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Fire damages Goldens Bridge firehouse

Update: Thursday, 9:45 a.m.

Goldens Bridge firefighters were forced to respond to their own house Monday morning, battling flames that severely damaged the firehouse.

Firefighters from at least eight departments responded to the blaze, which started around 9:20 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 24, and tore through the building for more than an hour. The Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corps took one Goldens Bridge firefighter to Northern Westchester Hospital due to smoke inhalation, but no one was injured in the fire.

“It was incredibly scary,” said Eloise Goldman, who lives behind the firehouse on Bradys Farm Road and called 911 after seeing the flames.

Route 138 was closed for the day as volunteers had to fetch more water at hydrants on Fairmount Road and at the corner of Todd Road and Increase Miller Road to douse the fire, which started on the first floor and rapidly spread to the second floor, leaving a gaping hole in the roof.

Neighbors from Bradys Farm Road watch flames engulf the Goldens Bridge firehouse. (Robin Kern)

Neighbors from Bradys Farm Road watch flames engulf the Goldens Bridge firehouse. (Robin Kern)

The flames were brought under control by firefighters from Goldens Bridge, South Salem, Vista, Croton Falls, Bedford Hills, Katonah, Somers, and Brewster. The Westchester County Cause and Origin Team and the state police determined Monday afternoon that the fire “was accidental in nature. At this time, the fire is believed to have originated from a faulty electrical connection to a fire truck while parked inside of the firehouse.”

Goldens Bridge fire commissioner Ed Brancati and firefighter Mike Melillo were the only people inside the building when the blaze started.

Mr. Brancati said he was upstairs when he smelled smoke around a heating vent, and that the two men then checked the boiler room, which was clear.

“When I turned back and looked down the length of the building, two-thirds of the way down there was a wall of smoke,” he said.

Mr. Brancati said that Mr. Melillo threw on his gear and rushed to get the department’s vehicles out of the firehouse, but that a rescue truck and two Chevy Suburbans were damaged. One Suburban was destroyed, he said, while the other Suburban and the rescue truck were towed away to have the damage assessed. Mr. Melillo was able to get four trucks safely out of the house.

Mr. Brancati said he was not sure if the cause of the fire was something that could have been prevented.

“I have no idea because I don’t know the nature of it yet,” he said. “I’m sure at some point we’ll have a little more clarity as to what happened.”

Ms. Goldman said she was leaving her house when her sister-in-law, Robin Kern of Katonah, pulled into the driveway and asked if she saw the smoke coming out of the firehouse.

“About five minutes prior I heard the alarm at the firehouse,” Ms. Goldman said. “Obviously I didn’t think it had to do with the firehouse, per se. She [Ms. Kern] said to me, ‘Turn around, do you see the smoke coming out of the firehouse?’ And there was this terrible black smoke. I quickly called 911, and I said ‘you’re not going to believe this but the Goldens Bridge firehouse is on fire.’”

“We watched the whole building, we saw the fire start on the first floor, and then the whole building was engulfed on that whole side,” Ms. Kern said. “Smoke was just pouring out of the building. It’s just so bizarre that the firehouse would catch on fire.”

“This fire was a testimony to how fast a fire can grow,” said Goldens Bridge Fire Department Chief Albert Melillo. “They were alerted to the fire by a hard-wired alarm system that sounded. As well the rest of the membership was notified through a central alarm company, which notified our county-operated dispatch center. Edward Brancati, a district member, ran around the building, found the fire and alerted Mike Melillo that the engine room was on fire. Ed continued to search the building for any personnel as Mike ran into the engine room and was able to get four trucks out to safety before being overcome with smoke.

“I would like to thank all for their support during our time of need. If not for the efforts of some brave firefighters there could have much more damage or perhaps worse.”

Next steps

Town Supervisor Peter Parsons said that officials were moving quickly to make temporary accommodations for the department and the residents that it serves.

Fire departments in South Salem, Katonah, Croton Falls, and Somers will help cover Goldens Bridge, he said, in addition to Goldens Bridge, which will have a temporary structure at its site on Route 138.

“The immediate concern is to ensure coverage right now,” Mr. Parsons said, emphasizing that community safety is the town’s top priority. “I am very impressed with the way the Goldens Bridge department planned the immediate coverage, is right into the short-term things that need doing, and I think that’s pretty damn good.”

Offices for the Goldens Bridge Fire Department will likely move into space at the Goldens Bridge Community House on Old Bedford Road. Lewisboro’s Parks and Recreation Department currently occupies that building, but is scheduled to move to Onatru Farm Park in Lewisboro hamlet. Mr. Parsons said it could be a year or so before Goldens Bridge returns to a permanent firehouse.

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  • John Q. Public

    I am thankful that this tragic event did not cause serious injury or loss of life. This should be a wakeup call for the residents of Lewisboro to examine the present system of three fire departments in town. With dwindling manpower and expertise a better and more efficient system of fire protection should be explored.

    It is troubling that a building could be destroyed literally right under the noses of firefighters which included one of the fire commissioners.
    It has been widely reported in this newspaper of the turmoil and infighting that has been going on at the GBFD for the last couple of years. The taxpayers of the Goldens Bridge Fire District should demand an investigation to determine the reasons for the dysfunction and take all necessary steps to remedy the situation.

    To think the tanker truck, the most important piece of fire apparatus was empty is enough to question the leadership of the Department. Let’s act before someone loses their life.

    • Steven Mines

      It’s sad that a disgruntled former member and brother would use an event such as this to try and advance his own selfish agenda. Please try and get your facts straight before you criticise a group of hard working volunteers. Tanker-1 made three deliveries of 3000 gallons each for a total of 9000 gallons. It was never empty unless it had just delivered a load of water.

      Hundreds of volunteers from all over the county came out today to help us through a difficult and tragic experience. The outpouring of support was overwhelming and for that we thank all of you. It’s days like today that remind us why we serve in the first place. Community and brotherhood.

      And finally, the performance of our neighboring departments today was nothing short of spectacular. Their quick and efficient work saved most of our firehouse. There was certainly no shortage of expertise in evidence today!

    • tj kronen

      why don’t you volunteer instead of complaining about manpower… its a volunteer organization. you can not force people to volunteer and go on calls… become part of the solution, not the problem

      • Wanda Keenan

        Amen to that!

    • Dr. CJ

      Where were all of the Golden’s Bridge Firefighters? To think that the residents of the Golden’s Bridge Fire District are paying about $1,000,000 per year in fire taxes for the illusion of fire protection. They have (had) a beautiful firehouse and fire trucks with no one to staff them? In my personal opinion, I would rather pay triple my fire taxes (currently about $1000…which is nothing when compared to the school budget) to pay the salaries / benefits of professional firefighters than pay my current fire taxes with no guarantee that someone will come in an expeditious manner when I call for help. This is absolutely ridiculous. Volunteer or not, if we are paying them $1,000,000 per year they should be able (and present) to fight a fire. Especially when it is at the firehouse and there is no response time factored into the equation.

      • NMS

        Dr.CJ. The volunteers aren’t being paid $1,000,000/year. That’s to run the department – since they are volunteer, they do have to keep up jobs and careers of their own. That being said, there was response from members of their own department, but it’s difficult to jump in and help out when the room all their personal protective gear is kept is on fire. That would have been the case regardless of if they were paid or not. Thankfully, the response from the other departments was outstanding – as is the response from GBFD when somebody in the community is in need.

        • Dr. CJ

          I understand where my tax dollars go, thank you, as I was once a volunteer ages ago in a local, neighboring department. I am just saying that the million dollars that we spent to buy them a building, trucks, and equipment is poorly allocated if there is no one there to use it…what good is it? I talked to a friend of mine from my old department who told me how much of a mess this department is. Their chief was forced to resign (at the threat of expulsion by the fire district) because he responded to a fire drunk after their christmas party; the 1st assistant chief was suspended for driving an engine drunk (paid for by taxpayer dollars) to the same call; and the captain and 2 lieutenants were suspended for going on that call drunk. Not to mention that their retention rate is less than 50% becasue the department is so poorly managed. Their membership and morale is the worst that its been in decades. Then when their firehouse caught fire, only 4 of their members showed up initially, with no leadership at all whatsoever from their own organization.

      • Wanda Keenan

        You seem to forget, there is a response time involved. These men and woman that put their own safety on the line for the community are volunteers. The need to work for a living to afford to pay taxes and live.
        Maybe your available during the day to volunteer your time.

    • Wanda Keenan

      Why do you hide behind the name of John Q Public???

      • John Q. Public

        Wanda , I am not criticizing the good men and woman who volunteer and risk their lives to protect our community. What I am saying is let’s turn this tragedy into an opportunity to move forward and address the realities of today and be better prepared for the future.

        If you are going to deny there is serious problem within the GBFD then there is nothing more to say. I read the newspapers, I listen to my neighbors, I do not believe everything I hear or read but pardon the pun where there is smoke there is fire. The fire district residents need to have a meeting with the department members and fire commissioners and determine what is going on and who is telling the truth.

        I am not a fireman but I am a resident. If it is half true of what has gone on at the Department I do not want my family safety threatened.

        • Wanda Keenan

          John Q Public..I have not lived in GB for a number of years now. I will not deny that there may be problems and
          in house fighting, this is nothing new. Prehaps, it may have escalated or just plain gotten out of control.

          Your right that the cmmunity in the Fire District should request a public hearing.

          The unfortunate part is the community’s lack of involvement is a big part of the problem. The Officers are not held accountable. When I say officers I mean From the Commissioners, to the President , the Chief on down…

          Back when I lived in GB, if a pubic meeting was held,
          very few showed up. As a resident, you have the power to initate change. Raly your neighbors and get involved.

          • Silence Dogood

            I have had the pleasure of attending these meetings. Just like every other politician that hides behind any excuse that they can make, these are no different. Anything that you ask the answer is, “that is a personnel issue and connot be answered.” Of course it is a personnel issue…the department doesn’t embarass itself. The embarassment is at the hands of an individual or group of individuals. If you don’t believe me then look at the article from last month about Chief Tockstein’s resignation. Everyone who was interviewed dodged the questions about the incident saying that it was a personnel issue and could not be discussed. There is no accountability because they are all hiding the truth so that the taxpayers don’t take away their little “clubhouse”. Well now they let the clubhouse burn down in an amazing display of ironic embarassment. There is no point in attending because they will dodge all of your questions to hide the fact that they are nothing but a bunch of losers…

  • http://www.gbfdx2144.blogspot.com Brian Lynch

    One must ask themselves why there was no response from the Golden’s Bridge Fire Department. The answer lies in the fallout from the events of January 11th at 37 Fairmount Road. The pattern of silence and denial continues at this department and fire district.

    I was one of the long time members of the Golden’s Bridge Fire Department who left due to the conditions within the department and the Fire District Board of Commissioners. The culture there was ridden with cronyism among other activities that were not within the letter of the law.

    I personally left after vandalization of my personal vehicle, chronic tampering with my fire personal protective equipment and finally an overt threat on May 10. 2010. The then chief Walter Hughes filed a report with the fire district stating that he suspected up to eight individuals were suspected of the gear tampering and continued harassment. The fire district never performed interviews nor provided an investigation report. When I inquired about the report being shared with me, I was told by Board of Commissioners Chairman Ed Brancati that I was not entitled to a report and was told he could “tell me whatever the hell he wanted”.

    We hired lawyers and filed an Article 78 with Westchester county regarding the actions of the leadership of the fire department. The article was never reviewed for reasons unknown even thought the court is legally bound to review within a set period of time.

    There is, to this day, a very bad cancer in this department and fire district. The approach of “handling this within house” is not correcting the actions or making the community safer. The district should be required to submit a public report on the activities related to the issues documents in my blog www.gbfdx2144.blogspot.com. The district now should also file a public report regarding the issues experienced on the fire scene of 37 Fairmount Drive on January 11, 2014. There was a very dangerous situation that evening where many people could have been injured or worse yet killed due to the poor choices made by the leadership of the Golden’s Bridge Fire Department and Fire District Board of Commissioners. The structure fire response that evening was at the end of their annual Chief’s holiday party attended by members of the department and likely the Board of Fire Commissioners. Fire Department apparatus and personnel responded to a fire scene when they clearly should not have. The public who are funding the equipment these individuals are charged with managing have the right to know how this environment is being managed. The public also needs to understand the management of budgetary items and retirement funding.

  • Silence Dogood

    I have a joke…

    Q: How many Golden’s Bridge Firefighters does it take to put out a fire in their own firehouse?

    A: None, four or five stragglers from the Golden’s Bridge Fire Department, completely absent of any competent internal command structure stand aside and watch, while hundreds of well-coordinated, dedicated volunteers from their neighboring communities save as much of their firehouse and equipment as they possibly can.

    Ha ha ha…Wait…that’s not funny. It’s scary for the residents who reside in Golden’s Bridge! What if we add another variable? Like a fire down the street where they actually have to drive to it?

    • Wanda Keenan

      Don’t be a hater… Do your part to change things…be part of the solution.

  • m b j

    It’s all very shocking and all very frightening . This and all the aquisations should be investigated by an independent group. Not friends or those connected to the department . We, the community of Goldens Bridge, pay for our department and we expect, deserve and need answers no matter how hard they are to swallow. I assume the 1,000,000 per year did not include a pump and storage system to accommodate a sprinkler system for the building. A thorough investigation of this fire and the problems inferred can only bring about a positive step in improving our firedept and in turn making our community a safer place to live. Perhaps we are the best we can be-let’s find out.

    • Wanda Keenan

      $1, 000,000 per year includes the building, apparatus, training, insurance, Fire trucks etc…it does not include firemen and woman…They are volunteers, they work for a living, support families and give up their time to serve the community.

      The community as a whole should be more involved in the fire department. Attend public meeting, join the volunteers, make contributions and maybe in the end you’d understand and get more.

      The volunteers put their life on the line every time they respond to a fire or rescue call.

      While your home tucked snuggly in your warm bed, firefighters are awoken by an emergency call. For no pay and no thanks they leave their families and risk harm to serve and protect. While your enjoying a nice BBQ with the family on a warm summer day, it’s these volunteers that give up their time and save the crash victim on 684, or safely get a family out of their burning home, who have to witness some of life’s gory details.

      My Dad was a volunteer. When Pine Meadow in GB Burned down, he carried the charcoaled bodies of 2 children out of the building. This horror lived with him the rest of his life. He did it, because his sense of community service. Where were you?

      When a volunteer, stumbled on his Dad’s body in a burning building, where were you?

      Life in the volunteer FD may not perfect. If the community had to pay for Firemen and Woman, their benefits, uniforms, retirement what price would you put on that?

      $4,000,000? 6,000,000… It’s cheaper and safer if everyone would just get involved and not criticize those that may be trying.

  • Bill

    To Brain
    All you need to ask is Ed Brancati why the courts never did anything I’m sure he could shed some light on it after all he worked for the County, not to mention the former Town Supervisor by the name of Brancati that got the Town to buy the land around him. (now he doesn’t have to worry about the neighbors. I have seen you blog for a few years and can believe they are true, something has been going on for a while, seems funny all the old timers left including past Chiefs. As for the incident at 37 Fairmount Drive it boggles the mind why residents aren’t questioning what’s going on at the firehouse, if their was a problem between members than that is not the place for what happened. One thing you definitely have right is the Commissioners do not have the right to say what goes on in the department and should keep their noses out of unless it is brought up to them by the Chief.

    • Fmr. Supervisor Ed Brancati

      Bill,

      You state above that I “got the Town to buy the land around him,” referring to the house and property that my parents have owned and lived in since the summer of 1983. I’m not sure what property you are referring to as the Town did not buy any property while I was Supervisor, in fact the Town sold various properties that it owned to put them back on the tax roll to generate revenue and reduce costs.

      My guess is that you are referring to the Brownell Preserve. That property was in fact given as a gift to the Town by the Estate of George and Katherine Brownell before my parents bought their home in 1983 and more than 20 years before I was elected as a Councilman and Supervisor. They also do have neighbors and have never had a problem with any of the neighbors adjacent to their property in the 30+ years that they have lived in Town.

      In the future, it would be helpful if you check your facts before making totally inaccurate statements and false accusations. I hope this clears up this issue.

      Sincerely,
      Ed Brancati

  • Michael

    What an embarresment to the fire service. Interior firefighting must not be the thing in Goldens bridge….

  • Bill

    Fmr. Supervisor

    Sorry! The Town employee may have their facts wrong, glad to see property went back on the tax rolls, but didn’t help our taxes much six generations later and we are going to have to move can’t afford it anymore.

  • John Q. Public

    With the millions of dollars in damage caused by the fire there will be a need for a bond issue to make up the total cost that the insurance will not cover.
    At this time the people will hold the power over everyone in the GBFD

    Simply put demand the answers and make the changes necessary to better serve the community or vote down the money needed to rebuild. The power is now in the hands of the taxpayers.

    • Dr. CJ

      Doubtful…this will all come out of emergency spending because they are an emergency services organization. They will just buy whatever they want/need without taxpayer approval…

      • John Q. Public

        I do not think so . You are not talking about thousands of dollars but millions. There will have to be bids for reconstruction of the building and fire apparatus replacement.

        If the insurance covers most of everything then you could be right.

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