December 15, 2017

After Fire Destroys DPW Garage & Trucks, Road Maintenance Covered

By Times Staff, with reporting by Tom Christopher

Following the disastrous fire on the morning of Sunday, December 10, that totally destroyed the Town Garage and Sandisfield’s snowplows and trucks, the Town, with outside help, is returning to something resembling normal.

We’re writing now to let our web-readers and second-homeowners know that the roads and their homes will be accessible over the holidays.

In the absence of town equipment, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will plow the paved roads in town, charging only for the sand and salt used.  Private companies have been contracted to plow the dirt roads. 

Anyone whose roadways are missed in this process, says Town Administrator Fred Ventresco, should call his office at 413-258-4711, ext. 1.

Select Board Chairman John Skrip reports:  “We are doing everything we can.  We’re insured, the state picked up the snow plowing, and [surrounding] towns have been very helpful.  Residents have called, offering their trucks to help.  We’re going to get through this okay.”

According to Skrip, the town was fully insured at the time of the fire.  Better yet, Sandisfield was insured for the replacement cost of most of the equipment and facilities lost.

“All in all,” says Skrip, “it was a catastrophe.  Thank God nobody got hurt.  I don’t see it affecting the town finances at this time.  We are going to do due diligence, step by step, to repair or rebuild as we see needed.”

A more extensive report on the fire and aftermath will be issued next week.

December 10, 2017

Sunday Morning Fire Destroys Town Garage

Devastating Loss to the Town

By Times Reporters

Photo:  Brigitte Ruthman

The Sandisfield Town Garage was almost entirely destroyed by fire early Sunday morning, December 10, 2017.

Hours after the season's first significant snowfall, the town's entire fleet of highway department vehicles and plowing equipment lay in ruins, burned in a fire of unknown cause that raced through the building on Silverbrook Road at Rt. 57. 

No injuries were reported.

The town garage was nearly completely destroyed, despite valiant efforts by firefighters who arrived quickly from surrounding towns and Connecticut.  Crews from Colebrook, Tolland, Otis, Riverton, New Marlborough, Monterey, and East and West Hartland were summoned shortly after flames were visible at 9:45 a.m.  Highway Department employee David McCuin had shut the door to the building only ten minutes before flames erupted.

Fire Chief Ralph Morrison said the fire was fully involved when he arrived.  Two passersby called the fire in.  The building had no alarm, smoke, or sprinkler systems.

“It’s a hell of a loss for the town,” the Chief said of the building and the four trucks it contained.  He said the building is a total loss.

Stunned and devastated Highway Superintendent Bobby O’Brien said he had returned all the town plows to the garage that morning, having completed plowing after Saturday’s 5-inch snowfall.  Neighbors and town residents who heard of the fire came to see the loss for themselves, and stood in disbelief, equally stunned.

Neighbor Nina Hryckvich said she heard three explosions, now thought to have been tires exploding in the heat.

A boiler in the building’s oil heating system will be examined, but no source for the fire had yet been determined as state investigators began their job of sifting through the rubble.

Town vehicles lost to the blaze, charred metal hulls standing upright in the smoldering ruins, included the costly multipurpose truck recently purchased at a cost of $169,000 after more than a year of contentious debate.

A fire truck from Otis on its way to the fire crashed on Rt. 8, blocking the road but causing no injuries.

Selectman John Skrip said late in the day be believes the town has adequate insurance to cover the loss. The issue will be discussed at an emergency meeting of local officials at Town Hall Annex Monday morning. 

Citizens with plows have stepped up to offer help with Tuesday’s expected snowfall.  Plowing and sanding will be necessary again.  Last year when the neighboring town of Tolland lost its highway garage in a similar disaster, Sandisfield offered help with Rt. 8 plowing.

The loss of the garage and equipment was a shocking setback to town fortunes that had appeared to be improving.  Sandisfield had recently found its way out of a bookkeeping mess, the sudden resignations of its Town Administrator and a Selectman, a costly bridge repair, and broken financial promises made by the Kinder Morgan gas pipeline builders.

Photo:  Brigitte Ruthman

All photos right hand column: Simon Winchester