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Cohoes Begins Long Recovery From Massive Downtown Fire

Cohoes has begun what promises to be a long recovery from last week's massive downtown fire. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas was at City Hall today for an update.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Walking through downtown Cohoes there's a very, very faint odor of smoke in the air after the fast-moving fire Thursday. Most of the damage was confined to the area of 200 through 228 Remsen Street, that area leveled by flames...  about 30 properties all together were affected. 

Mayor Shawn Morse says crews have cleaned up the area pretty quickly. Across the street four buildings are boarded up but can and likely will be rehabilitated.    “As far as the city is  concerned, most of these were privately owned buildings and thus they have their own insurance that will cover the cost of their loss and their buildings. The city is on the hook for some of that right, because some of the buildings did not have insurance. And the cost to knock down and pick up all the debris was about $145,000. We have an overtime cost that we’re still calculating but that’s gonna be 10-to-20 thousand.  So for the city taxpayers we could be lookin’ at about a $160, $170,000.”

The man who police say accidentally started the fire by trying forge metal in his backyard, John Gomes, was released on bail over the weekend.

Contrary to some reports, Marra's Pharmacy, owned by New York State Assemblyman and former Spindle City Mayor John McDonald, was unscathed; however McDonald says a building across the street that housed paperwork including patient records was destroyed.  “We had a garage for our vehicles, for our medical equipment and our records, and that garage was destroyed, as were the inventories that were in there and the records. But the pharmacy itself is fine. It’s up, it’s operational, it’s been operational since Friday morning. A little bit of smoke odor, but we’re working on removing that.”

Sixth ward city councilor Randy Koniowka says he will present legislation calling for a $1 million dollar appropriation to purchase a new ladder truck.  “The current situation is where we have two ladder trucks. One is over 25 years old. It was purchased over a year ago from the Village of Menands, which didn’t last a year. It was to serve as a backup to our primary ladder truck, which is 15 years old, which has been out of service more in the last two years than it has been in service.  And also to replace a pumper truck, which again, was bought last year, a 20-year-old truck from Boght Fire Department.  And at the end of the day, we can’t expect our firefighters to go out and do the job that we ask them to do without the proper apparatus.”  Koniowka wonders if the fire could have been contained earlier, with less loss of property, if firefighters had had better equipment.

Through it all, Mayor Morse has remained optimistic:   “Remsen Street is back open. Friday and Saturday the Music Hall was hustlin’ and bustlin’. People were visiting our downtown, people were visiting our establishments. We’re Cohoes proud and we’re gonna overcome all of these hurdles. We’re gonna help the people who need help and we’re gonna continue to work on economic development like we have from 18 months and we’ll be talking to the owners of those buildings and see what can be done and what they wanna do with it as we try to rebuild parts of the downtown.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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