By Paul Hemmer
LIVINGSTON MANOR February 23, 2001 Livingston Manor firefighters battled a stubborn, smoky blaze at the Paul Decker Sr. residence on DuBois St. around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, which subsequently rendered Decker and his wife Francis homeless.
Francis Decker, who was at work in the Livingston Manor Central School at the time of the fire, was unaware that her home was ablaze until she was contacted at the school and brought to the scene. However, her husband Paul was working in his garage at the time of the fire when he saw smoke coming from the house and tried to get inside his burning home to see where it was coming from. Decker was unable to get very far and was driven out by the thick, black smoke, which was by then billowing out the back door.
Just next door to the burning home, Patrick McGar and Chris Marler, employees of Van Etten Oil Company of Monticello, were working on a furnace when they first noticed smoke coming from the house next door.
"We quickly grabbed two fire extinguishers we had in the van and ran over to the house," said McGar. "Flames were coming out the front door and window. We knocked some of the fire down with our extinguishers, but when they were empty, the fire flared back up again."
According to Livingston Manor Chief Glen Gabbard, flames were once again shooting out of the front of the house when his equipment and personnel arrived on the scene.
"The fire was fully involved, rolling out of the front door and window of the first floor kitchen," said Gabbard. "Our first engine on the scene set up for initial attack, and the second engine laid a three-inch supply line from a hydrant up the street."
According to Gabbard, a third engine took up water supply duties at the hydrant.
"We knocked the fire down initially in around 15 minutes, said Gabbard, but due to the balloon construction of the house, the fire was driven upstairs through the walls."
Gabbard added that several local departments were called for mutual aid. Roscoe/Rockland was asked to stand-by in Manors quarters with an engine, and they were also requested to the scene with manpower. Liberty Fire Department responded to the scene with their aerial truck, a rescue truck and manpower. Several firefighters from Beaverkill Valley Fire Department were also on the scene to lend a hand.
According to Gabbard, the fire made its way up through the walls, and into and across the entire attic, making for frustrating fire attack operations. When Libertys aerial truck arrived on the scene, they were directed to set up operations to open the roof for ventilation and attack any hot spots with their powerful nozzles.
According to Gabbard, at one point the water supply became a concern.
"We did lose water for a period of about 15 minutes due to an undersized water main on DuBois Street," said Gabbard. "We set up a secondary water supply from a hydrant on Main Street . . . to take over supplying water to the scene."
A combination of aggressive interior and exterior attack finally knocked the fire down to manageable proportions, but firefighters ended up battling the smoky blaze for nearly four hours before bringing it under control.
"We were plagued by some really bad hot spots," said Gabbard. "It was a very, very stubborn fire."
Visibly shaken by the events as they unfolded before them, members of the Decker family looked on as their home of three generations succumbed to the flames.
Paul Decker Jr. of Livingston Manor recalled some of the family history that had taken place in his fathers home over the years.
"That house is well over 100 years old," said Decker. "I was born in that house."
Glancing towards his wife, he added, "We were married in that house, too."
Decker also lamented the tragic loss of some priceless family heirlooms.
"There were quite a few antiques in there," Decker said. "A portrait my father painted of my mother in 1946 while he was in the service after the war in Germany and an original painting of the Hartford Insurance Companys stag logo created by my uncle."
His son, former WVOS radio personality "Redneck Decker," was also shaken when he arrived on the scene.
"I knew it was bad when I saw the windows were all black," said Decker. "Our whole heritage was in that house."
Despite the situation, he was grateful that no one was injured in the fire and expressed his familys satisfaction with the firefighters efforts to bring the fire under control.
"We are extremely thankful to the firemen," said Decker. "The fire departments have been wonderful and very professional."
According to Chief Gabbard, the house and most everything in it was a total loss, but there were no reported injuries to firefighters or civilians on the scene. Paul Decker Sr. and his wife Francis will be staying with family in Livingston Manor, and it is unknown what plans they have at this time.