ALBANY — The Albany Area Volunteer Fire Department worked through the night on Sunday to contain a fire that burned down a barn in the area, with no injuries.
Albany Area VFD Fire Chief Lee Bolen said the incident “was probably one of the larger fires that we’ve had in a couple years,” adding that the barn, which contained farm equipment and chickens, was about 350 feet long.
Responding to the scene were 14 volunteer firefighters with the Albany department and about 16 firefighters providing mutual aid through the Waterloo Volunteer Fire Department and Columbia Township Volunteer Fire Department, Bolen said. The supporting departments also provided additional water tankers.
According to a post on the Albany Area VFD’s Facebook page, the Albany department was called at 6:15 p.m. on Sunday to respond to “something on fire on Carpenter Road,” but the exact location was not specified.
Bolen said he arrived on the scene of the fire less than 10 minutes later, at 6:22 p.m. However, the fire appeared to be caused by a downed power line, which had fallen next to the barn, and the power line was live. So, Bolen said, volunteer firefighters could not enter the barn upon arrival due to the risk of electrocution.
AEP Communications Consultant Scott Fuller said the line was knocked down by a tree that fell from outside the company’s right-of-way, which also resulted in a power outage for just under 300 customers in the area.
“Unfortunately we do have trees that come down on our wires all the time, from out of right-of-way trees, but obviously they don’t cause fires all the time — that’s unusual,” Fuller said. “When possible we try to work with landowners and property owners to try to trim those trees (that threaten lines from beyond the right of way), but we’ve got a lot of trees and a lot of property owners, and we can’t get to everything.”
American Electric Power arrived on the scene at approximately 6:52 p.m. to kill the power, Bolen said. By the time firefighters were able to enter the barn, it had been largely consumed by the fire due in part to high winds, according to the department’s Facebook post.
Bolen said the situation was contained by about 8:07 p.m., allowing exhausted firefighters to pause and recuperate before clearing large amounts of debris to address remaining hotspots.
“It was pretty miserable,” Bolen said. “The guys would go in, and they would actually do the physical work on the fire, and they would get sweaty because our gear is warm. And obviously, when you come out of the barn and you’re in the open air, it’s really cold. We had guys with frozen bunker pants and boots crusted over with ice.”
Even after firefighters put out the last blazes, the night was far from over for those responding.
According to the Albany VFD’s Facebook post, all three departments left with frozen equipment to clean at the station. Bolen said the Albany department’s hoses were all frozen solid and had to be hauled back to the station in a pick-up truck.
Members were not able to leave the station until all equipment had been cleaned, at around 2 a.m. according to the post.
Bolen said he is grateful for the support of Athens County’s 9-1-1 dispatchers.
“Our dispatchers handle so many calls during the day, and when we go out on a call, they’re our lifeline as far as getting the resources we need to get the job done,” Bolen said. “They do it very, very well.”
Bolen also said he is a “huge cheerleader” for local volunteer firefighters.
“All the local volunteer firefighters, they do it for free, and they put in hours upon hours of training throughout the year, and then multiple hours on calls,” Bolen said. “Responding to calls like last night is something they willingly do to help out their community, and I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate what our people do.”
The department’s Facebook post expressed sympathies for the property owner.