Fire consumed the Great Valley fire hall Sunday, destroying all its equipment and causing more than $1 million damage.
Great Valley Fire Chief Mark Ward called it "the most devastating property fire in the history of the town."
The Cattaraugus County fire investigation team said the blaze was caused by a leak in the gas valve of a heater suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the building.
More than 100 firefighters from nine companies fought the blaze, which was discovered at 12:20 a.m. and was still smoldering 14 hours later. More companies were on standby.
"It's a tremendously empty feeling -- to arrive and not be able to do anything," Ward said of the fact that all of his company's firefighting apparatus was in the burning building.
"We did get one of the trucks started up, but it stalled out. We tried to get a tanker out, but we couldn't. We just stood there and waited for Ellicottville to arrive."
Cattaraugus County Legislator Hobart Hall, R-Great Valley, a fire commissioner and member of the fire police of the Great Valley Fire Department, was also among the first at the scene.
"There was too much heat. All we could do is stand and watch it burn" while waiting for the other companies to arrive, he said.
In all, five fire trucks and two ambulances were lost in the blaze, which was further fed by fuel in the trucks and emergency vehicles and other combustibles in the hall, and was so hot that it melted and twisted the steel I-beams in the building.
"We lost absolutely everything," said Ward, a Great Valley firefighter for 25 years and chief of the company for 11 years. He is also principal of Ellicottville Central High School.
"We have had two fires in the history of the town in which people lost lives," Ward said, "but this is certainly the most devastating property fire we have ever had in the history of our town."
According to Ward, the fire apparently caused a short that tripped the fire siren -- alerting firefighter Alan Morton, who lives nearby.
"He got out of the house, looked up and saw flames over toward the hall," said Ward. "He called 911 and proceeded on over."
Lost in the blaze were the fire company's two pumpers, a tanker, a minipumper, a cascade truck and two ambulances, he said.
But the company was only without vehicles until Sunday afternoon.
"We already have another fleet of trucks out here," Ward said of equipment lent by other companies.
"We have pumpers from Machias, Little Valley and West Valley. We have a tanker from Seneca Nation and an ambulance from West Valley. Salamanca brought us medical supplies and hose. The calls started coming in from all over Cattaraugus -- and the offers just keep coming."
No one was injured in the fire at the hall on Depot Street in the Great Valley hamlet of the Town of Great Valley.
He described the fire's cause:
"It was a leak in a pipe, in the discharge side of the gas valve of a heater suspended from the ceiling in the middle part of the building. When the temperature went down and the heat kicked on, the pilot ignited the gas.
"It became just like a torch."