By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY January 11, 2002 - It was working pretty good, said Joe Maxwell, chief of the Liberty Volunteer Fire Department, of a stubborn blaze that ravaged a late-1800s-era house on Chestnut Street on Wednesday evening.
According to Chief Maxwell and Liberty Police Department Sergeant Anthony Hersch, the fire was reported by a passerby who stopped in at the local police headquarters to inform authorities that he smelled smoke in the downtown area.
When firefighters arrived within minutes of the report, they found flames pouring out of two first-floor windows of the stately structure. The owner of record is Audi Selimaj.
According to several bystanders, they credited local firefighters with extinguishing the blaze within minutes of their arrival at the scene. Chestnut Street was blocked for several hours by firefighting apparatus.
It was real heavy smoke conditions when we got there, said Chief Maxwell.
The Liberty VFD was assisted at the scene by volunteers from Livingston Manor Fire Department.
The Monticello Fire Department also responded to the scene with their air truck, as firefighters were rapidly running out of air (used in self-contained breathing equipment). White Sulphur Springs VFD was on standby status. The Liberty Ambulance Corps also responded.
We went through a lot of air bottles because it was such a smokey fire, added Maxwell.
Maxwell said the fire created life-threatening hazards to the firefighters because flames had burned through the first floor of the house, where it became very difficult to get in to put the fire out. . . . We had attack teams go into the basement, first floor and second floor . . . but it was a hard fire to fight because of the balloon construction.
It just went up through the walls, he said.
In old-style balloon construction, fire breaks (fire stops installed between the studs) were not built into the walls. In case of fire, flames can quickly race up inside the walls much like a chimney effect and can rapidly spread throughout the structure.
The Liberty VFD was called out by the Sullivan County 911 Center at 8:57 p.m., and the fire was declared under control at approximately 1:40 a.m. the following morning.
Approximately 65-70 firefighters from three local departments were involved in battling the blaze, said Chief Maxwell.
The firemen did an excellent job getting it out, said Chief Maxwell. The cellar and first floor were fully involved, and it was up in the walls. To be able to save what they did, they did a good job.
The house was reportedly heated by an oil burner (the stairwell switch was noted to be in the off position by authorities). The house was unoccupied at the time of the fire.
This was Anthony Campanaros first official fire as a new member of the Liberty Fire Department. The 20-year-old volunteer firefighter graduated from Tri-Valley Central School in 2000.
I just wish I could be doing more, said the Sullivan County Community College student as he watched his fellow firefighters battle the blaze.
As a firefighter whos fought more than a few fires in his career with the local fire service, Chief Maxwell said of the rookie firefighter, His first fire is the one hell always remember.
The fire is under investigation by the Liberty VFD Cause & Origin Team.