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Westhampton Resident Criticizes Lack of Water to Battle House Fire

Source: Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA)

By SEAN REAGAN Staff Writer

WESTHAMPTON, MA – A Pine Island Lake resident whose home was heavily damaged by a blaze Feb. 19 is asking questions about how the fire was battled and the treatment he said he received from volunteers.

S. Michael Figarsky is one of a dozen full-time residents living on Pine Island Lake in Westhampton. When his home caught on fire, firefighters had to fight the blaze with water shuttled from Hampshire Regional High School because there are no hydrants in that area.

Westhampton Fire Chief John Shaw said the fire’s cause was undetermined. It began, he said, next to a fire place which had a free-standing heating unit. According to Shaw, either the free-standing heating unit malfunctioned or a spark leapt out from it, but heat damage in that area of the house prohibited a precise conclusion.

Figarsky was not injured during the blaze, but said that standing by helplessly while his home burned was a traumatic experience. ”I can’t tell you what it’s like to watch your house burn and hear a firefighter say that they’re out of water,” he said.

Efforts to bring dry hydrants – pipes to access water from the nearby lake – stalled several years ago. The Pine Island Lake Association, which manages the network of private roads and water rights for property owners on the lake, asked the Fire Department to postpone the installation of dry hydrants until an independent environmental impact study was done and any necessary state and local permits were acquired.

The hydrants were not put in, because the Fire Department lacked funds for the project and disputed whether it was responsible for paying the costs of an environmental impact study, The issue is likely to remain in limbo for the near future because dry hydrants can only be installed when the lake is drawn down, which happens every five years.

Figarsky said that he was frustrated by the impasse. ”I’m a victim of bickering,” he said. ”Someone should have had enough sense to say we need these, let’s put them in and settle up the costs afterwards. There’s lives at stake.”

Figarsky also took issue with the American Red Cross who sent a volunteer to the site of the fire. That volunteer, said Figarsky, never made contact with him. ”I felt totally ignored during that crisis period,” he said.

According to Figarsky, all the American Red Cross did was leave Shaw a business card, which the chief then gave to him. Although Figarsky did make contact with the Red Cross and received services from them, he believes that their failure to reach him that evening was critical.

Mary G. Snyders, who is the director of emergency and volunteer services for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, confirmed that a volunteer was at the scene but said that the individual had been told by Shaw that Figarsky was gone.

”We don’t mingle with the crowd asking whose house it was,” Snyders said. ”The volunteer stayed with the relief vehicle and wasn’t approached.”

Shaw, however, said that he told the volunteer that Figarsky was resting in a neighbor’s and said he didn’t know why contact wasn’t made. He emphasized that the fire scene was intense, with departments from Goshen, Chesterfield, Williamsburg, Southampton and Northampton responding. In that setting, he said, the Red Cross was very helpful.

”They were there and they offered their services to Mr. Figarsky,” said Shaw. ”Whether they hooked up with him at that point, I don’t know.”

”I think there were mistakes that shouldn’t have been made,” said Figarsky. ”You have to understand that there are victims and you have to know how to deal with them. The ball was dropped by more than one person.”

Still, as time passes, Figarsky is slowly returning to familiar routines of work. He is currently living with his girlfriend in Easthampton and is not sure whether he will return to his Westhampton home. The entire experience, he said, has been troubling.

”I’m sorry the firefighters had to get out of bed, I’m sorry they had to work all night and I’m sorry that they had to go to work but at least they had a home to go to,” said Figarsky.

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