Lifetime of memories for firefighters who responded to Windsor Mill fire | MyWindsorNow.com

Lifetime of memories for firefighters who responded to Windsor Mill fire

Emily Wenger
ewenger@mywindsornow.com

Windsor Severance Fire Rescue B shift was on its way back to the station in the wee hours of Aug. 6 when firefighters noticed smoke coming from downtown Windsor.

Within three minutes, the four-person crew was on scene. When Lt. Kory Tope pulled up inside a fire engine, he said he could feel the heat through the vehicle's windshield.

Tope, Battalion Chief Darren Jaques, Ian Gordon and Travis Grenz, were the first to reach the scene of the Windsor Mill fire.

"We knew immediately that the mill was lost," Jaques said.

“Windsor has seen its fair share of tragedy for being such a small town. To be part of all of those is a weird feeling.” Darren Jaques

The first step, they agreed, was to minimize the danger to surrounding structures. As they called in assistance from area departments, the crew set to work protecting nearby buildings from falling embers.

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The sadness of watching an historic structure in the community burn did not hit right away, they all agreed.

"What struck me was the amount of debris," Gordon said.

Debris was on the roof of the NAPA Auto Parts store across the street. Nearby fencing and a trash can melted from the heat, Jaques said. The firefighters worked to contain the damage and decided what to save.

"That's a huge burden," Jaques said. "However, that's something we're ready for."

The fire was reported at 1:49 a.m., and the crew didn't leave the scene until well into the next day. Tope and Grenz said they left the scene at 3 p.m. Sunday, grabbed a shower and some rest, then headed back out.

Once the fire was doused, Jaques said it was important for firefighters to remain on scene to manage the area. If they had left, he said, residents may have continued to call in reports of smoke at the mill.

Piles of debris continued to smolder and produce smoke days after the blaze was doused, but with the depth of debris and an investigation underway, Jaques said digging through the piles to completely rid the site of smoke was not an option.

If firefighters flooded the scene with water or moved debris to get to the source of the smolder, they could have hindered the investigation, Jaques said.

Though some heckled firefighters who remained almost sleepless at the scene of the fire for not "putting it out," Jaques said most community members were supportive.

"We had a couple of moms who loaded up minivans with goodies," he said.

The gifts included cards from children scrawled with messages of encouragement, Jaques said.

"It felt like Christmas," he said. Other firefighters nodded, although Gordon quipped vegetables are preferable to cookies sometimes for the "readiness" of the firefighters.

Jaques said community-shaking events like the mill fire remind firefighters why they do what they do. Like most jobs, the routine of being a firefighter or EMT feels like work, Jaques said, but community members remind them of their purpose in the wake of such events.

"The next morning, a woman came to hug me and she was crying," Gordon said. "I was excited about the new businesses going in there, but to me it was just an old building. … It didn't strike me until then how big an impact it would have."

B shift also responded to the scene of John Jacoby's murder in 2015, and Jaques remembers how much that day shook the town of Windsor. The 2008 tornado, he said, was another event that shook the town and drew residents together.

"Windsor has seen its fair share of tragedy for being such a small town," he said. "To be part of all of those is a weird feeling."

Volunteer firefighters needed

During the response to the Windsor Mill fire, volunteer firefighters’ help was invaluable, in addition to assistance from area departments, said Windsor Severance Fire Rescue Chief Herb Brady. The department is hoping to train more volunteer firefighters. For more information or to volunteer, go to http://www.wsfr.us.

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