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Fire destroys Franklin highway garage

The town of Franklin Highway Department garage is seen Dec. 8, a day after a fire destroyed the building and all the town’s serviceable plow trucks. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

VERMONTVILLE — Flames enveloped this town’s highway department garage Saturday, destroying the building, four vehicles and many other pieces of equipment. Town Supervisor Arthur Willman called it a total loss.

The fire at the garage on state Route 3 broke out in the afternoon, and the call initially came into the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department at 3:08 p.m. Saturday. State police and many local fire departments responded to the fire including Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Paul Smiths-Gabriels. Tanker trucks were seen consistently carting water from the Bloomingdale firehouse to the highway garage. Willman said fire crews had the blaze under control by 6 p.m., and some departments left the scene by 8 p.m. He said he didn’t hear of any injuries.

The garage didn’t have a sprinkler system. Willman said that wasn’t a requirement when the garage was first built in 1981.

By Sunday, some of the garage’s walls were still standing, but the roof had completely caved in, and all the town’s serviceable plow trucks were destroyed, Willman said. Cutting edges for plows, hydraulic fittings and other replacement parts were also lost.

Willman said fire investigators from Albany are currently looking into what started the blaze.

Highway department spending was a big topic of debate going into this year’s elections. Republican town council candidates Brad Merrill and Glen Swinyer, who ran unsuccessfully, wanted to cut back highway spending, while Democratic candidate’s Leo Demong and Richard Jarvis wanted to maintain the budget, which has been around $1.5 million these past few years.

Willman said the fire shouldn’t majorly affect the highway department’s budget going forward and that the loss of the garage and vehicles, which cost about $200,000 a piece, should be taken care of by the town’s insurance.

“We’re working on that,” he said. “I sat down with our rep from Eastern Insurance until 9 p.m. (on Saturday.) We did all the work for filing a claim, and we have an adjuster coming down soon. We should know by Tuesday or possibly Monday of what’s next. We’re pretty well insured for both the building and the contents.”

In the meantime, Willman said Highway Superintendent Jacques Demars has already reached out to other municipalities who are willing to share trucks and storage space.

“They came through big time, and I can’t thank them enough,” Willman said. “Plattsburgh offered a truck and a spare frontend loader. Chateaugay brought a truck up last night, and St. Armand has offered some garage space.”

Willman said Demars has reached out to a few vendors for new trucks, too.

“We’ve talked to Clark Equipment and Champlain Peterbilt,” he said. “We’re all looking around to see what’s available right now.”

Willman said getting chassis cab trucks (half trucks) shouldn’t be too difficult, but getting them suited up with plows or flatbeds takes time.

“It’s definitely a challenge, but I think we should be reasonably OK,” he said.

Willman said Franklin County Emergency Preparedness Director Ricky Provost is working to set up a mobile office space for the town’s highway department, so it can still have electricity and phones.

NY 21 Rep. Elise Stefanik tweeted Saturday, “We will work as a community to rebuild after this destructive fire. I am committed to partnering with our local, county, and state officials to support the Town of Franklin. Thank you to our #NY21 first responders.” She added an emoji of a little firetruck to the end of the tweet.

In an email statement Sunday, Stefanik’s spokeswoman Madison Anderson said, “Our office is reaching out to the Town Supervisor and Highway Superintendent tomorrow. We are hopeful (United States Department of Agriculture) might be able to help provide funding for the rebuild through Rural Development grants.”

Willman finishes his term this year, and then current Deputy Supervisor Dorothy Brown will fill the seat. He said the plan now is to rebuild.

“She’ll definitely have a full plate for a while,” he said. “But right now we have to get an architect and a design. A lot of municipalities go with metal buildings because they go up quick, are cost-effective and are decent buildings. This also gives us an opportunity to have an updated building. We’d like to have an in-floor radiant heating system. We had propane-fired Modines, but those were all up near the ceiling and didn’t heat the rest of the garage, so we replaced them with radiant tube heaters. For this next one, we might as well put in the best, so that we can keep the floors dry and warm. We’ll definitely have a sprinkler system, too.”

Aaron Cerbone contributed to this article.

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