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Clarence firefighters embrace Cambria's Despite their own disaster, volunteers travel to show solidarity in aftermath of devastating blaze

As devastating as the situation remains in Clarence Center, firefighters from the hamlet made time Monday afternoon to drive about 20 miles into Niagara County to offer help to Cambria volunteer firefighters after a blaze tore through their firehouse.

Soon after they heard about the fire on their two-way radios, several members of the Clarence Center Volunteer Fire Company piled into a pickup truck with food and hot coffee, and headed north. They also brought offers of fire equipment from Fire Chief David Case.

"Bad events bring out the best in people," Niagara County Fire Coordinator James C. Volkosch said Tuesday. "This is what I call humanity."

The Cambria Volunteer Fire Company lost more than $1 million in vital equipment when the blaze destroyed three fire trucks and an ambulance in the main fire station on Cambria-Wilson Road.

Assistant Fire Chief John Pressley was sweeping up outside the firehouse when smoke began pouring from the front of the building that houses the truck bay.

"It quickly turned to heavy black smoke," Pressley said Tuesday. "We knew we had a serious fire on our hands, but we had nothing to fight it with."

A pumper that the Cambria Fire Company keeps in a substation about two miles away on Upper Mountain Road was first on the scene, quickly followed by fire trucks from volunteer companies in Wilson, Pekin and Wrights Corners.

Up to 100 firefighters from across Niagara County battled the blaze. There were no injuries. One Cambria firefighter was taken to Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport with smoke inhalation and later released.

The cause of the fire was still being investigated Tuesday.

The fire could have been a whole lot worse if oxygen tanks in the ambulance had exploded, Assistant Fire Chief Shawn M. McIntyre said.

The temperature inside the cab of the main pumper reached about 1,400 degrees, Volkosch said, hot enough to melt its aluminum roof.

The gutted truck bay occupies half the building. A banquet hall at the rear of the building incurred mostly water damage.

Cambria Fire Company's major fundraiser -- a fish fry to be held Feb. 27 in the banquet hall -- has taken on additional urgency.

New ladder trucks can run a half-million to a million dollars, and ambulances can cost up to $175,000, fire officials said.

"The banquet hall seats 400 people, and we're going to need all of that to help us even begin to recover from this huge loss," McIntyre said.

The veteran firefighter called it "the most damaging fire, in terms of monetary loss, in my 20 years of experience."

The fire trucks and the station are insured, but significant equipment costs will remain uncovered -- and the department still has a lot of work on its hands.

Cambria Fire Chief Dale E. Heiser and fire company President Mark S. Printup huddled with investigators from the county fire coordinator's office and from the insurance company to find a cause and determine the loss. The gutted fire vehicles were towed to secure storage areas for inspection. The company's remaining pumper and heavy rescue truck in the substation are not sufficient to handle a fire.

"We've taken this fire company out of service," Volkosch said.

The main fire hall is expected to be out of commission until the fire equipment can be replaced. McIntyre said there's no telling how long that will take, but other fire companies from across the area immediately came forward and offered to provide equipment for the Cambria department.

"We've had offers from dozens of fire companies throughout Western New York," Volkosch said. "Good things will come of this."

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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