News of Otsego County

Oneonta Fire Department

In Memoriam Kenneth C. Leslie, 86 August 29, 1936 – October 5, 2022
In Memoriam

Kenneth C. Leslie, 86

August 29, 1936 – October 5, 2022

Kenneth C. Leslie

ONEONTA – Kenneth C. Leslie, 86, of Oneonta passed away Wednesday, October 5, 2022 at Bassett Hospital, Cooperstown.

He was born August 29, 1936 in Franklin the son of the late James and Caroline (Gesell) Leslie.  Growing up Ken worked on the family dairy farm.  He graduated from Franklin Central School the Class of 1954.  Following graduation, Ken joined the United States Navy and served on the USS Albany in the 6th Fleet.  He was honorably discharged when his father passed away so he could help take care of the family farm.

Ken worked several jobs including Oneonta Ford Sales, Neil Nelson Construction and finally the D&H Railroad retiring from C.P. Railroad in 1996.  In his retirement, Ken drove bus for OPT, and was a currier for Wilber Bank and later Community Bank.  He was also a volunteer fireman for the Oneonta Fire Department. 

Fire at Oneonta Motel

Fire at Oneonta Motel

About an hour ago there was a fire at Motel 88 on Chestnut St., Oneonta. Fire crews are still on the scene. Check back for more details. (Photo by Joe Harmer)

New Oneonta police chief ‘humbled’ by role


New Oneonta police chief ‘humbled’ by role

By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to

The Oneonta Police Department has a new chief of police, Christopher Witzenberg, who has a long history of serving in leadership roles.

Witzenberg was previously an OPD lieutenant and became acting chief after Doug Brenner retired last winter.

“It’s humbling,” Witzenberg said. “I’ve been pretty pensive the last week about the things I’ve done to
get here.”

AllOtsego people: New fire chief credits parents with his success

AllOtsego people

New fire chief credits
parents with his success

By Kevin Limiti • Special to

Brian Knapp, the new Oneonta fire chief, is a fourth-generation firefighter. (Kevin Limiti/

ONEONTA — The City of Oneonta’s new fire chief appropriately comes from a long line of firemen.

A Schenevus native and fourth-generation firefighter, Brian Knapp started his position as the Oneonta fire chief officially Sunday, Aug. 1. “Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a firefighter,” Knapp said Monday, Aug. 2.

Knapp’s great-grandfather was a firefighter in West Laurens, and both his grandfather and his father were firefighters in Schenevus.

“It was part of the family, the fire service,” Knapp said. “It’s just always something I wanted to do.”

Knapp was a volunteer firefighter in Schenevus before starting at the Oneonta Fire Department as an on-call firefighter in 2004. He became a part-time firefighter within six months and was promoted to full time in 2006.

“Everyone typically gets into this job to help people,” Knapp said. The rescued people are “probably (in) their worst hours of the worst days in their lives and we’re there to help them with their problem.”

Raging Fire Has Oneonta Lanes’ Future In Doubt

Raging Fire Has Oneonta

Lanes’ Future In Doubt

Inside Oneonta’s Holiday Lanes, the beams survived, but not the alleys.

Avid bowlers may be pursuing their sports in Sidney, Norwich or even Van Hornesville after a raging fire gutted the Holiday Lanes on Oneonta’s Southside in the early morning hours of Friday, April 9.

The Oneonta Fire Department received the call at 1:30 a.m., and fought the blaze with the help of multiple fire departments until 5 a.m., Fire Chief Mike Mancini reported.

With the Town of Oneonta’s water system not expected to be completed until later this year, the big challenge was feeding water to aerial trucks from Stamford, Sidney and the OFDs, Mancini said.

One station was set up near the Susquehanna River’s Southside dam, and another at a pond on Henderson’s Farm, across from Lowe’s.

CLOSE: Since 1974 D&H Crash, Errors Often Repeated

Since 1974 D&H Crash,
Errors Often Repeated

To the Editor;

Your article about retiring Oneonta Fire Chief Pidgeon notes his recounting to you his memories of the D&H Train Disaster of Feb. 12, 1974. You state, “…when a D&H train derailed at Emmons and one of the tankers exploded.”

In fact, seven tankers carrying LPG or propane exploded that day – I know, because I was there, and saw the whole thing unfold from start to finish, as a nearby resident.

I have followed the story closely over the years, and have endeavored in vain to correct a major factual error that the NTSB carried into its report that states that the derailment occurred around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

That is false – the derailment occurred between 12 noon and 12:30 p.m. that day, but the Daybook which the OFD maintained contained that error because an officer wrote it in several hours after the call actually came in – which is not the time of the accident.

Lazy investigators didn’t correct the error and it now goes forward in time as an inaccurate recollection of the events of that day.

I have interviewed surviving firemen on this issue, and have tried to have the record corrected for posterity – so far, to no avail.

You should, at least, correct this error for your readers.

On a related Oneonta Fire Department issue, it has been almost four years since Christopher’s Restaurant in Oneonta mysteriously burned down, and there are still no answers as to the cause.

Why not query the OFD and ask, “What gives?”


Life’s Goal Accomplished Pidgeon Retires

Hail To The Chief!

Life’s Goal Accomplished Pidgeon Retires

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Chief Pidgeon examines mementos of his retirement, including a flag carried aboard Marine One, the President’s helicopter, with a citation in his honor. (Jim Kevlin/

‘The Dark Horse fire,” Oneonta’s retiring fire chief, Pat Pidgeon, immediately responded when asked about the worst blaze he tackled in 36 years with the OFD.

Pidgeon was strapped into the jump seat of the fire engine as it arrived around 5 a.m. March, 1, 1992, at 18 Market St.

“There was an explosion,” he said. He looked over his shoulder. “A beam blew out, and landed on a line of cars. I knew it was going to be a long night.”

The site was what’s now that parking lot a couple of buildings east of the Green Earth health food market. Also on fire was the attached J.J. Maloney Building, a candy distributorship at 12-14 Market.

Pidgeon and Bobby Russo, his crew captain and brother of Fire Chief Francis “Cootie” Russo, set up a 2½-inch hose at the hydrant at today’s Cooper Fox, at the back end of Clinton Plaza.

“I remember the blue flames from all the alcohol that was burning,” he recalled.

At one point, as the fire appeared very close to a neighboring apartment house, he and Russo hammered on the doors of apartments in the building, awakening college coeds and protecting them with their shields as the girls hurried to safety.

Early Morning Fire Destroys Nate’s Tire & Auto

Early Morning Blaze

Guts Nate’s Auto, Tire

Fire investigators Joe Tiemann, in green, and Brian Knapp look through the remains of Nate’s Tire & Auto following an early-morning fire today. (Ian Austin/

By IAN AUSTIN • Special to

ONEONTA – The Oneonta Fire Department had to shut down the railroad tracks on Railroad Avenue this morning to battle a blaze that destroyed Nate’s Tire & Auto.

According to Robert O’Brien, director, Otsego County 911, the call came in at 3:52 a.m. When crews arrived on scene, the garage was engulfed.




By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

The barn at 130 Riverstone Road from the Otsego County Real Property Tax records.

EMMONS – A man was found dead when Oneonta firefighters responded to a call about a barn fire at 130 Riverstone Road, according to Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr.

The Oneonta Fire Department was called to the scene of a fully involved barn fire at 11:20 p.m. last night. Schenevus, Milford and Pindars Corners all provided mutual aid, and they were on the scene until 4 a.m. this morning.

Police, Fire Rescue Woman From Mill Race Waters

Police, Fire Rescue Woman

From Frigid Mill Race Waters

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Oneonta police officers and firefighters rushed to the spillway between the Oneonta Creek and Neahwa Park last evening to rescue a woman who had gone into the water in an alleged suicide attempt, OPD Lt. Christopher Witzenburg reports.

The woman, 34, was reported missing by family members who told police she had threatened self-harm. She allegedly told her family that she was under a bridge by some water, and Officer Kristen Lapointe spotted her behind the Post Office, headed south towards the railroad tracks.

When Lapointe attempted to make contact with her, the woman went into the creek at the Neahwa Park spillway.

Fire Damages Back Porch, Kitchen Of Oneonta Home

Four Fire Companies Save House

Fire Damages Back Porch,

Kitchen Of Oneonta Home

Oneonta Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon was called to to the scene of a house fire on Winney Hill Road. Though the fire damaged the back porch and kitchen, the house itself was spared. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – A fire at a home on Winney Hill Road in Oneonta started on the back porch and spread into the kitchen, but fire companies were able to put it out before it consumed the whole house, Oneonta Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon reported.

According to Pidgeon, the fire at the house on 290 Winney Hill Road, a neighbor called in the fire, which started on the back porch at 5:16 p.m. Oneonta, West Oneonta, Franklin and Franklin FAST were on the scene, with Otego and Laurens Fire and EMS squads on  standby and for coverage, and fire fighters quickly knocked the fire down.

Firefighters Resuscitate Cat After Oneonta Apartment Fire

Firefighters Resuscitate Cat

At Oneonta Apartment Fire

Oneonta fire fighters responded to a fire at the Mayrose Apartments on Lewis Avenue this evening. One resident, Matt Baker, was treated for smoke inhalation, and his cat, Oreo, was rescued from the fire and resuscitated with oxygen at the scene.


Oreo is resting comfortably after Oneonta Fire Captain Rob Latourette resuscitated her with oxygen.

ONEONTA – Oneonta firefighters were able to resuscitate a cat rescued from the fire in the Mayrose Apartment complex on Lewis Avenue this evening.

“She was pretty much dead when we found her,” said Capt. Rob Latourette. “I gave her oxygen and she revived quickly.”

The cat, named Oreo, is owned by Matt Baker, a resident of the apartment, was also treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. Baker, 26, managed to rescue his three guinea pigs, which are in the care of a neighbor.

A second cat, a cream-colored female named Cheeseburger, was not located in the apartment, and is believed to have run out the door when the fire broke out and is still missing.

Firefighter Delello Retires After 32 Years With OFD

Haunting Memory: 2003 Delhi Flood

Firefighter Delello Retires

After 32 Years With OFD

Jim Delello, a Critical Care Technician with the Oneonta Fire Department, finished his final shift at 8 a.m. this morning after 32 years with the OFD. (Ian Austin/

By IAN AUSTIN • Special to

ONEONTA – After 32 years with the Oneonta Fire Department, firefighter Jim Delello’s served his final tour of duty today as a critical care technician with the Oneonta Fire Department.

“You see people at their best and their worst,” he said. “It is gratifying to see the effect you have on people’s lives, and it’s good when you can see a positive outcome after a call.”

He began working with the department on Sept. 4, 1985, then came on as a full-time firefighter the following year. He was Union President for sixteen years, served on Mayor Dick Miller’s task force for the department and takes the roll of Crew Leader when the Captains are off.

Job Corps Honors Fallen Hero Heller

Job Corps Honors

Fallen Hero Heller

Chris Kuhn, Director of the Oneonta Job Corps Academy, addresses family, friends and firefighters gathered in ‘the octagon,’ a hallway interchange on the third floor of Oneonta Job Corps named in honor of the late John D. Heller, who lost his life in December rescuing his fiancee and their nephews from the Walling Street arson. “We love him and we miss him.” said Kuhn. “It is our hope that when people walk through this space they will see his story and be inspired.” Members of the Oneonta Fire Department were present, as well as Mayor Gary Herzig, who remarked “This intersection was always full of life, it is only fitting it should be named after him.” At right, Heller’s fianceé Amber Roe speaks beneath his photo. “This is where we met. We spent a lot of time here talking and it was here fell in love.” Photos and stories of Heller’s life and sacrifice, along with his helmet signed by loved ones, are now on display in the John D. Heller Memorial. (Ian Austin/

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