What’s happened in the past week is another opportunity to be impressed about the brave men and women who respond, in dark of night and bright of day, any hour, any day, when fires and accidents happen in Otsego County.
Training and experience have made mishaps so rare, we forget – certainly the public, but volunteers and ambulance squad members, too – that every fire call and crash creates danger. These hundreds of people are, happily, rarely injured seriously – although sprains and cuts and minor burns are routine.
Yet every call creates an opportunity for injury.
Such a rare call came at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, when firefighters from Middlefield, Cooperstown, Westford, Cherry Valley and Milford responded routinely, without a second thought, to what turned out to be a raging fire in the hamlet of Middlefield.
Springfield and Mount Vision stood by. But if they – if any of the 29 volunteer departments in Otsego County – had been summoned, they likewise would have responded without hesitation.
The scene was daunting – but not beyond the experience of the seasoned volunteers: A two-story barn, in flames. Water tanks were quickly filled from nearby Cherry Valley Creek, and the firefighters deployed around the burning structure. They knew what they needed to do – and they did it.
Then, the unexpected. “There was an explosion, a ball of white fire,” said Cooperstown First Assistant Fire Chief Mike Malloy. “These guys didn’t have anywhere to go.” They were simply engulfed. The barn, it seems, was being used as a garage.
Malloy supposes the fireball was created by the explosion of an acetylene tank. Then a second explosion, then “three, four, five, six,” he’s unsure how many.
As we know now, five fire-fighters were injured, including Cooperstown’s Fire Chief Jim Tallman, a youthful 42-year member of the department. John Sears and Ryan Smith, two Middlefield firefighters, were likewise transported to Bassett Hospital.
So were Scott Monington, an officer at the Otsego County Correctional Facility, and Jon Roach, a patient-care tech at Bassett, but they were quickly transferred to the burn unit at Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, where they would spend the next four days.
Then, what joy and affection erupted Sunday afternoon when Scott and Jon were transported back to town by two of their CVFD colleagues and greeted by a parade of fire trucks outside the Clark Sports Center.
Transported over Murphy Hill to the scene of their travails, the recovering men were greeted again by grateful firefighters and neighbors at Middlefield hamlet’s four corners.
It must have taken a while to get that together? Not so.
The idea had come to mind Saturday evening. The county’s Emergency Services deputy director, Victor Jones, suggested it to Glen Falk, the Cooperstown department’s vice president, and they immediately implemented.
They sent out an invitation to all departments that had been at the scene. They came, joined by others, Fly Creek and Hartwick among them.
Dispatched to Syracuse, Emergency Squad Capt. Eric Pierce and EMT Joel Bostwick shaved their heads in solidarity with the two injured men.
It was an inspiring afternoon.
The community, of course, responded, as it always does. GoFundMe.com accounts quickly raised $20,000 to ensure Scott and Jon get through this with no out-of-pocket medical expenses. Further fundraisers are planned.
Financially, the departments are well supported by the towns they serve. State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, and other legislators have sought out state money when necessary for an engine or ambulance – even a new building. In Cooperstown, Jane Forbes Clark is a well-known benefactress of the department.
What’s lagging is people like the injured men who arrived to a heroes welcome, and the men and women who greeted the returning heroes.
Every fire company in Otsego County can’t fully fill its ranks. Yes, there are reasons – commuting patterns, outmigration, and more – but those reasons don’t apply to everyone. This is a good time for all of us to rethink our availability. Follow the link at the top of Page A4, and volunteer if you can.
The term “hero” is devalued by overuse. But Scott Monington and Jon Roach certainly qualify.
They didn’t expect to be injured last Wednesday night. But they were and they took it. And it’s not too much to say every man and woman at the scene, while not expecting to be injured, accepted that they might be. That’s a hero. Individuals putting themselves at risk for friends, neighbors – and for people they don’t know. Special people indeed.
Of course, the words of Fred Lemister, the first among equals, at last month’s reception honoring the 9,400 calls he responded to over a 48-year career, echoed.
“You are a unique breed, people,” said Fred. “Don’t ever forget that. You are different. Fortunately different. You are not like most people, and be thankful for that.
“Life is a gift, people,” he continued. “And we need to give back for that gift. You people here have given back for that gift.
I look upon you as being Good Samaritans, as helping other people in need without any thought of reward. “You are indeed doing God’s work.” Yes, they are. Join them. You won’t be sorry.