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  • Rich Klein

Close Call for At Least Two Firefighters At Liberty Apartment Complex Blaze

(This story was updated Thursday, March 10 to include information from one of the residents).

LIBERTY - A fire in a fifth-floor unit at the Barkley Gardens apartment complex at 280 North Main Street in Liberty that broke out late Tuesday evening led to a mayday call by Timothy Fink, a Sullivan County Fire investigator who is also the assistant chief for the White Sulphur Springs Fire Department.

He said it was the first time in 33 years on the job that he had call for a "May Day" when he saw another firefighter hanging from a window.

"I watched and keep talking to him," Fink said in a Facebook post early Wednesday. "And I was not taken my eyes off him till he was he was rescued. By that time, smoke conditions changed and and I couldn’t get out but then the boys from Monticello and Rock Hill and some others can’t remember got to me with a new bottle. "

Greg Vogler, 2nd Lieutenant for the Liberty Fire Department, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday morning:

"Just would like to personally thank everyone for reaching out, my brother (firefighter Steven Vogler) is home from the hospital he suffered burns to his ears and neck . Training matters every bit of it. To my firefighters and mutual aid ff you guys kicked ass especially for the cards you were dealt. Everyone goes home."

(It could not be confirmed at press time if Vogler, a Fallsburg Police Officer, was the same firefighter seen by Fink hanging from the window).

The White Lake Fire Company, one of many first responder organizations during the mutual aid call on the scene, credited everyone involved in a Facebook post. "Everything worked out and everyone will be able to go home. This is why we train so hard. Real life scenarios can happen in the blink of an eye. Sullivan County Firefighters continue to experience way to many fires. Be safe everyone!"

Late Wednesday, The Rock Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps issued a statement describing their arrival at "a treacherous structural fire" that was quickly deemed a Mass Casualty Incident. "We anxiously awaited at the front door of the structure with our stretcher in our hands to immediately assist the injured, " the statement said. But, the ambulance corps added, quick thinking and action by the firefighters averted a disaster.

Kate Griffin, a spokesperson for the Conifer Realty, LLC, which owns the 51-unit apartment complex, said there was one resident injured and taken to a hospital. She said she could not comment on the condition of the resident or the nature of the injuries.

A source who did not want to be identified confirmed that one male resident was transported to Westchester Medical Center with burn injuries.

"The entire community was evacuated to ensure safety and all residents were cleared to return to their apartments between last night and today," Griffin said. "Only one unit was damaged in this fire. "

Third-floor resident Sue Smith told The SullivanTimes on Thursday that police on the scene helped her to evacuate. "They had to carry me down the stairs in my wheelchair," Smith said, adding that she can't walk due to multiple sclerosis. They took me to the (Liberty) police station to get warm and then I spent the night at some Methodist church. I felt pretty special because I had three Liberty officers rescue me and my cat. I do not know their names. I don't remember the pastor's name from the church but he was so nice and stayed there with me the whole night." (The church is believed to be the United Methodist Church of Liberty on North Main Street). Smith said she is now back at home.

The Liberty FD announced on Wednesday that there will be be a "debriefing/ after action review" scheduled at the Liberty firehouse at 7 pm Thursday. All fire departments involved in yesterday’s fire are welcome to attend, according to the Liberty FD post on Facebook.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, a third-floor structure fire erupted directly across from the White Lake Fire Company on Route 17B. That led to the second mutual aid call of the night.

White Lake FC said there was mutual aid from Smallwood, Lake Huntington, Town of Thompson FAST Team with Monticello's ladder truck and Mobilemedic EMS. "Crews from White Lake and Kauneonga Lake made entry to find heavy fire on the 3rd floor. An aggressive interior push was made containing the fire to its room of origin. This was an incredible stop all while water supply was being established down to the Lake in the case we couldn't contain the fire. "

The back-to-back fires on Tuesday followed another significant blaze - on February 28 at the Ocean Surf Motel that left 17 residents displaced. According to the Liberty FD, "due to extreme cold, all the displaced persons were brought to the Liberty Fire Station and were being assisted by Red Cross.



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