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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Mobile Home Lost In Fire

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, April 28, 2006

Pownal, Vt. - A vacant mobile home was destroyed when an unpermitted April 27 outdoor fire spread from its' perimeters and ignited one of the home's tires.

Pownal Valley Volunteer Fire Department and Pownal Protective Fire Association fire fighters were called to 977 Strohmaier Road at about 11:30 a.m., said Pownal Valley Assistant Fire Chief Joel Howard. Howard said that the fire generated two 911 phone calls, one that reported the fire as a "brush fire" and a second that described the fire as a "structure fire."

According to fire officials, property owner Henry Strohmaier was burning a quantity of grain bags and wood on his property, and left the fire unattended for a few minutes while he went to retrieve something from a nearby location. When Strohmaier returned to the fire, flames had ignited a tire that was part of the mobile home's underside.

Unaware Of Need For Permit

The burning was being done without a fire warden issued permit.

Strohmaier told state and town fire officials and law enforcement officers at the scene that he was not aware that he'd needed a permit for the burning, Howard said.

Mutual aid was requested and provided at the scene and at town fire stations. Firefighters from the Williamstown, Mass., Hoosick, N.Y., and Bennington Village and Bennington Rural volunteer fire departments brought manpower and trucks, Howard said.

There were firefighters at the scene until about 2:30 p.m., Howard said.

"We Were Lucky"

Thick, black smoke was so dense that fire truck drivers, known as "engineers," were made to wear breathing apparatus known as "air-pacs" while the blaze burned. Pownal Valley firefighter and town Highway Department Supervisor Casey Mattison operated a Strohmaier-owned bucket loader to help put out the mobile home fire, and he was also required to don the breathing apparatus because of the dangerous smoke, Howard said.

A second mobile home and another, traditionally-built structure were in the path of the fire, Howard said.

"There was another mobile home about 10 feet away that was on the verge of catching fire when the first truck rolled up," Howard said. "We were lucky, we could have had multiple structures and cars and trucks and who knows what all on fire."

"I've said this before and I have to say it again, it was good team work," Howard said.

"Think About It...."

Many of the firefighters from the town and neighboring departments leave their paid jobs to fight fires when alarms sound and mutual assistance is requested, Howard said.

The employers who permit their volunteer firefighter employees to leave their jobs deserve recognition and community support for their encouragement and their willingness to support community fire protection, Howard said.

His employer, Jody Tornabene of Tornabene's GMC sales and repair business, loses four workers when fires are "toned out."

"We have to thank our employers," Howard said. "My boss loses four guys when its' a structure fire. The town highway department loses guys when there's a fire. And Jody [Tornabene] doesn't complain about it. Think about it, he is running a business and there's times when there's a fire and four guys just take off out of here. Jody does not dock us pay when we leave for a fire, and there is a financial hit associated with having your workers off at a fire. It's a big deal, it's a huge deal that he lets us go and people should be aware of it. People should damn well appreciate it."

Tornabene acknowledged that he supports the firefighters and their work when fire erupts in the town. He does not ask them to "clock out" when the alarm sounds, nor does he reduce their pay for the time that they are absent from their jobs and fighting fires, he said.

"I am a huge supporter of the fire department," Tornabene said. "You have to have a fire department, and they need support. I think there would be more volunteers for the departments if there was more support. "

Egos should be set aside and an awareness that volunteer fire departments belong to the community should be generated throughout the departments and the citizenry, he said.

Cooperation among firefighting ranks and cooperation between firefighters and community residents should be a primary focus, Tornabene said.

Volunteer endeavors of all kinds benefit communities and each volunteer contingent should have respect for the others.

"I believe in community support and I think there should be more of it," Tornabene said.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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