Emergency Services staff were hailed as heroes by the Greater Napanee Town Council this week after extinguishing a fire at the Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre, early on the morning of Monday, Oct. 23, 2023.
Mayor Terry Richardson opened the Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, meeting of Council by saying, “As most of you are aware, many of us woke up Monday morning expecting to go to work to do our weekly jobs, studies, and chores, as we do every single day. Unfortunately, many of us were awakened yesterday to the sad news that a local landmark in our community has been destroyed. The facility, now known as Lennox Agricultural Memorial Community Centre — maybe more commonly known to many of us as ‘the old arena’ — was engulfed in flames.”
“Thankfully, due to the dedicated work of our local firefighters, assisted by the Loyalist Township Emergency Services and the Kingston Fire And Rescue Services, the blaze was contained to the old arena without destroying nearby facilities or residences,” Richardson stated.
“The work conducted by our firefighters and neighbours should be highly commended,” the mayor continued. “This blaze had the capability of spreading uncontrollably through our community and could have caused extensive damage, but more importantly, loss of life. And of course, there were many town staff from Public Works, Utilities, and command staff behind the scenes, ensuring that our firefighters could fight this blaze. I can’t stress enough the exemplary job conducted by our staff in protecting our community. For that, I would like to thank them.”
“For many from outside our community,” Richardson went on, “the destruction of a 70-year-old cinder block building well past its prime may not be such a big deal — unless you’re from Napanee. Many of us, myself included, grew up inside this facility; it raised us, molded us, and provided us with a place to go, a place to meet friends and neighbours, a place where all the troubles from a demanding world could be left behind. It was a safe place… where parents were comfortable dropping their kids off… It accepted newcomers to our community as well as those who were born and raised here. It has provided the same comforting atmosphere for almost 70 years that it did in 1955.”
The mayor acknowledged the sentimentality of his speech, saying, “I apologize if I’m making this sound like the loss of an old friend, but it really is.”
“The old arena’s legacy is now in the hands of the authorities. I know and trust they will provide closure, and this will allow our community to move forward… We are a resilient community; we will overcome this and be a better community for it… In closing, I want to thank again the men and women of our emergency services and staff, as well as our neighbours who in a time of need supported our community and kept us safe,” Richardson concluded.
Near the end of the meeting, several councillors echoed the mayor’s words.
Deputy Mayor Bryan Calver said he spent a great deal of time at the scene of the fire. “I just kind of sat back in awe and watched our fire team work in conjunction with Loyalist and Kingston,” he remarked. “We don’t get fires like that every day in Napanee, and thank God we don’t, but to see the professionalism and to see everybody working together — it was mind-boggling.”
Calver continued, “I can’t thank you guys enough for everything you do… We had every department in our municipality working on some aspect of this traumatic fire.”
Councillor Dave Pinnell remarked on the miracle that the fire services “prevented houses from going up and other buildings on the fairgrounds. Last weekend, those buildings were filled up with boats and motorhomes and cars… To have that building go up the way that it did and not even the curling club that was right next door to it be damaged: there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Napanee Fire Chief Bill Hammond also took the opportunity to speak, saying, “I know it’s late and everybody wants to get out of here, but I would like to echo your thanks to us… I have to thank the citizens who called 911. I have to thank the neighbours who evacuated… The OPP, EMS, The County [of Lennox and Addington] — we have utilized every single one of our departments as part of our team to be successful in our investigation.”
“Both fires are suspicious and under investigation,” Hammond added. “The Fire Marshal has the lead as the investigating authority, [but] we’re still there. We still have people helping out.”
The Chief also stated that the fire department had offered the Napanee Sea Cadets the option of using the fire hall for their meetings until other arrangements could be made.
“Hats off to this community. We are all a team. We all came together, and that’s why we were successful in saving so much,” Hammond concluded, thanking his new deputy Chief James Feeney and everyone in his service. “We’re proud of what we did as a fire service, and I’m proud of the men and women who served with me that night and into the morning. They did it.”