Falconer Rallies After Devastating Fire Tearing Down and Rebuilding Begin

Main Street after the fire on March 22.
Main Street after the fire on March 22.

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

“Nothing happens until the Fire Inspectors are done here,” Falconer Mayor Jim Rensel told the Jamestown Gazette the day after the devastating fire that took out the mid-section of one of the town’s busiest commercial blocks on Main Street. “But that won’t stop us from helping every way we can, and that means right away,” Rensel added with obvious pride in his community.

Around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, March 22, another busy work day was ready to start at 29-39 W. Main St. in Falconer when a resident spotted smoke billowing out an apartment on the building’s 3rd floor.

Fire fighters from Falconer and a dozen nearby communities responded. Many of their crews and trucks still crowded the parking lot behind the blackened building skeletons on the following, frigid morning. Crews were dwarfed by 2-storey-high cliffs of ice and icicles left from a day and night of wintery winds and high pressure water pumped from the Buffalo Street Reservoir.

Main Street in Falconer in 2014.

It Takes a Neighborhood
Long before the flames were doused and the smoke cleared, however, the citizens of Falconer were already stepping up to help the families and businesses burned out of their homes and stores after Wednesday’s devastating fire.

By Friday, the Hogg Shop at 15 East Main Street in Falconer, already had “a trailer full and half of a store full” of clothing donated for the victims. Though the clothing drive ended on Sunday, Mayor Rensel asked people who can still contribute to contact the Red Cross.

“Americans are at their best when the circumstances are at their worst,” said Scott Anderson, disaster project specialist for the Western Region of the American Red Cross stationed in Jamestown. “The community support that flooded out into the cold for those people just blew me away,” he added.
“Somebody told me,” Anderson said after leaving the fire scene, “‘I don’t know what I’d do if the Red Cross wasn’t here.’ Those are times when I know why I have this job.”

Red Cross Disaster Action Teams do not report to a disaster until requested, “but we got the call within minutes after the fire department arrived,” Anderson said. By Thursday, representatives of a number of local churches had also met or scheduled meetings with him to find more ways to help.

Anderson reported that 11 households and 23 individuals had been given aid by the Red Cross, which can include a case worker helping to contacting family members, obtaining clothing, food and emergency shelter, and a 3-month follow-up to check on any continuing needs.

“And Tammy [Rosier, the property manager at Cassco Property Management] was a real angel of mercy at the scene,” Anderson said, “going around seeing that people had blankets or coats or whatever she could find to help those who barely escaped in their indoor clothing.”

The Falconer School District is also accepting cash or checks (delivered or mailed to the school security desk at 2 East Ave.) made out to the Falconer Cheer Fund. The District has also set up Go Fund Me pages online for contributions to aid students and families displaced by the fire. Readers can simply type in gofundme.com and look for the pages for the Falconer Fire. And even the Temple Elementary School kindergarten students sent thank you messages to the firefighters for their hard work.

Demolition begins with some interested builders and businesses already studying opportunities for reclaiming this valuable downtown location.

Early Bird Opportunists and Investigators
“Developers and businesses are already lining up to rebuild and redevelop here,” Mayor Rensel said while inspecting at the charred remains. “Some of the businesses who were here will want to come back,” Rensel added, “but first, the insurance companies have to decide what they can salvage and then arrange for the cleanup.”

A number of fire crews remained on guard Thursday morning to douse any lingering hot spots that might flare up while New York State and local fire inspection teams combed through the scorched rubble to uncover clues to the cause of the massive fire.

“During demolition, some personal belongings always turn up,” according to Charles Piazza, fire chief for the Falconer Fire Department. “We do everything we can to identify the owners when we can,” he said. “The detectives do their best to figure it out.”

NY State Fire inspectors join local fire and law enforcement personnel in searching for the cause of Wednesday’s fire.

Caution Urged
As of Friday, according to Mayor Rensel’s office, fire investigators had finished their evidence collection and begun their detailed analysis. But, in such cases, while the cause of a fire remains undetermined, elements of crime scene investigation may remain in effect. Onlookers are warned to stay away from the scene, especially for their own safety.

“I can’t even go in from the sidewalk and grab my appointment book right beside the door,” a displaced shop owner told one of her regular customers who came by to see the damage. “I need to call my customers and try to keep my business going, somehow.”

A few stores do appear less damaged than the collapsed upper floors, tempting some shop owners to try salvaging what they can. “But the fire chief says it just isn’t safe, the structure is totally unstable, so I’ll stay out,” a business owner admitted. Much of the commercial damage is due to water, smoke, broken glass and fallen debris.

Main Street after the fire on March 22.

Business Continues
The businesses affected included The Body Shoppe, Better Life Nutrition, Genesis Enterprise – Cassco Property Management, Village Salon and Roots Salon. Neighboring businesses undamaged by the fire, however, did experience some slowdown over the next few days due to Main Street’s closure. Area water and electrical services were restored by Thursday.

Though demolition is slated for quick cleanup, no schedule is set for rebuilding, according to town officials. The block has long been a vital part of the town’s economy. Hopes are high for restoring the community’s commercial center as soon as possible.

Jamestown Gazette readers who would like to help in any way are invited to contact the Red Cross at 435-7468, visit www.redcross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.