Malfunctioning Firetruck Blamed for Sparking Flames Inside Fire Station

A fire that tore through the headquarters of the Randolph Village Fire Department in Randolph, Vermont caused between $750,000 and $1-million in damage, according to an early estimate by a Vermont State Police fire investigator.

"It's rather ironic that you have to go to a fire station for a fire investigation," said Det. Sgt. Todd Ambroz of the Vermont State Police.

Ambroz ruled out arson, but said Tuesday afternoon the exact cause was unknown. He said the fire started in the cab of a 2011 rescue pumper truck parked inside the fire station.

"It could've been mechanical; it could've been an electrical issue," Ambroz said.

Ambroz said the pumper had been out for training Monday night, but that Randolph Village's volunteer firefighters told him they ended up returning the truck to the station and parking it, because it was malfunctioning. Ambroz said he was told an expert was expected to come to the fire station in the coming days to inspect the source of those malfunctions.

Randolph Village Fire Chief Jay Collette said he got the call at about 6:19 a.m. Tuesday that his own station was burning. He said initially, it took him a moment to process what he had just heard.

"I'm awe-struck right now," Collette told necn. "Fire chiefs don't want this in their own home. It's a bad thing, obviously. But at the end of the day, we'll deal with it. That's what we do."

In what can only be thought of as a stroke of good luck, another of the department's fire engines avoided destruction. Normally, it would have been parked in the engine bay next to the pumper that was lost, but instead, it was parked across town Monday night at a different fire station. That second engine certainly would have been badly damaged, if not destroyed, were it parked in its normal spot.

It's still unclear if other equipment, including a tanker and a rescue truck, can be salvaged, Ambroz and Collette said. Protective gear and other equipment also suffered damage from heat, smoke, and water, they said.

Collette said he was relieved and grateful that no one was hurt fighting the fire. He said in the near-term, his department will operate from the village highway garage. The department also provides fire protection support for the town of Braintree and for East Granville.

"It's heartbreaking," said Marjorie Ryerson, a member of the Randolph Select Board. "We're all feeling incredible grief over this. These guys are just the life blood of this town, and to have such devastation is just sort of beyond comprehension."

Ryerson said she and fellow board members are already starting to talk about the future of the fire station and its contents.

"It's a strong town," Ryerson said of Randolph. "It's got incredible spirit. And we'll come back from this."

Randolph was insured for the property, through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said Randolph Town Manager Mel Adams.

Adams said in the community's capital plan, there was a goal to replace the 33-year-old fire station in the coming years and convert the building into a police station.

"The building is a less a concern than the equipment," Adams said. "We may have lost almost the entire fleet of downtown equipment."

Adams said other fire departments, from both within Vermont and from out-of-state, offered to loan equipment to help the community through the next few weeks. He said he and Chief Collette still have to evaluate those offers.

For now, fire departments in Randolph Center and East Randolph will provide coverage for the village, Collette said.

Ambroz noted that an insurance estimator still needs to inspect the damage, and said his initial damage estimate may differ from the insurance inspector's.

Collette expressed gratitude to area businesses that provided refreshments to the firefighters working at the scene Tuesday, as well as to volunteers from the American Red Cross for their assistance.

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