either.
"We have an excellent fire department," he said, citing McGinnis as the new chief and the on-call staff. "Though there's certainly some irony in the timing of the fire."
He still feels certain that the trustees' decision to change the fire department model was the right one.
A fund to help the Wright family was created by Robb Fox using paypal.com. Donations can be sent to email@example.com on Paypal. Fox advises donors to use a "friends and family" option and mention Cass in the notes.
Harmony Birch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.
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