BUCKHANNON – “I never dreamed I’d see three ladder trucks on Main Street,” the chief of the Buckhannon Fire Department said at Thursday’s city council meeting.
Fire chief JB Kimble said he has been in the fire department business for 31 years, and Tuesday’s Main Street fire was one of the top five largest incidents he has ever had to mitigate.
“That is part of the plan,” Kimble said. “The plan came about, and we had to remove four people from the building. That is what we are about. We did have a scary moment – my life flashed right in front of my eyes because one of my firefighters was having problems, but we made it through it. We have some of the most highly trained firefighters in the area. We know our buildings and our firefighters stay in shape and know what to do. Kudos to them. I am surrounded – and blessed – by dedicated members, those dedicated to providing a professional service to our citizens – not only in Buckhannon but Upshur County and we are very blessed.”
Through teary eyes, Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner began Thursday’s Buckhannon City Council meeting by saying the City of Buckhannon has ‘one hell of an operation.’
“Within 15 minutes of the incident on Tuesday afternoon, [water department superintendent] Kelly Arnold texted me and said, ‘We have everyone here and we are going to make sure we have enough water,’” Skinner said. “We did … we did.”
Skinner said the Buckhannon Fire Department literally risked it all responding to the Oct. 5 fire.
“We had one firefighter who was 10 breaths away from not making it out of the building,” Skinner said, “but he did because he is very well trained – because we have the best small town fire department anywhere.”
“Furthermore, because we have the best small town fire department, the relationships that our fire department has with the surrounding fire departments is unparalleled,” Skinner said. “We had 70 firefighters from four counties turn out to make sure we did not lose an entire block of our history, of our city, of our skyline, of our livelihoods, of where we live – we had 70 people here making sure that that building was going to be the only thing that was lost.”
Skinner said he considered it a tremendous accomplishment and noted the Buckhannon Fire Department reached the scene within one minute.
“One minute,” Skinner repeated. “You cannot ask for better than that.”
Skinner said all city departments have been working to clean up following Tuesday’s fire.
“The sewer department has been working to clear the drains because so much debris went into the drains,” he said. “Our water department has been out fixing umpteen different geysers and water main breaks due to the amount of pressure that was put on the lines by this fire. We put 1.3 million gallons of water on that corner and it has to go somewhere. Our trash guys were out making sure that everything was taken care of from a sanitary standpoint. Our street department was there with brooms as soon as the fire departments were rolling up their hoses.”
“The Chamber of Commerce – no one asked the Chamber of Commerce or the [Upshur County Convention & Visitors Bureau] to bring water to come, but they came and brought hundreds of bottles of water to the scene. Our parking enforcement officer, Amy, made sure every firefighter had something to drink. Jerry Wamsley from our water department was doing the same thing. Business owners were going into each other’s businesses to help carry things out of adjacent buildings when there was a chance that this thing could have spread.”
“We are the best,” Skinner concluded. “Thank you … thank you.”
Buckhannon Fire Department Chief JB Kimble thanked everyone for their kind words about the Buckhannon Fire Department and the response provided during Tuesday’s Main Street fire.
“I told the mayor a long time ago there were concerns with some buildings on Main Street,” Kimble said. “That plan came together and that is part of us getting out in our community to learn our buildings and our water system. I want to thank Mayor Skinner and Buckhannon City Recorder Randy Sanders who were there on scene. Following the fire, the mayor came down to visit the firefighters. I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during that incident. I want to thank all the city employees and the other fire departments who came, the water department, the street department – Jerry (Arnold, public works director) was there the whole time, Jay Hollen (city engineer) was there. We had some concerns about the stability of the building after we got the fire out.”
During the comments and announcements portion of the Thursday Buckhannon City Council meeting, Councilwoman Pamela Bucklew offered her thanks to the firefighters who showed up Tuesday.
“I was down there for a while and the ambiance was eerie,” Bucklew observed. “I was impressed with the business owners who helped one another. There was a lot of crying and very upset people. This is their livelihood and I have been there before – displaced by a fire – so I hope these folks can find another place to reopen.”
Councilwoman Shelia Lewis-Sines thanked all of the first responders and all who helped out during the Tuesday fire.
“That was the biggest thing this week for sure,” Lewis-Sines said. “Thank you.”
Buckhannon City Recorder Randy Sanders asked Kimble to take a message back to all the Buckhannon Fire Department members and volunteers.
“I saw professionalism at its best at a crucial time and that is not a time to be emotional or a time to be a deer in the headlights. None of the men or women working there exhibited any fear; they exhibited all professionalism throughout the task. This is what we asked of you and you delivered that day and we thank you very much,” Sanders said.
The Tuesday fire took place at 23-23B East Main St in Buckhannon, located at the corner of Main and Spring streets, and has been deemed accidental. The fire broke out at approximately 2:04 p.m. and in a separate My Buckhannon article, Kimble said it originated in the the upper level of an old house above the apartments and that there were no injuries.