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Aug. 28, 2019

Tour shows what should be saved in an emergency

By Deacon Kevin Mastellon
Contributing Writer

WATERTOWN – Inspired by the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris earlier this year, the chaplains for the City Firefighters churchof Watertown Fire Department have initiated a formidable task. They hope to accompany members of the fire department to each of the 52 churches in the 9.3 square mile jurisdiction of the Fire Department to acquire detailed floor plans for each of the structures and catalog the “first to be removed” sacred vessels and artifacts in each location.

The first site to be visited was St. Patrick’s Church on South Massey St. in Watertown located two to three hundred yards from the department’s #1 Fire Station.

The Rev. Canon Samuel P. Lundy, an Anglican priest, and the Rev. Leon VanWie, a retired pastor of the United Methodist Church, are the department chaplains. The Paris blaze is already detailed in the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia:
On 15 April 2019, at about 12:30pm Eastern Daylight Time, a structure fire broke out beneath the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral in Paris. By the time it was extinguished, the building's spire and most of its roof had been destroyed and its upper walls severely damaged; extensive damage to the interior was prevented by its stone vaulted ceiling, which largely contained the burning roof as it collapsed. Many works of art and religious relics were moved to safety early in the emergency, but others suffered some smoke damage and some exterior art was damaged or destroyed. The cathedral's two pipe organs, and its three 13th-century rose windows, suffered little to no damage. Three emergency workers were injured.

Notre Dame is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture. There are several churches in Watertown in the Romanesque style or Gothic style, including St. Patrick’s, Holy Family, Trinity Episcopal, First Presbyterian and Asbury Methodist. These would prove the most difficult to attack in a fire because of the construction and the number of additions each church has seen over time.

“We know the history,” says Watertown Fire Chief Dale Herman. He recalls fires in Watertown’s past that destroyed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (Catholic) and All Souls Church (Unitarian). Both were the same style as those listed above.

“Those fires resulted in complete devastation,” Herman said. “Had we known what was most precious in the buildings, we might have been able to save them. However, there is always risk versus benefit to be considered. We will not put a firefighter in danger to save an artifact.”

Rev. Lundy echoed the chief’s view.

“We will not risk lives, but if there is no danger, we will try to save those things that are most important,” he said.

Father Christopher J. Looby, pastor of St. Patrick’s and St. Anthony’s churches in Watertown, met with Herman, Battalion Chief Mathew Timmerman and Firefighters Michael Jesmer and Jared Lyndaker.

‘“There are a lot of important artifacts and statues in this building,” Father Looby told them, “but the most important is the Eucharist.”

He then showed the firemen where the Consecrated Hosts are reserved and where to find the key to the tabernacle. He also explained for them why the Eucharist is so important to Catholics.

There are many priceless items in every building. The stained-glass windows in St. Patrick’s are one example.
The Diocese of Ogdensburg has long promoted risk management as a way to prevent fires like the one at Notre Dame; but accidents do happen.

On June 26, 2019 the Associated Press reported that according to Paris police, the fire at Notre Dame may have been caused by an electrical malfunction or might have been caused by a smoldering cigarette. They are still investigating.

Wikipedia reports risk management was very much on people’s minds in Paris too:
Extensive attention had been given to the risk of fire at the cathedral. The Paris Fire Brigade drilled regularly to prepare for emergencies there, including on-site exercises in 2018; a firefighter was posted to the cathedral each day; and fire wardens checked conditions beneath the roof three times daily.

Like the diocese, the City of Watertown Fire Department also promotes fire safety and risk management.
This effort allows firemen to know what to look for and what items to be aware of when responding to a house of worship.

“Our vehicles are now equipped with computers that will show us a blueprint of the structure we are approaching,” Herman said. “That gives us an advantage to save lives, fight fires and save important items and documents.”

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