By Michael Ryan
ASHLAND — No empty promises were made when Senator James Seward visited the burned out firehouse/municipal hall in the town of Ashland, on Friday morning.
“I didn’t come with a big check for you,” said Seward, who was officially welcomed by Ashland Town Supervisor Richard Tompkins and local Fire Chief Randy Sutton.
“But I am here to let you know you aren’t alone and that we will do whatever we can to help you recover and rebuild. First we have to find out what you need, which is why I came here personally.
“I can tell you that walking through the devastation is very different than seeing it in a [newspaper] photograph. I can only imagine what you folks are feeling, having lost the heart of your community.”
The blaze started small, with an electrical short in an interior office, but spread quickly, gutting most of the 40-year-old corrugated metal structure before volunteers could get to the scene.
A few files and computers were saved in the town clerk, assessor, and justice court offices, but everything else was lost, including four fire trucks and a new ambulance.
A temporary work trailer has been secured by the town and placed on land approximately 1/2 mile east of the former location, along Route 23, allowing government services to carry on.
Not every convenience was available at the facility as Seward and his small entourage showed up. Two cartons of milk were stored outside in the cold snow, with no onsite refrigeration.
Otherwise, the quarters were warm and well-lighted and town workers, including administrative assistant Diane Cross and town clerk Justine Koehler, made the Senator feel cozy.
Seward had an immediate impact on the situation, helping local officials get phones hooked up in a more-speedy-than-usual fashion.
“Once we talked to you, things started to move,” Tompkins said, thanking the Senator for taking the time and interest to stop by, noting the insurance company is still assessing matters.
Firefighters hope to have their own temporary trailer in place by next week. In the meantime their brethren from around the county and state are making their respective presences felt.
A shiny red pumper has been loaned to the department while gear and equipment are being sought, according to Sutton, who did not want to mention any contributors at this point.
“We’re working on getting our house in order and once we’re done we’ll properly thank everyone,” Sutton said. “It’s so amazing, how many fire companies are reaching out to us.”
Seward, noting he is the former chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee and still its ranking member, said he would be in touch with the town’s insurance carrier.
“There is no direct [legislative] funding dedicated to help in circumstances such as these, but we will take all your information, identify your shortfalls and provide our full support," the Senator said.
Ashland officials emphasized that the ambulance corps provided uninterrupted service before, during and after the destruction, and that fire calls are being instantly shifted to mutual aid status.
Emergency rescue personnel, in fact, responded to a call involving a fatal automobile accident in the neighboring town of Windham while firefighters were battling the conflagration, officials said.
Town leaders are hoping to replace the entire structure as well as all trucks and equipment, although much depends on the insurance settlement.
Monies already set aside for a planned expansion, this summer, could be channeled to the rebuilding effort, officials said, noting they are obviously on hold for the present.