The 115-year-old Middlesex Methodist Church burned to the ground last week on Wednesday, February 24, in a five-alarm fire. The Moretown and Waitsfield-Fayston Fire Departments were among those responding to that call. That fire was determined to have started in the basement in the furnace room and was electrical in nature.
Six Waitsfield firefighters responded to that call according to fire chief Tripp Johnson. He said they were called out at 11:19 a.m. and were in Middlesex until about 2:30 p.m. After that they returned to the station and were cleaning their equipment, checking their gear, washing the trucks and following their regular post fire protocols when another fire call came in -- this one in Waitsfield Village.
Fundraiser for George Pakk
This call was to the home of George Pakk, 81, at the southern end of the village and it came in at 3:31 p.m., Tripp said. Due to so many firefighters already at the fire station, they were on scene quickly, with former Waitsfield fire chief Paul Hartshorn refilling the tanker at the Irasville Country Store when the call came in. Mutual aid was triggered, calling the Warren and Moretown Fire Departments to help. Moretown firefighters were still on scene in Middlesex when they were asked to help.
Johnson said that even with the unlimited water supply from the town’s municipal water system, the fire burned so fast that all firefighters could do was try to prevent its spread to other buildings.
“It was a defensive attack to protect the other adjacent house and the power grid, he said. Pakk’s lot at 4534 Main Street is small and his house was close to the road and the overhead utility lines.
The house was a complete loss, but firefighters were able to save the big tree next to the road and a car near the house, Tripp said.
The Vermont State Police fire marshal determined that the Pakk fire was caused by a chimney fire and noted that Pakk was home at the time and noticed that his chimney was plugged. After clearing it he noticed smoke and fire coming from an eave on the south side.
“I’ve talked to a lot of firefighters, including longtime members like Paul and Gordie and it’s been many years since they’ve seen a day like that,” Johnson said, referring to Hartshorn and Gordie Eurich.
“It’s very hard for us to witness that and see people lose everything,” he said, noting that firefighters, after they clean up their gear and equipment, will often order pizza and talk about the fire to help them process it and decompress.
“We talk about the good things we can do and the improvements we can make. When we get called out, we’re aware that it’s God or a higher power -- not to get all religious about it -- but there’s certain things humans can’t stop. We do what we can,” he said.
Johnson thanked Kingsbury Construction, the Waitsfield road crew, the Mad River Valley Ambulance Service as well as the Warren and Moretown Fire Departments for their help.