Commentary: Like a phoenix, destroyed Shelton block will rise from ashes

The aftermath of the downtown Shelton fire scene.
The aftermath of the downtown Shelton fire scene.

I had the opportunity to live in Phoenix, Ariz., for eight years. Throughout the “frying pan” that made up Phoenix and several surrounding towns, you would find the symbol of the phoenix bird arising from the ashes on many structures.

It is very disheartening when fire strikes and devastates any area, disrupting the lives of so many. Shelton has seen this happen much too often.

Shelton is a community that will, however, never let these tragedies destroy their community and is accustomed to seeing many wonderful things rise from the ashes of buildings and programs destroyed by fire.

In 1975, the sponge rubber plant downtown along the Housatonic River was torched, and hundreds of families lost their single source of income overnight.

Shelton, with the support of the late state Rep. Dick Belden, was able to cap the site and resurrect it into a wonderful mecca for sports, music, theater, private outings and open space for all to enjoy.

Not so long ago you may remember that another inferno took down the Boys & Girls Club in downtown Shelton.

That corner on Howe Avenue was rebuilt into much needed housing for seniors, and the new and vastly improved Lower Naugatuck Valley Boys & Girls Club at One Positive Place rose from an old factory building next to a deserted canal and lumber yard.

The local Boys & Girls Club has since grown a second location in Ansonia, and a third location is being planned in Seymour with community support.

Nothing but the clothing on their backs

The most recent tragedy in downtown Shelton thankfully left 29 people alive but homeless — and literally with nothing but the clothing on their backs.

Our first responders faced darkness, a raging fire in a tinderbox building that was collapsing, water main brakes and frozen water hydrants.

True to their commitment, the volunteer firefighters held nothing back. They rescued everyone from apartments while crews and equipment from the Derby, Ansonia, Seymour, Monroe and other area towns brought mutual aid.

Ansonia fire personnel and trucks, standing by at Storm Engine in Derby, laid down hoses almost 1,000 feet from downtown Derby over the bridge to Shelton to supply additional water to fight the fire.

Sacrifices of first responders

The swift, coordinated and precise response by all concerned was not magic but came from the first responder volunteers sacrificing their own time from family, work and recreation to train and practice to protect each of us and our property.

So the next time you come upon a boot drive, please don’t look for ways around it or curse the slowed traffic. And when a request for a donation comes in your mail from your local firehouse, don’t look at it as junk mail. Every donation is very much appreciated and no donation is too little.

When you dial 9-1-1, they are always there for you, so be a friend of your local fire station and let them know you care and appreciate their dedication.

Local firehouses are always looking for people who aspire to be volunteer firefighters.

The utility companies also supported our first responders’ rescue efforts.

Overwhelming generosity by community

Even before the Howe Avenue fire was completely out, the Echo Hose Firehouse was sheltering and caring for those displaced by the fire.

And within hours and without missing a beat, the citizens of the Valley began to donate clothing, food, gift cards and money to help the survivors.

This overwhelming and welcome generosity filled the whole top floor of the firehouse. Volunteers came out to sort and organize the donations while TEAM Inc., Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce, My Sister’s Place and other community support groups stepped up to begin the task of helping the survivors put their lives back together.

Lists of available apartments were prepared, shelters were contacted, and calls went out for aide to assist the victims.

Post-holiday spirit of giving

So while most retailers are putting up Valentine’s Day sales signs, the Christmas spirit of giving is still very much alive and well in the Valley.

The extra donations will assist in filling up and supporting our many shelters, food banks and other charitable programs. Gift cards and furniture donations still are needed.

Everyone in the community should be proud of the response made to this very sad event.

If you made resolutions for New Year’s, I hope you are successful in keeping them but please remember those who lost everything and our first responders in your 2014 prayers.

New development will happen on site

I look forward to the rise of a new development along Howe Avenue that will include the wonderful eateries and shops we unfortunately lost. They had supported those who lived and worked in downtown Shelton for many years.

I hope they will be able to return to an even bigger and better venue, bringing more visitors to downtown Shelton.

Anthony F. Simonetti is chairman of the Shelton Republican Town Committee as well as an alderman for the First Ward.