By Ted Waddell
MONGAUP VALLEY June 3, 2003 A couple of Monticello firefighters probably lost their taste for duck liver pate on Friday afternoon, as they helped about 80 volunteers from several countywide companies battle a blaze at a local duck farm.
At 12:39 p.m., the Sullivan County 911 Center sent out an emergency call that a large building at Commonwealth Enterprises New York State Foie Gras in Mongaup Valley was on fire.
Local volunteer firefighters kept the blaze from spreading from the grain silo to a vast complex of buildings containing thousands of ducks, but it was hours before the fire was controlled enough to allow the operator of a huge excavating machine to peel back a corner of a second-floor grain storage area so a pair of Monticello firefighters atop an aerial ladder could pour water on the heavily smoking structure.
As soon as the roof was opened, a fresh supply of oxygen fed the fire, sending a blast of flames directly at the two exposed firefighters.
Monticello firefighter Brian Soller and Lt. Chris Bastone had nowhere to run, until Keith Kurthy, the operator of the aerial trucks ladder, swung them out of harms way while smoldering debris rained down on the apparatus below.
Fortunately, the firefighters up on the ladder were wearing full turnout gear and self-contained breathing equipment.
After the initial blast of fire subsided, Soller poured water on the flames, extinguishing the fire as his lieutenant provided backup support just below him on the extended aerial ladder.
At times, both firefighters seemed to disappear into the sky, as they were engulfed in a cloud of smoke.
It was pretty hot up there, said Soller, an ex-chief with the Monticello Fire Department.
I definitely didnt expect there to be that much fire in the silo, or for it to come out as far as it did. It was close, he added. It really got our attention.
In addition to volunteer firefighters from Smallwood-Mongaup Valley, numerous county departments responded to the scene or were placed on standby status: Highland Lake, Kauneonga Lake, Kenoza Lake, Lake Huntington, Liberty, Loch Sheldrake, Monticello, Jeffersonville, Rock Hill, Swan Lake, White Lake, White Sulphur Springs and Yulan.
It was difficult to contain everything to that one spot in the grain silo, said Matt Stiene, chief of the Smallwood-Mongaup Valley Fire Department.
A lot of different companies within the county and the Sullivan County Bureau of Fire worked well together to put the fire out and stop something that could have been a lot worse, he said.
Chief Stiene said Sullivan County Fire Determiner Joe Maxwell ruled the cause of the blaze was electrical in nature.
According to Stiene, the duck farm was the site of another structure fire about five years ago. That blaze was sparked by construction on a roof.
The Sullivan County Sheriffs Department controlled traffic. Metro Care responded to the scene, where they treated one Smallwood-Mongaup Valley firefighter for smoke inhalation.
Former Sullivan County Fire Coordinator Harold Kronenberg just couldnt stay away after he heard the call go out over the emergency network.
The retired Woodridge firefighter stopped shoveling a winters accumulation of sand out of his garage to respond to the fire just like old times.
As scores of volunteer firefighters fought the blaze, the duck farms workers stood around watching all the action.
Unnoticed in all the excitement, a lone baby duck made a bid for freedom from an adjacent building.
Taking shelter under fire apparatus, the little duck kept ducking in and out of streams of running water until returned to safety.
The blaze was declared under control at 4:45 p.m.