SLATERVILLE SPRINGS, N.Y. — Lynne Conway almost didn’t stop driving in Slaterville Springs Sunday night. Even now, she says, she isn’t sure what made her turn around.
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When she noticed a faint smell of smoke, Conway figured someone had started a fire to keep warm on a chilly September night. While driving by 2675 Slaterville Road she noticed a faint glow coming from a second floor window, but said it was soft enough to have been the illumination from a fireplace.
If Conway had not turned her car around and taken a second look, there is a chance that the fire, which was most likely caused by an electrical malfunction, would have burned the house down before anyone else was able to call 911. Because Conway’s call gave local fire-fighters advanced enough notice, they were able to arrive with enough time to evacuate one female resident and keep the fire from spreading to any of the surrounding houses.
“I was so relieved to hear there weren’t any injuries. The night could have had a more tragic outcome,” Conway said.
But she didn’t know that at the time. After driving for an hour following her father-in-law’s memorial service in Binghamton, Conway was physically tired and emotionally spent.
But she made a U-turn and, pulled her car into a parking lot next to the house, which, she later noted, happened to belong to the Slaterville’s Volunteer Fire and Ambulance department. From the parking lot, she could distinctly make out flames through the window of a second floor room.
After a moment of panic, Conway parked her car and called 911.
Conway said that she was on the phone with the emergency operator for less than 5 minutes, but during that time the second floor room had become engulfed with flames. She compared the motion of the flames to that of clothing in a drying machine.
“When you look through the window of a drying machine at the Laundromat, you can see the clothes tumbling around in a circular motion. That’s what the fire looked like inside the room—churning flames,” Conway said.
This situation was Conway’s worst fear come to life, she said.
“Fire is my worst fear. I’ve never been afraid of earthquakes, tornados or hurricanes, but I’ve always been afraid of fire. It was incredibly scary, but the fire department wasn’t there yet so I couldn’t make myself leave,” Conway said.
Though Conway said that smoke was seeping out of the window, she could not hear any smoke detector alarms. While it was too dark to make out much detail of the house, Conway said she did see a car parked in the driveway and was afraid someone was asleep on the lower levels of the house, perhaps unaware of the fire on the second floor.
Conway ran to the house and saw children’s bicycles on the porch. The possibility of children inside had her banging on the front door, screaming as loud as she could to wake up anyone that could have been asleep.
After a few seconds of banging and shouting, Conway heard a woman yelling from down the road yelling, “Are they in there?” Conway said that she turned around and saw a local firefighter pulling on her lime green and blue reflective jacket and running at a breakneck pace to the home.
“The volunteer firefighter must have lived close enough down the street that driving would have taken longer,” Conway said, “She was running as fast as she could. I couldn’t help but thinking in that moment, ‘This isn’t just a fire for her; this is her neighbor.’ Slaterville is a close-knit community. In that moment, she had to do the job of firefighter with the empathy of neighbor.”
Conway noted that while she was making the 911-phone call before the fire got out of hand, a handful of cars drove by. She said the drivers were concentrating on the road, looking straight ahead and not paying attention to the second floor window of the house that for some reason she had briefly noticed. Conway said that she is thankful she was paying enough attention.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t seen the fire in the window. The situation could have been a lot worse,” Conway said.
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