Firefighters Save Irreplaceable Flag from Burning Building in Bangor
House fires; we have all seen, heard and read about them and the destruction they can cause. But unless you've actually experienced one, it's hard to relate to the devastation they can leave in their wake. That's what I've been told by friends who have lived through them.
For the people who lose their homes and belongings, there's often a loss of memories and history that go along with the items a fire can destroy.
And those who fight these fires know all too well the impact that kind of loss can have on people. I'm sure it's one of the things in the back of their minds as they go about their business of trying to save lives and put out flames.
In my years working news, I've often heard little whispers of ways in which firefighters have quietly and without recognition, gone above and beyond to save more than just lives and buildings, but when possible, important belongings; people's special memories.
One such moment happened this week, as firefighters battled a blaze on Center Street Avenue in Bangor. And it just so happened, this moment was caught on camera.
As is the case when any large fire breaks out in the City, Bangor Fire Department asks for mutual aid from neighboring towns. This week, Help came in spades from all over, according to Bangor Assistant Fire Chief Philip Hamm. Firefighters from Orono, Glenburn, Veazie, Hampden, Orrington, Holden, Levant, Brewer, the Air National Guard and Hermon came to help with the fire that involved two multi-unit apartment buildings.
Naturally, all of the commotion had drawn a crowd of onlookers into the area. One of the folks on hand, witnessing the action, was Robert Kearns, who runs the Penobscot County Area Scanner Facebook Page. He was nearby, taking pictures for the page, to update people on what was happening, when he said he noticed the mood of the firefighters shift.
And what happened next, Kearns says, was a small moment of beauty in a day that had been filled with such destruction.
"There was a quiet that fell over the whole scene. I noticed a firefighter pointing and asking for THE VICKSTER as she is called to come get a few items. As they were passed down the ladder I recognized the unmistakable size and shape of an HONOR FLAG. I was wowed as I knew how much this would mean to the Family."
Hermon's Fire Captain, Mike Simmons, was the firefighter Kearns had noticed pointing on a ladder, near the second floor window. Simmons says he had looked through the window and saw the flag, a hat and some pictures. He yelled down to the person in command and asked if he could go into the room and retrieve them.
He was given permission, and proceeded to break the rest of the glass, enter the room and collect the flag, and the items around it.
With help from Lt. Byron Ouellette, the two men carried the belongings carefully out of the burning building, down the ladder and passed them off to firefighter Vicki "Vickster" Gonyea, who placed them aside for safe keeping.
Simmons, who's been a firefighter for 30 years, said he knew those items had meaning and was glad to get them to safety. He said shortly after the items were removed, firefighters had to enter the room again, this time because there was active fire in the space above it. Had Simmons not removed those items when he did, they likely would have been destroyed.
Jonathan Tenney, the gentleman who lived in the apartment, said the flag belonged to his grandfather, Herbert Tenney. Herbert Tenney was a WWII Veteran who served in France, Belgium, Austria and Germany. When he passed several years ago, the flag was used at his funeral. It's now all Jonathan has left of his grandfather's service memorabilia. Another thing that Simmons and his crew helped saved was a precious picture of Jonathan, his dad and his grandpa.
Tenney said he learned from his dad that the flag had been saved. Jonathan's father (Herbert's son) Jeff Tenney, who is a pastor at Faith Bible Church in Olamon, also happens to be a member of Kearns' Penobscot County Scanner Page. Jeff saw a post about it the flag rescue, and passed the word along to his son.
Jeff then reached out online to express his family's thanks for the amazing rescue.
"Thanks to Bangor professional firefighters for rescuing these sentimental items....They need a good clean up but glad to have them at all! It looks like we can rescue a lot of Jonathan’s clothing but all his office stuff is gone. He has a huge collection of Legos and they are all over the floor in his living room/office, their bright colors standing out in cheerful counterpoint against the black soot and char that covers the floor. R2D2 Lego also seems to be fine. Kitchen is gone. Dad’s Bible is singed but legible. His driver’s license is melted around the edges but his info is readable, insurance and credit cards not so much... My son is very grateful for our brave men and women at BFD and their respect for the flag..."
Jonathan Tenney says he's doing as well as can be expected. He's taking it one day at a time. Thankfully, both the building and Jonathan's belongings were insured. So, while it will take some time for him to rebuild, he says he will be ok. He says the one thing he could never have replaced was that flag. And he cannot thank Captain Simmons enough for taking the time to go in after it.
"There are no words. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for the firefighters who saved those items." He hopes one day soon, to thank the man in person.
Every day, firefighters go above and beyond in ways we may never know about.
We're glad that in this case, that we're able to help thank them for what they do.