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Waverly declares state of emergency after fire

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ST. REGIS FALLS – The town of Waverly declared a local state of emergency on Friday following an early-morning fire that threatened to spread from an apartment building to the rest of downtown St. Regis Falls. Firefighters were able to confine the blaze to the structure.

The fire left about 10 people homeless and the dwelling uninhabitable. Of the 10 inhabitants, four were transported to Alice Hyde Medical Center to be treated for smoke inhalation, one of whom was taken to Fletcher Allen Healthcare in Burlington, Vt. via Lifeflight. His identity and condition are not known.

As of Friday, the downtown area from Norton Avenue to Prior Street was blocked to all except emergency personnel.

According to fire officials, over 100 firefighters from 23 St. Lawrence and Franklin County departments responded to a 911 call made shortly after midnight saying the building at 16 North Main Street, St. Regis Falls, was on fire. Three aerial trucks were on-scene from the Malone, Saranac Lake and Brasher-Winthrop fire departments.

“This is one of the biggest operations I’ve been part of in 30 years,” St. Regis Falls Fire Chief Wilbur Bailey said.

He added that fighting the fire presented numerous challenges to firefighters, including high winds and the far distance to a water source other than fire hydrants.

Mr. Bailey said while the fire was burning, five tanker trucks were used to draft 2 million gallons of water from nearby sources.

“Mutual aid worked well from St. Lawrence County and Franklin County. We had people here from Tupper Lake to Malone,” Second Assistant St. Regis Falls Fire Chief Adam Cox said.

Fire officials said one firefighter was taken to Alice Hyde for treatment of burns to the hands, but the injury was not serious and he was later released.

Franklin County Fire Coordinator Ricky Provost said the state of emergency was declared because of the fire’s central location and proximity to adjacent structures, including a New York State Police office and the local post office. Both Mr. Provost and Mr. Bailey said firefighters took a containment approach to fighting the fire to stop it from spreading to the downtown.

Mr. Provost said the state of emergency gives Waverly Supervisor Michael Bailey additional administrative powers he normally doesn’t have, such as the ability to close down part of Main Street/County Route 5 without hassle.

He said Mr. Bailey could also extend work hours of town employees and National Grid workers, but that hasn’t been necessary thus far. The state of emergency was expected to be lifted at 3 a.m. on Saturday, according to Mr. Provost.

He added that in some cases, declaring a state of emergency will make a county or state eligible for recovery grants, but they did not meet the threshold in this case.

As of Friday, county and state demolition crews were working to tear the remainder of the structure down.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make it safe,” Mr. Provost said.

The fire is not considered suspicious, but it is being investigated by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Franklin County Office of Emergency Services and the Franklin County Cause & Origin Team.

Mr. Provost said state fire investigators are involved because of the value of the multi-dwelling building, which he estimates to be about $250,000, and the fact that residents and a firefighter sustained injuries.

According to Mr. Bailey, Mr. Cox saved a resident from the burning building.

Mr. Cox said he arrived at the fire and while gearing up, heard resident Nathan Goodwin exclaiming that someone was trapped on the second floor.

He said he ran around to where another resident told him he could find a step ladder and used it to help the man down. Mr. Cox said the man was wrapped in a sheet and clad in naught but a T-shirt, a bomber hat and a pair of snowboard goggles.

“There were no injuries to him; He got checked out by EMS and was fine,” Mr. Cox said.

“If he [Mr. Cox] hadn’t done what he did, he [the resident] probably would have died,” Mr. Bailey said.

Mr. Goodwin, who lived in apartment 2 in the northwest corner of the building said he was watching TV on his couch when the fire broke out.

He said his cable went out, followed by his electricity less than a minute later.

He said he woke up his housemate, Cindy Froehlich, and noticed a very faint smell of smoke.

“I took my cell phone and used it as a light and saw a little bit of smoke coming into the bedroom from the kitchen,” Mr. Goodwin said. “I felt the back door and it was hot, and you could hear the roar of the flames.”

Mr. Goodwin said he then attempted to alert the upstairs neighbors who had two young children, one of whom had a bedroom directly above the flames.

“I told them, because their daughter was right above the room that was on fire, ‘Get your daughter out first! The fire’s right below her room!’,” Mr. Goodwin said.

He said he then went to alert his upstairs neighbor, but the fire had spread to the point where he was stopped in his tracks.

“The smoke was so thick, the heat was so intense that I had to go back down,” Mr. Goodwin said.

He said he then found Mr. Cox, who was able to free the man.

According to a news release from Franklin County Emergency Services, the displaced residents are being cared for by the American Red Cross.

“We lost everything, we have no place to go,” Cindy Froehlich, owner of the building, said through tears.

Waverly Supervisor Michael Bailey did not immediately return a request for comment.

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