Library delivery staff survives close call, finishes deliveries

What started as a normal day on the job for the Shelton Library delivery workers quickly went up in flames.

Every two weeks Bob Antamarian, the Plumb Memorial reference librarian, and John Sembrat, a library page, drive the Shelton Library homebound delivery van to take books to shut-ins and convalescent homes throughout the community.

The library’s homebound delivery service is designed to cater to residents who cannot physically make it to the library. The service brings its recipients best sellers and large-print editions of novels that are not available in their own libraries.

Earlier this month, both Antamarian and Sembrat began their delivery day just as they normally would before realizing it would be more difficult to make their drop-offs this time around. The two operators of the delivery van had made several of their drop-offs to homes when they noticed some smoke seeping through the van’s ventilation system. Antamarian said after seeing the smoke, they pulled over and parked in the Wesley Heights assisted living facility’s parking lot to provide the van with time to cool down.

While waiting for the van to cool down, Antamarian went inside the Wesley Heights residential building to drop off a book. When he returned to the vehicle, he and Sembrat lifted the hood of the van to discover flames bursting from where the engine was.

“At that point we both stepped back and decided we weren’t going any farther,” said Antamarian. “When I was going to get a fire extinguisher from inside Wesley Heights and call 911, John opened up the back of the van to rescue the books we were going to deliver.”

“Smoke began coming from the back of the van, so I said to myself, ‘I might as well take them out now,’” said Sembrat. “There weren’t any flames at that point, there was just smoke.”

Sembrat said he extracted four bags of books from the back of the smoking van, approximately 40 books in total.

Still taken aback from what they had just experienced, Antamarian said, he called his coworkers at the Plumb Memorial branch to tell them they had experienced some “technical difficulties with the van” and would need a ride.

The city’s library director, Joan Stokes, said when she received the phone call, by the tone of Antamarian’s voice she thought the issues with the van were minor. She was in shock when she learned what had actually happened to the van.

“While I’m impressed by our staff every day, Bob and John went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Stokes.

One of Sembrat and Antamarian’s coworkers came and picked them up, and took them to make their final delivery of the day.

Reflecting back on the day of the fire, both Sembrat and Antamarian are thankful no one was hurt and that they get to continue to do their job.

“My gut feeling was that we were just in there and we’ve been driving it for so long and all of a sudden it’s in flames, but I tell people I must’ve watched too many action shows where things blow up because I was just staying far away,” said Antamarian. “Everyone that we deliver to are so grateful, so we feel good that our job brings people joy.”

Prior to the library using the library van for the past five or so years, Sembrat drove his car to complete the deliveries. Antamarian said the addition of the company vehicle was more practical than driving their own personal cars for the job.

Stokes said the city is currently searching for a city vehicle that is not being used that would fit the library staff’s needs.