Councilmen commend first responders; arson being investigated
By David Yarger
It was a sad day Friday for those who might have attended the old Military Road School. A fire inside the building brought an eventual end to its presence in the Town of Niagara.
On Tuesday at the Town of Niagara Town Board meeting, the blaze was a hot topic of discussion.
Prior to the meeting, an executive session was held regarding the school fire. Near the end of the regular meeting, an additional item was approved in correspondence to the event.
The agenda item retroactively authorized emergency repair and demolition of the fire damage to the school, and those costs would not incur against the town. In turn, the town would levy any costs against the property owner, if necessary, in accordance with town code.
Explaining the motion further, Supervisor Lee Wallace said it’s keeping the town safe of any payments.
“We’re just basically trying to cover ourselves in case we did incur any costs. We don’t think we will,” Wallace said. “There were some things done on Friday during the fire that were done to protect the residents and protect the site. The owner wasn’t the one who requested some of this stuff. But we’re fairly certain that there won’t be any costs, but in case there are, that’s the plan.”
At the fire scene, an excavator was called in to knock down a portion of the building. The call was put in, because first responders were unable to attack the fire from inside, leaving them no choice but to settle the flames from outside on the tall ladders of the trucks.
In addition, a fence was put around the perimeter of the area to keep residents out of the dangerous area.
Wallace said the owner of the property – David Stapelton – was “nowhere in vicinity, so we had to make the call” for the additional services. Since then, he said the town’s been in contact with Stapleton and the property owner is “OK with it.”
To wrap up the meeting, the board echoed each other and praised the work done by first responders.
Councilman Charles Teixeira said, “You’ve seen some of Niagara County’s finest firemen do what they trained for week after week after week. That last late agenda item was (done) by the town to make sure the place was secure and safe, so residents or fireman or anybody would get hurt. We appreciate all the support from anyone who donated food and water (and) for everybody else that stayed out of the way and let the professionals do what they do.”
Councilman Rich Sirianni added, “I wanna thank all the first responders – police, firemen and everyone else – who were out there on that fire. It was a very dangerous situation. And the residents who came in to donate food and water (that) was very, very generous.”
Councilman Sam Gatto commended the first responders for their efforts, as well as for keeping the Military Road area safe for residents.
Additionally, Councilman Marc Carpenter echoed the board’s statements and praised the town’s first responders for their efforts, not only at the fire, but for those who tackled the town’s previous graffiti issues.
Wallace remarked, “The professionalism of our volunteers and the other towns was just extremely impressive to me. It was like clockwork. They did everything they could to try and save the building.”
He added with the firefighters having to battle the flames from the outside was like “fight it blind.”
Through social media, many residents and school attendees discussed seeking mementos from the property. Wallace said if there’s any possible way to do it, it will be done, but for the time being, “we have to wait and let this process play out.”
“We’re asking you to pass the word for people to stay away from the site. It’s fenced off for a reason. Please do not try to hop the fence or have someone go grab anything. When the time comes and we can do it, we will do it, and we’ll do it properly,” Wallace said.
Following the meeting, Town of Niagara Police Chief James Suitor told the Tribune the fire is under investigation for possible arson.
Suitor added that there were no utilities in the school site at the time of the fire, no spontaneous combustion and no weather related incidents (such as a lightning strike), leading to the belief of arson, which he called “the only plausible option.”
Despite the belief, lab results of the fire have not yet been returned.
The next Town of Niagara Town Board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20.