Firefighters in Franklin Township, Ohio are reeling over the loss of their fire station last weekend and now the possibility that the fire may have been set.
The firefighters didn't know they were responding to their own station early Sunday morning until they began to arrive. The blaze was discovered and reported by a private ambulance passing by, whose driver is a firefighter out of a neighboring county, said Assistant Chief Mont Steele.
The first dispatch was for a fire just off the main highway. A second message revealed it was for the Franklin Township VFD and Steele called for mutual aid from four nearby communities, as well as a tanker from Franklin's second, smaller fire station.
Steele said the structure was fully involved upon arrival. "It had been burning for a while," he said. He tried to make entry to get the pumper out, but when he opened the pedestrian door he could see the hose bed on fire and SCBA tanks starting to explode.
"I basically backed out and watched my house burn down," he said.
While Steele was trying to coordinate staging at the fire scene, his captain was still en route and asked Steele over the radio what they had. "I said we have Station One fully involved," Steele said. "He came back across the radio, 'Oh my God.'"
"We lost everything," the assistant chief said, including their pumper, vehicle rescue, brush fire unit, most of their turnout gear, dive gear, computer systems and fire and EMS records.
Steele said this is a serious and emotional loss to the community because many members literally helped build the fire station. It was also a terrible experience in role reversal, he said.
Investigators initially suspected the fire was electrical but are reopening the investigation, Steele said, because photos of the fire scene show that the center bay door is open, but the doors were all closed when the firefighters left the prior evening.
Steele said the township has been divided into districts to be covered by mutual aid departments, but Franklin Township is already working to get back on its feet. He said all of the departments in the county are offering assistance and to lend their surplus equipment, and Franklin's fire chief is working with their insurance company to discuss what losses will be covered.
Until they rebuild, they plan to operate out of Station Two although space there is limited and they may need to house vehicles at nearby firefighter residences.
"We're just trying to rebuild and we're going to come out of it," Steele said, thanks to strong support from the community and surrounding fire service. "We're all brothers and we're going to take care of one another."
If any fire departments want to contact the Franklin Township VFD about replacement equipment, they can send email to email@example.com.