Wellsville fire chief defends response time

WELLSVILLE – Wellsville Fire Chief Bill Smith feels stung by criticism that his department has received since responding to a blaze that destroyed three abandoned buildings in the village on July 8.

Smith says his department has been unfairly maligned by comments that have been posted on Facebook in the days since the early-morning fire at the corner of Main and 18th streets.

Smith took greatest exception to a video that had been recorded by an 18th Street resident. The video shows the buildings engulfed in flames, with the fire growing stronger as more than nine minutes tick by. People can be heard in the background asking where the fire department is and why they haven’t arrived yet. Since no fire trucks or personnel are visible in the video, it appears to be a valid question.

According to Smith, the first firefighters were actually on the scene shortly after receiving the call at approximately 1:45 a.m. “From the time we got the call, ’til the guys crawled out of bed, put their pants on, drove to the fire station, got in the fire truck and drove to the scene is six minutes,” he said.

Smith believes that such quick response time at that late hour is worthy of praise.

“We pride ourselves on how fast we get on a fire scene and start handling the situation,” he added.

Smith says the firefighters working on Main Street weren’t visible to people watching the scene unfold around the corner from several houses down 18th Street. However, there are clues to the department’s presence that Smith says people should have noticed. “In the video, you can see the water running down the street that we’re putting on the fire,” he said.

The video in question is no longer available to view on Facebook, because the person who recorded it has taken it down. What upset Smith most is that the video had been shot and posted by someone he referred to as “one of our government people here” at village hall. “To me, that’s wrong. You’re supposed to be building us up, not tearing us down,” he said.

The person is Councilman John Morrow, who says he intended no harm in doing so. “I know these guys jump up and run as soon as that whistle goes off,” he said of firefighters. Morrow admits that he became worried after not seeing them from his vantage point on 18th Street, where he lives. “At one point, I’m like, ‘They’re probably on the other side of the building. We just can’t see them,'” he said. This was not a popular observation among the other spectators, he added.

Morrow asserts that his voice is not one of those asking where firefighters are and why they’re taking so long. Nevertheless, he said that after watching the video, he decided it was counterproductive to have it online where it could give people the wrong impression about Wellsville VFD. He also cited vulgar language overheard on some of the cuts he posted as reason to remove them from his Facebook page.

“If I did say anything, it wasn’t critical, just fear that they were on another call,” Morrow said. “I definitely would apologize if anything I said was taken the wrong way.” Morrow says village firefighters are known for their rapid response time and were very kind to him when they assisted in responding to the recent death of his grandmother. “I would never want to hurt those guys’ feelings.”

The fire remains under investigation, and no cause has been determined.