SLINGERLANDS – Everyone knows it takes a village, but sometimes it takes a town. It took the initiative and hard work of the Slingerlands Fire Department, its Ladies Auxiliary, as well as Town of Bethlehem residents, local businesses, and churches, to raise $14,644 from a pancake breakfast to benefit eight families, totaling 14 people, displaced by a fire that swept through their apartments on May 30 at 9 and 11 Equinox Court just off Kenwood Avenue.
“It was a community effort that also rallied other organizations including local churches, community organizations, banks, doctor’s offices, and other businesses that contributed, as well as all of the fire departments who responded to the blaze,” said Slingerlands Fire Department Chief Craig Sleurs.
Ladies Auxiliary President Emilie Moss cooked up and served a pancake breakfast fundraiser at the firehouse on June 18 that featured pancakes, French toast, sausage, and bacon.
“We could not have done it without the support of the Slingerlands Fire Department and the many volunteers who were on hand for a couple of nights of prepping, serving food, clearing tables, and taking out the trash,” said Moss.
She said other support was received through in-kind donations of food, like milk and half and half from Meadowbrook Farms Dairy. Reliable Brothers, Inc. donated part of the sausage served and discounted the cost of the rest.
Moss joked that the hardest part was trying to figure out how much to purchase.
“At first we had no idea what to expect because we had never cooked for a couple of hundred people before,” she said.
Moss found a formula online for large catering and relied on that to purchase 72 pounds of bacon, a grocery cart full of eggs, another grocery cart full of pancake mix boxes and a flatbed of juice.
Set up in the Slingerlands Fire Department’s engine bay and main room at New Scotland Road, with four griddles spilling outside the building, volunteers made sausage, French toast, bacon, and, of course, pancakes, for the attendees.
From 8 a.m. to noon, more than 350 people attended the breakfast, and many stayed to eat the 72 pounds of bacon and pancakes made from 52 pounds of mix. Others “just walked up to the table even though they were not there to eat and donated money,” said Moss.
Added financial support came from a lemonade stand set up at the firehouse during the pancake breakfast by three elementary age children. These young entrepreneurs contributed $160 to the recovery fund from all the lemonade they sold that day.
After the breakfast, the fire department continued to receive donations in the mail. The Albany County Firefighters Burn Fund, a not-for-profit organization associated with the Albany County Firefighters Association that assists fire victims in Albany County, also made a donation.
She said another kind of donation was made by the Treasure Cove Thrift Shop on Adams Street in Delmar, who invited the fire victims to come and take clothes they needed from the store.
Moss reported that members of four of the eight displaced families attended the breakfast. She also said that one additional family pulled up in their car, but was too overwhelmed to attend.
After the donations finally tapered off, the fire department recently disbursed the last of the recovery funds. Each of the eight families received just over $1,800 in total, said Moss. She reported that “many tears were shed” when they met the families to give them the donations.
“They were in somewhat disbelief that total strangers would do this for them and they were extremely grateful and humbled by the funds they received,” she said.
“Typically we don’t have that many signal 30 fires [confirmed large structural fires] in the district,” said Moss.
She explained that “anytime there is a fire of that magnitude, they try to do something to help those individuals impacted by the fire, but this one was on a much bigger scale.”
“The families lost everything in the fire,” Moss stated.
She recounted that one of the fire victims, a mother, was incredibly grateful because she did not have any insurance and said the money would be “a huge help to her family.”
Moss said her personal experience provided added motivation to fundraise for the eight families.
“When I was a child I lost part of my house at Christmas time to a fire,” she said. “Going through something like that stays with you and you just want to help people.”
Sleurs spoke to one of the families two weeks ago.
“They are more than happy [with the donation],” he said. “Even though they lost everything, they are still happy that we are giving back to them.”
The May 30th fire burned down two four-unit apartment buildings at the Equinox Court apartment complex and took two hours to be brought under control. Departments had to return the next morning to extinguish the rubble again after it reignited.
“In my 38 years as a firefighter and in my last six years as chief, I never had a fire of this magnitude,” Sleurs marveled “We never had two buildings and brush fire burning at the same time.”
On June 2, Bethlehem police arrested a 35-year-old Delmar man for allegedly lying to the police about starting the fire. Juan Miranda, who lived in one of the burned buildings, allegedly was smoking a marijuana cigarette in the courtyard between 9 and 11 Equinox Court shortly before the fire started and discarded the end into the yard.
According to an Information/Complaint filed in the Bethlehem Town Court, Miranda allegedly made a false written statement during the police’s investigation of the fire. It is alleged in the Complaint/Information that Miranda “identified a fictitious suspect in the case causing the fire when later he admitted to starting the fire.”
Described as a Class A Misdemeanor, the violation is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Miranda was released on his own recognizance.
Miranda’s case is still pending and he is due back in court on Oct. 17, according to the Town Court’s Clerk’s office. Damara Fredette, Miranda’s attorney and an Albany County public defender, said Miranda had entered a plea of not guilty at the time of his arraignment.
In the meantime, Sleurs said he understands that each family has a new residence and “is moving forward with their lives.”
This story appeared on page 1 of the September 27, 2023 print edition of the Spotlight