By JOHN ANDERSON
Two teenagers and a mother were taken to local hospitals from two of the eight apartments at 165 Madison Street in Wellsville after a fire started around 9:20 p.m. Thursday night.
One firefighter had an ankle injury early on fighting the fire. He told the Wellsville Sun, “They wanted to transport me to the hospital, but I told them to take the mother and the kids, I would be fine.”
Fire officials said the fire started in one of the two third floor apartments. There are three apartments on the ground floor, three on the second floor and two on the third. The third floor roof completely collapsed and firefighters were working on stopping the roof on the second floor from collapsing.
An exact cause was unknown. The owner of the apartment was on the scene and tenants who were not injured worked with fire investigators during the investigation.
American Red Cross members Bob Shook of Cuba and Jerry Smith of Hornell were at the scene.
“We need to find out what the families need and who needs assistance,” said Smith. “If they are donating clothing, they should donate to the Wellsville Salvation Army or churches.”
Wellsping Ministries helps people displaced from fires, said Shook.
“This is destroyed. Nobody is going back in there. They all need a place to stay. We will wind up getting them monies, depending on how many people were in a particular family,” said Smith. “They will be able to get clothes, whatever they need. It’s not going to fix anything for them, it’s going to get them through a couple of days, then there will be other partner organizations who will get them more aid.”
Shook said the Red Cross will give them referrals and said calling 2-1-1 for help is important. Shook and Smith were from the Western New York and the Southern Tier territory, respectively. They said money donated to the Red Cross will not only help the Wellsville families but any families affected by fires.
Wellsville Fire Department Chief Kevin Fleischman was able to manage the scene with multiple departments from Wellsville spreading to Alfred Station as well as ambulances from Wellsville and MTS. The auxiliary was on the scene with different replenishing fluids and coffee.
Like the others, Fleischman, a volunteer firefighter, was on the scene for three hours, then had to leave continue his work, this time as an emergency 911 operator for Allegany County in Belmont.
Wellsville Volunteer Fire Department Second Assistant Chief Bill Day Jr. reported the second and the third story was fully involved when they arrived.
“We called in a lot of mutual aid and then started hitting the hot spots,” Day said. “There is a lot of structure damage. The third floor fell into the third floor and the second floor roof is pretty much gone and there is a lot of standing water on the second floor which is going to make it difficult to get in there.”
One of the first trucks on the scene was from Scio. As firefighters from Belmont, Allentown and others were taking over on the hoses, Day said the training done with other towns at the training facility and the former Dress-Rand has helped.
“The training really helps a lot. It really helps to get to know everybody and get to know everybody’s capabilities,” Day said. “We are very fortunate to have a lot of surrounding communities that will bring the manpower to us.”
Aaron Maier, who has lived in his second-story apartment for three years said a new neighbor who moved in with her 12-year-old daughter were among those taken to the hospital.
“In my apartment was everything I’ve had … I lost all of my Christmas presents and my two cats, Olivia, an all-block cat who probably was hiding under my bed the whole time, and I rescued a five-month old kitten from the SPCA, Mouse, and she was probably in my living room … it’s hard,” Maier said. “I had about $5,000 in Star Wars collectables including Legos I had suspended from the ceiling. My girlfriend has helped me collect them.”
Maier was in Olean finishing Christmas stocking stuffer shopping when the fire started, he said, when the Wellsville Village Police called him as he was unaccounted for.
“I can’t believe I lost basically my entire life with no means to rebuild it at the moment,” Maier said. ‘I’ve worked at Texas Hot now for two years. I work both in the kitchen and as an up-front cook. I am there about five or six days a week and on my day off, I have my two-year-old daughter.”
When asked what he would do now, Maier fought back tears and said, “I don’t know to be honest … I am just overwhelemed. I have a place to stay tonight but after that, I have no means to rebuild.”
Allegany County Fire Coordinator and Emergency Manager for Allegany County Jeff Luckey said he was impressed with the teamwork on the scene.
“Wellsville was the first one to respond, the first chief on the scene called for multiple mutual aid from various resources across the county,” Luckey said. “They determined where it was and started attacking it. But it’s one of those things, an old, three-story home with a fire on the third floor you can’t get access to.”
He said the compromised floor will hamper the investigation and they may have to wait until daylight.
“We interviewed everyone who lives here and the owner was very forthcoming,” Luckey said. “From what I understand, those who were taken to the hospital were because of smoke inhalation.”
(Click HERE to see the hour-long video from the scene shot live by John Anderson Digital Media)