The Safety Net We Take for Granted

When the building attached to our home caught on fire near midnight on Thurs Nov 4, the first responders were the only difference between losing something and losing everything. That structure, built by our hands, contained my farm store, all of our farm storage and workshop, and most importantly, an apartment where our dear friends had lived for 5 years. They were sleeping in the apartment when the fire started, and their quick response is the reason no one was injured that night.

The fire came within 10 feet of our home, and the amazing work of the ten Fire Departments/Companies responding–in addition to 5 other state and county agencies–is the only reason we still have our beloved home that we spent 3 years building. We want to publicly recognize them and share our deepest appreciation for them:

  • Brooktondale Volunteer Fire Company
  • Slaterville Volunteer Fire Company
  • Varna Volunteer Fire Co.
  • Speedsville Volunteer Fire Co.
  • Dryden Fire, aka Neptune Fire Co.
  • Freeville Fire Dept
  • Danby Volunteer Fire Co
  • Cayuga Heights Fire Dept.
  • Richford Fire Dept.
  • Berkshire Fire Dept.
  • Plus Bangs Ambulance, the NY State Police, Tompkins County Sheriff, Tompkins County Office of Emergency Management, and the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control

Brooktondale’s Fire Chief, Chris Jordan, was first on scene to establish incident command and determine what resources were needed and direct everything that happened on scene. Slaterville’s Fire Engine was first on scene to begin fighting the fire and put water on the structure.

The other departments sent firefighters and vehicles with specialized equipment, including engines, tankers, heavy rescue, a ladder truck, and a FAST Team (in case firefighters needed to be rescued from the structure) from all around the county. Bangs Ambulance sent our friend Brad Bostrom in a Fly Car, and later, a full ambulance to support the fire crews still working the fire. It was a county-wide team effort, and a display of mutual aid that came together with remarkable speed.

Fires grow exponentially, so a few minutes’ delay in response time can mean the fire is twenty or more times larger and even more intense. Our fire began with an extension cord on the side of the barn furthest from our home. By the time it was extinguished, the roof of the barn just 8 feet from our home had melted. If our friend who lived in the barn apartment hadn’t been awakened by the smell of smoke, and if the volunteer firefighters had been just a few minutes later, our entire home would have gone up too, and we may have lost human life.

It was an amazingly orchestrated operation. Here in the country, with no hydrants for easy water access, firefighters have to get creative. Our farm does have ponds on site, but these can pose their own challenges, so the crews homed in on nearby Six Mile Creek as their water source. They established a staging ground down the road from the farm, at the Caroline Town Barns, where there is easy access to the creek. For 5 hours, tanker trucks from the 8 responding fire companies shuttled between this temporary filling station and our farm. In the driveway near our home, firefighters constructed a small above-ground pool, where the tanker trucks unloaded their cargo.

With this system, they were able to keep a constant flow of water aimed at the barn and save our main house from also catching fire. Unfortunately, despite the quick work of the firefighters, our farm store and the apartment in the upstairs of the barn–home to Jonathan Bates, Megan Barber, and their son Jesse–were completely gutted by the flames, and the rest of the structure sustained enough smoke and water damage that it will all need to come down. So we are grieving these losses, but our gratitude is quickly eclipsing our sorrow.

We are boggled by the dedication and skill of these volunteers. To us their effort seemed exceptional, but it’s just what they do every day. There are so many ways to do good in the world. One is to regularly choose to show up on someone’s Worst Day, to do whatever needs to be done to make things better at any time of day or night, without any expectation of thanks or accolades. Words fail to fully describe the feeling of being cared for in this way by dozens of complete strangers. So we thank each and every one of the people who showed up on our Worst Day, to do whatever they could to make it better.

Many thanks also to Bradley Bostrom, EMT for providing some of the text and details about responding fire companies. Any omissions are unintentional and we take full responsibility for them!

2 thoughts on “The Safety Net We Take for Granted

  1. thank you for demonstrating how to hold both grief and gratitude together. you continue to be in our hearts and prayers as this tragedy is transformed by your careful assessment of possibilities. please call on us with any way we can be of assistance as the weeks unfold….your parents know how to reach us! Nancy & George, St Paul’s TBS members


  2. What a thoughtful and excellent article, I’m so very sorry to hear of the losses you did sustain, but agree it could have been so much worse. We pray things improve soon and that you at Shelter Belt Farm see beauty come out of these ashes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s