GUILFORD -- The seven firefighters sent to the hospital with lightning injuries sustained while battling a blaze in town Wednesday afternoon were treated and released by 11:30 p.m., Guilford Volunteer Fire Chief Jared Bristol said.
He told the Reformer the injured included four men from his department, two from Chesterfield, N.H., and one from Bernardston, Mass. Nine departments from the three states were dispatched to 2468 East Mountain Road for a two-alarm fire that appears to have been started by a separate lightning bolt. Bristol said some firefighters were searching for extensions of the fire on the house's second floor while two others were handling a ladder outside the structure when lightning struck near the proximity of the house.
The Guilford chief declined to identify the injured firefighters, adding that they need to rest and recuperate without distraction. He said they all suffered minor injuries, though some stayed at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for some extra monitoring before leaving no later than 11:30 p.m.
Chesterfield Fire Chief Jeff Chickering said the two firefighters handling the ladder belong to his department. He said one man was on the ladder as the other held it sturdy at the bottom. He also declined to release the firefighters' names. Bernardston fire chief Peter Shedd said one of his firefighters was sent to the hospital due to numbness in one of his arms but was released from the emergency room. Shedd said Rescue Inc. transported all the injured firefighters to the hospital.
Shedd, who had two units dispatched on Wednesday, said all the firefighters at the scene conducted themselves properly in a tough scenario. Torrential downpour made rescue efforts more miserable for emergency personnel, who had to venture into a wooded and secluded area of Guilford to battle the blaze.
"They did very, very well with the amount of lightning strikes that were in the area," Shedd said Thursday. "It's kind of a nerve-wracking job as it is, and when you have that lightning coming down around you, it sort of adds to the stress level."
Firefighting is a notoriously dangerous occupation, but volunteers and professionals are trained how to keep themselves as safe as possible. But Shedd said there is little anyone can do about lightning strikes. He said ladders and water are necessary tools of the trade anytime firefighters are trying to save people and their belongings.
Bristol said all the firefighters performed well under Wednesday's stressful conditions. The house that caught on fire sits at the end of a private driveway that begins at the tip of East Mountain Road, which is just off Bassett Hill Road. Bristol said a delivery truck broke down on East Mountain Road and forced some fire trucks to take Keets Brook Road to get to the scene.
Chickering told the Reformer everyone is very fortunate the injuries sustained were not as worse. He also said it was the first time in his 28 years of firefighting that he has seen a lightning strike serve as the culprit in sending personnel to a hospital.
"I think everybody did a great job, did what needed to be done and did it as safely as possible, as conditions permitted," he said.
The fire departments of Brattleboro, Vernon, Putney, Dummerston, Westminster and Hinsdale, N.H., also responded to the scene.
Brattleboro Assistant Fire Chief Peter Lynch said his department dispatched one truck and five firefighters to East Mountain Road. He said he heard about the injuries sustained at the scene and was glad to know they were not life-threatening. He told the Reformer firefighters never work in ideal situations, but precautions are always taken to minimize risk.
"We pay close attention to the weather and try to predict what any hazards may be to our people. It's not only lightning, but also severe wind or in the case of (Tropical Storm) Irene what the brooks were doing [overflowing]," he said Thursday. "It's always very concerning when you hear that anyone got hurt on an emergency scene."
Lynch said he takes solace in the fact that the injuries could have been much worse. He also urged everyone to use caution during Fourth of July festivities this weekend.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.