Firefighters attempt to get through a tough roof and ceiling and control the fire next to the gas station in this photo by Misty Fahrenheld.
STORY AND VIDEO BY JOHN ANDERSON
One person is at Strong Memorial Hospital after jumping out of a second-story window and firefighters are being praised for preventing a fire spreading to a gas station after a major blaze Saturday.
Allegany County Public Safety officials said the 911 call came in at 2:16 p.m. of the fire, which was on the second floor of the Hutter & Finn Law Offices at 22 West State Street in Wellsville. There is a former counseling center in the back and the building was also offices for Dr. Francis Comstock.
Friends are asking for prayers for a recovery for the man, Mike Burdick, a well-known chef and former employee at the A-Plus on Main Street. Burdick was the friendly face at the counter for years during the overnight shift at the store, which is now 7-11.
Wellsville Fire Chief Rodney Winans said two other residents lived in the back of the apartment, but they were not home at the time of the fire. However, that compounded a tough situation. The fire was burning next door to the Kwik Fill gas station. Flames could be seen from the four-lane (Route 417-19) at Wellsville High School and Giant Food Mart, but the strong winds were blowing away from the school and the Genesee River and toward the gas station.
“Everybody had exited the building prior to fire personnel arriving,” Winans said. “But we were not sure that everyone had exited.”
The volunteers from Wellsville went to work. As mutual aid was arriving from Allentown and Willing, interior firefighters were checking for the other potential trapped victims. The initial report was three trapped inside.
Meanwhile, firefighters put huge venting holes in the building facing the four lane and Genesee River, the opposite side of the Quik Fill which was on the other side of the large building. The flames were attempting to blow toward the gas station, but the venting was keeping the flames going straight in the air.
“We had to put a lot of water on it and keep it contained to this side (toward the four lane),” Winans said. “It was a major concern. We vented that side to draw the fire to that side of the building.”
Chris Martelle, the Town of Wellsville Emergency Services Coordinator, said fire officials asked the Kwik Fill “to shut down the station so there was no way to get gas.”
There was another issue. The ceiling.
“The hard part was getting through the ceiling because of the lath and plaster,” Winans said. “That was pretty tough trying to get to the actual part the fire was breathing.”
The lath and plaster ceilings were popular in the 1930’s, as the narrow strips of wood, the laths, are coated in plaster. As firefighters tried to get through that, the smoke then filled Main Street. Soon, the smoke clouds engulfed the intersection toward Walgreens and continued so far it could be seen as far as Pearl Street near the post office and Elk’s Club.
The Wellsville ambulance, MTS, Amity and Andover were assisting as another person had smoke inhalation. Scio firefighters were on standby at the Wellsville Fire Department main headquarters on Main Street, just 100 yards from the fire. The Village of Wellsville had an electric crew at the scene and a gas company arrived as well.
“When I arrived, the first crews were here and flames were coming out the roof, so we are speculating it started upstairs,” Winans said.
Allegany County Fire Investigators were still going in the building over four hours after it started with heat cameras as the ladder truck from the Emerald Hook and Ladder Company was ripping the roof apart to make sure there were no other spots burning. As they found hot spots, the volunteer firefighters switched from tools to rip open a roof to a hose to knock it down.
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Martelle said the volunteers deserve a lot of credit for the work at the scene.
“All the volunteers who came out to this fire really were in top form,” Martelle said. “They really gave it their all and did a heck of a job today.”
The firefighters who did not need treatment but were covered with soot and sweat, had drinks from the fire department auxiliary. The water and fruit turned to pizza later in the evening for the firefighters.
“The auxiliary was so important today,” said Winans, as the weather went from extreme heat to a cold rain during the firefighting efforts.
The downstairs law office had water damage, but the rest of the damage was unknown. It appeared Burdick’s apartment and the back apartment were a total loss.
Photo gallery from John Anderson and Wellsville Sun readers: