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Anderson Column: From the fire comes news the community needs, John and Arielle will rebuild

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In 30 days, John Waide will leave Wellsville for a deployment in Iraq. But he will return to see his family home rebuilt after a fire.

A column by JOHN ANDERSON

There is a power couple in Wellsville who has made an impact that rivals anyone who has lived in this great community since it began in 1857.

Unless you go into a hospital at a time when you are at your worst, and then leave the hospital at your best, you probably don’t know them.

Because, you know, that confidentiality thing.

But I can talk about them and what they do.

John and Arielle (Szabo) Waide.

John, who is from Dansville, has done it all, from a professional contractor to a wine maker, an Army veteran and a police officer in Painted Post, Cuba, and most recently, part-time in Andover.

But he’s really the “Thank God” guy. The technical term is Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant.

That means he’s the guy who slides through the curtain in the Emergency Room with the confidence and looks of a Hollywood doctor. Except he really knows medicine.

When your child is in that ER bed with a broken arm, fever, concussion or some unknown virus, he always has the right thing to say to calm down the child and the parents within 12 seconds. The same with a victim of a car accident or someone having difficulty breathing.

John and Arielle (Szabo) Waide with their son, Logan. They all escaped the house fire.

Then there is his wife, Arielle. You knew she would be working at the hospital someday. After all, her mom, Brenda, is the vice president of specialty services at Jones Memorial Hospital. I don’t know what that is, but I think they keep giving her fancy titles so she won’t leave. Brenda will be receiving a long-overdue award in May from the Chamber of Commerce as the person of the year.

Arielle earned her bachelor’s degree in ultrasound but decided that wasn’t enough. She went back to school and is now an echo sonographer as she specializes in the imaging of the heart working in the cardiology department. She wants more people to live and less people rushing into the ER to see her husband.

On Monday evening, a fire was toned out to their house. And the tones didn’t seem to stop for five hours. The fire was on Pixley Hill Road in the Andover district and not only was it pitch-black dark, there was heavy rain and this home was on a dirt road. As I listened to the scanner, I knew the only way up the one-mile trek to their house was for a tanker to go in reverse. Other vehicles were getting stuck in the mud.

I knew to sit this one out.

The next morning as I rolled up around 6:30 a.m., the mud was still difficult to navigate. My phone had a text message saying they thought John was deployed in Iraq and Arielle was home alone with their 14-month-old son, Logan, their dogs and their cat.

The firefighters were either just leaving the scene to take a quick shower and go to work or were waiting for a second set of fire investigators for a briefing. There was no word if everyone was safe.

I knew to sit this one out.

After talking to a neighbor, I received a welcoming message. John Waide said he was indeed in the country (he does deploy in about 30 days, but has to complete another 14 days of training soon in Texas), and he wanted to talk about the fire and the community heroes.

We exchanged some texts and finally connected. There were so many rumors, I knew I had to talk to the fire chief, the investigators and the home owners to figure out what happened. In a nutshell, a two-story car garage/barn burned up and it was so hot the radiant heat spread to the wood siding of the house and took that as well. 

The fire was so hot it melted Arielle’s truck.

I tried to ask what he needed or the family needed or the baby needed. Instead, he wanted to talk about the 80 men and women who volunteered their time to fight the fire from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Tuesday. He wanted to talk about his neighbors, the hospital staff, his friends in the police and military, his family, Arielle’s family, Arielle’s family some more and what people in the community have done for them.

Well there’s a reason.

The Waide’s have been selfless in their dedication to our community. They have helped many of us individually, helped our parents, our children. John jokes he’s not young because he remembers the best part of a Thursday was watching Friends and Seinfeld. But they are young and they are the target employees any hospital in the country would want to recruit.

During the fire, John admits he was yelled at five times by firefighters. The dogs were out and they couldn’t find their cat. There have been a lot of fires lately in Wellsville and maybe you saw my video of Dan Gardner pulling a cat out of the basement of the fire on Madison Street. The house was a loss and the cat was in the basement, soaked and alive.

Around 2:30 a.m., a firefighter found the cat John had tried to run in the house to find countless times. He had on pants, no shirt, a Carhart jacket and received the wet, confused cat in a blanket.

“They must have been laughing at me,” he said. “I looked like someone in a SPCA Sarah McLachlan commercial … save the animals now.”

The night was a blur. John remembered watching Logan stare at the fire on his way to the neighbors with a look of, ‘Wow, that’s a nifty sight right there.’ He watched his brand new Explorer burn up, the steel shell is still there with puddles of aluminum underneath. Arielle had a newer Ford made of aluminum. “That one is just gone!” he said.

But again, his attention turned to others. He felt bad for his neighbors, Alan and Leslie Barber.

He was also concerned for his other neighbors, Mike and Lisa Lindsay. He knew Lisa’s father, Jim Graffrath, built that house. He was worried what Jim and Lynn would think and the emotions. He said they had 50 years of blood, sweat and tears in that home. The home Lisa, their neighbor, grew up in. 

As John and I wrapped up our interview, I was concerned without a home, maybe this is a sign the family would relocate. Maybe the Waide’s would move to a bigger city or town, make more money and make a difference in a new community.

Without me asking, John said, “We are going to rebuild. Pixley Hill is our home, I want to be in Wellsville. Our roots are in this ground and they are deeper than any char on the ground right now.”

Whew. Another save.

(John Anderson writes for the Wellsville Sun and is a two-time national columnist of the year while at the Gannett corporation. You can reach him at [email protected])

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