Oct. 06--CANTON -- Fire investigators are still determining the cause of a fire that broke out in Gunnison Memorial Chapel at St. Lawrence University around 5 a.m. Sunday morning.
Canton Fire Chief Robert M. Crowe said that no one was injured. The steeple and the roof above the bells were the affected areas of the building.
Canton's fire crew was accompanied by Potsdam, Gouverneur, Morley and Rensselaer Falls fire departments.
"We used the aerials to knock the fire down up in there because we couldn't gain good access through the inside," Mr. Crowe said. "We had a stubborn fire up in the steeple. It took us quite a while to finally put this thing out."
Roxanne Cliff, assistant director of safety and security for the campus, was making rounds just after 5 a.m. when she noticed smoke from the steeple and called the fire department, Ryan P. Deuel, director of media relations for the university, said.
Mr. Deuel said that Gouverneur and Potsdam were called because they have the ladder trucks that can reach the height.
"The height was a challenge," Keith Zimmerman, interim emergencies services director for St. Lawrence County, said. "It was a dance with areal equipment."
Mr. Crowe said that despite the stubbornness of the fire, the crews all worked together and did a good job putting it out.
Mr. Deuel said that the steeple is going to be taken down for safety reasons.
"That's copper, metal sheets on the steeple, so they feel that the best thing to do at this time is to take it down to make sure we don't have anything falling off the building," he said. "We're in the process of looking for a crane now."
Kathleen Buckley, Canton, has been the university's chaplain since 2001. She said that although she still wants to know the degree of damage and the cause of the fire, she's just glad no one was hurt.
She was also glad to hear the bells weren't damaged since there are only a few schools that actually have real bells that play every day.
"It's just very, very sad because this is the centerpiece of campus and it has been for decades," she said.
"At 10 this morning we were supposed to be having an interfaith service, and we had to cancel that."
Ms. Buckley said that she had been receiving emails and texts from students and campus clubs offering support.
"There's just a real outpour of care and support from the student body, which is really heartening and special," she said.
Sociology student and senior at St. Lawrence University Trish A. Johnston said she received a NY Alert text from the school around 6:40 a.m. informing her about the fire.
"Usually they don't send out an alert unless it's something serious like this," she said.
Miss Johnston said her parents were in town from Wilmington, Delaware, for Family Weekend at the university. They had attended a service at the chapel Saturday night and were planning on attending the interfaith service Sunday morning.
Mr. Deuel said that although the few services that were scheduled in the chapel have been canceled, the fire should not affect classes on Monday.
"We're just very happy that the rest of the chapel was not, from what we can tell, damaged by fire," he said. "Being Family Weekend, that's obviously a disappointment, but it's good to know that the building itself seems to be okay."
Copyright 2013 - Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.