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Camp suffers tragic loss of caretaker

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — March 30, 2010 — A 14-year employee of Camp Romimu in Monticello died in a fire on Thursday.
Around 10 a.m., Monticello Fire Department Director of Safety Carl Houman said his department, Smallwood-Mongaup Valley and Forestburgh responded to a blaze inside a trailer at the camp. MobileMedic and the State Police also headed to the scene, while the Rock Hill Fire Department stood on standby at Monticello’s firehouse.
According to Houman and State Police Investigator Tim Dowling, firefighters discovered the body of 59-year-old Robert “Flip” Smith inside the trailer.
Neither the cause of death nor the cause of the fire have yet been determined, and Dowling said the investigation is ongoing, being handled by State Police Investigator Mike Kelly. An autopsy was conducted on Smith Thursday evening, but results are pending.
“It does not appear to be foul play,” explained Dowling – nor suicide.
Smith served as the camp’s caretaker, according to Camp Director Rabbi Shlomo Pfeiffer.
“He was a dedicated worker, a kind gentleman,” Pfeiffer recalled yesterday. “He knew his work very well.”
Smith was originally from Chester and did not have family in the area, said the rabbi. He lived alone.
Rabbi Pfeiffer and others were at the camp Thursday morning when they smelled smoke, which was coming from the trailer Smith owned. They saw that Smith’s truck was parked outside, and realizing he was home, they pounded on the door, to no response.
Within five minutes of the call to 911, the Monticello Fire Department was on the scene, knocking down the blaze in 20 minutes, said Houman. Damage was confined to the trailer and Smith’s truck.
“The response was excellent,” noted Pfeiffer. “It was handled professionally.”
Though saddened by the tragedy, Rabbi Pfeiffer said Camp Romimu remains on schedule for its annual summer opening. In the meantime, police and video surveillance will be ever-present while the camp searches for a new caretaker.

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