Lack of water hampers fight to save rural house on fire, residents escaped

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Signal 30: Ostrander Road was crowded with fire trucks, lights flashing, in the pitch dark of rural Guilderland at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday.

GUILDERLAND — The many volunteers who fought a house fire in the wee hours of Thursday morning were still recovering on Friday.

“I’m sure everybody is still hurting today,” David Dodge, assistant chief of the Guilderland Center Fire Department, told The Enterprise on Friday.

He described the two-story wooden frame house at 300 LaGrange Lane as “pretty much a loss” and said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The house is owned by Brian and Deborah Fenner, according to Albany County assessment rolls. The two residents were home at the time the fire broke out, Dodge said.

“They couldn’t go out the door. They had to bail,” Dodge said, adding he had no first-hand knowledge of whether they’d jumped out a window or how they escaped.

“They were scooped away in an ambulance just before we got there,” Dodge said

The call came in a few minutes after midnight, said Dodge. “The caller told dispatch there were flames out the window.”

He went on, “We called for mutual aid.” Dodge said he was unable to name all the many departments who responded, as well as those who were on standby to cover other parts of town.

LaGrange Lane is off of narrow, rural Ostrander Road. “We couldn’t have two-way traffic,” said Dodge. LaGrange Lane itself is even narrower than Ostrander and the burning house was about a quarter-mile from Ostrander.

A bigger problem than the narrow road was the lack of water. “There were no fire hydrants,” said Dodge. “We called for tankers.”

The firefighters set up a portable pond, and tankers, one by one, emptied water into the pond. A wide yellow hose snaked from the red plastic pond down the quarter-mile driveway to the burning house.

“The house was fully engulfed when we got there,” said Dodge. Only three fire trucks could fit down LaGrange Lane; two were stationed near the house and a third was half-way down the driveway.

Many other fire trucks, lights flashing in the pitch dark, lined narrow Ostrander Road along with an emergency operations vehicle.

“Every time you needed something, you had to hoof it in,” said Dodge.

All-terrain vehicles were used to help transport gear to and from the fire scene.

“When we got there, we knocked the fire down and had it almost under control,” said Dodge. “Then we briefly ran out of water.”

“We made a couple of interior attacks,” said Dodge. “They went in as far as they could go safely … a little on the first floor and they tried a second-floor attack.”

Dodge explained that, had there been people inside the burning building, the volunteers would have pushed further. “The more there is to save, the more you’re going to risk,” he said. “There’s nothing more important than saving a life.”

The firefighters did “take out some memorables,” Dodge said, describing them as “personal effects” for the home’s residents. “The smoke just damaged everything,” he said.

The North Bethlehem department rehabilitated firefighters at the scene. “We take their pulse and give them a rest,” said North Bethlehem volunteer Paul Miller who was on the scene for six hours.

“We check our people routinely. They work hard and then they rest,” said Dodge. Sometimes, the volunteers go back to fighting the fire after a rest; other times, relief is called in, he said.

“We were on the scene about seven hours,” said Dodge, from midnight until about 7 a.m. “We’re 100-percent volunteer so most of us had to get home and get to work … You have to return to normalcy after helping a neighbor out all night long.”

He concluded that he and the Guilderland Center chief, Christopher Dvorscak, “want to thank everyone” for pitching in. “We couldn’t do it without them,” said Dodge.

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