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Sandisfield Welcomes Aid After Fire Destroys Plowing Fleet

JD Allen

Sandisfield, Massachusetts is still recovering from a fire earlier this month that destroyed the town’s highway garage and equipment inside. Aid from around the state is helping the town get through the snowy winter.

A dump truck and three of the town’s snowplowing trucks, including a new vehicle, were destroyed in a fire at the Sandisfield Highway Garage on December 10th.

Town Road Superintendent Bob O’Brien spoke with WAMC after surveying the damage with insurers early the next morning.

“We lost the whole building,” O’Brien says. “Basically, anything it takes to maintain a town, I lost in that building. You know, so between all of the trucks and equipment, it runs like $1 million.”

The fire destroyed the plowing trucks’ tires and melted maintenance supplies. Sandisfield Fire Chief Ralph Morrison speculated that a furnace started the fire.

“The fire had already broke through the roof. The building was totally, the roof area was totally engulfed in flames already. The biggest concern was to get water on the thousand gallon gasoline that sits within 20 feet of the building. We concentrated on getting water on that,” Morrison said.

The state Fire Marshal is still investigating the cause of the fire. Meanwhile, fire departments from nearby Monterey, Otis, Tolland and two Connecticut towns helped extinguish the fire. No one was injured.

Three weeks later, that sense of community is getting Sandisfield back on track, according to Town Administrator Fred Ventresco.

“Things are as good as they can be at this point,” Ventresco says. “The thing we are really happy about we have had a lot of outpouring of communities and the state offering help, to help us.”

A state Department of Public Works office in Otis took over Sandisfield’s plowing needs during recent snowfall.

Other municipalities are also chipping in.

Blandford and Huntington lent the town plowing equipment. Sudbury donated a sander. Needham gave Sandisfield a F550 pickup truck.

Before Sandisfield’s white Christmas, Quincy donated three used plow trucks. They’re a little rough around the edges but in good condition.

“We call them snow fighters,” Chris Walker says. “These are large, MAC-like trucks that have both plows and salting capability.”

Chris Walker, a spokesperson for Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, says the trucks – manufactured in the late 1990s and early 2000s – were going to be sold at auction but they’ll be better used in Sandisfield.

“You can’t just walk on to a lot and buy these kinds of vehicles. It takes some time to have these manufactured and delivered that the town was potentially in a really tough spot considering the time of year we are entering, particularly in the Berkshires,” Walker says. “So, [The Mayor] felt you know in the spirit of the season that, you know even if it is temporary, perhaps this donation would help the town get through at least a portion of the winter.”

“We just want to every opportunity we get we want to thank them,” Ventresco says. “It’s proactively – they proactively sought us out to offer us donated vehicles to help us out.”

The trucks still need to be insured and registered to the town, and have not yet been used.

And as for the destroyed highway garage, trucks and equipment, Ventresco says it’s all covered by insurance.

“That’s the best part of the story I guess you could say is that we are going to be covered,” Ventresco says. “It’s just going to be, obviously, going through the process to rebuild ourselves. At this point, since most of it is being handled by the insurance company – I can’t say specifically how we are going to rebuild at this point – but if we rebuild exactly in the footprint and everything is the same as it was, the insurance company pays for it and takes over in that respect and there really isn’t a roll – unless we want to change things – for town meeting at this point.”  

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