Comraderie in the face of misfortune
To the Editor: The News-Item staff reporters and photographers already efficiently provided accounts describing the recent devastating fires in Kulpmont and the surrounding area, but I wanted to offer a story that took place behind the scenes. It's something that I trust happens in every municipality faced with misfortune.
It was just before 5 a.m. Monday when the phone of Kulpmont councilwoman Stephanie Niglio rang. A familiar voice on the other end, one of the victims, alerted her to the tragic fire on Chestnut Street.
After she responded to the heartbreaking scene to assist and console the affected residents, she checked on EMS arrival time. Seeing distressed parties clad in pajamas and slippers, she notified her husband, Paul, of the need to shelter displaced residents from the adverse weather.
Mr. Niglio, who, among many other titles, is deputy grand knight of the Kulpmont Knight of Columbus, opened the council hall which served as a quasi command post for firefighters, EMTs, Red Cross and others, for use of facilities or to take breaks to refresh or warm themselves before continuing their campaign battling the fire.
When I arrived on scene, besides seeing the absolute devastation caused by the fire, I saw many residents comforting each other. I noticed the many "volunteer" firefighters, attempting to skillfully extinguish the blaze and rescue adjoining homes. I observed the Kulpmont Maintenance Department spreading rock salt to prevent responders from slipping.
Mayor Turlis was ever present, as were Councilmen Nick Bozza and Phil Scicchitano. Scicchitano would arrange to deliver pizzas and soup to the Knights for firefighters, workers and volunteers. His brother, Tony at Schicky's Wings and Things sent breakfast sandwiches. I saw Joe Cesari arrive with Subway sandwiches, cookies and bottled water. Coach Bob Chesney came with cups and coffee from Dunkin' Donuts.
During the ten or so hours that passed, I witnessed numerous Knights members arrive at this makeshift base of operations. Some were outfitted for firefighting; others were directed in some task by the deputy grand knight.
Father Andrew Stahmer was on hand to assist with distress or needed consolation. I observed at least 50 to 60 firemen and firewomen and EMTs, ages 20 to 65, file in and out of the hall in an orderly fashion, seven to 10 at a time as they relieved each other during the operation. They were very well organized and focused.
As a former supervisor in the U.S. Army and with the State Police, I feel I'm qualified to report that they acted with an impressive and professional demeanor throughout this entire stressful circumstance.
Lastly, I was doubly impacted as I witnessed the community support shown by our own elected officials, fellow citizens and our friends from Atlas, Shamokin, Mount Carmel and neighboring areas.
Secondly, by the appreciative remarks sounded by fire personnel and, especially fire victims when they thanked the Knights of Columbus for their generosity and use of the council hall as a place of refuge. I would like to echo their remarks to all who assisted in this effort.
Please excuse me if I forgot to mention someone or something in my observations. I am over 50 and space is limited. Be content that your actions were noticed by and impacted someone in a positive way. We can never be guaranteed we will be spared from such tragedies as occurred on that Monday morning in Kulpmont. We can always rest assured we will have the protection by our emergency personnel and continued support and encouragement of our friends, elected representatives, service organizations and neighboring communities.
God bless all.
Grand Knight - Council 4281 / DD No. 54.