Note: In February 2012, the New England Newspaper and Press Association honored the “Mission: Iraq” series with second place in the special award category in the New England Better Newspaper competition.

For 220th soldiers, life begins after Iraq

Published  April 26, 2011 12:15 pm

By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — The soldiers sat quietly in 11 straight rows facing forward, a mass of green, tan and brown camouflage.Fifteen months ago, more than 150 Army reservists from across the U.S. left their jobs and families to prepare for deployment to Iraq with the Keene-based 220th Transportation Company.
Together they spent four months training at Army bases across the country, a few weeks acclimating to the desert heat in Kuwait and then more than nine months living in northern Iraq. During their time at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, outside Tikrit, the unit completed 170 convoy missions, logging more than 400,000 miles.
Friday evening, 146 of the soldiers gathered one last time in a small chapel on a military base in New Jersey for a ceremony that officially ended their deployment.
Family members and friends filled rows of chairs behind the soldiers. For many of the soldiers, the occasion was the first glimpse in months of their loved ones. Others wouldn’t see their families until they arrived home.
Brig. Gen. Peter S. Lennon, who leads the Pennsylvania-based 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command to which the unit belongs, told the soldiers Friday’s ceremony marked “the final page in your deployment scrapbook.”
Despite the soldiers’ solemn faces and stiff postures, an air of excitement buzzed through the room. Knees bounced, feet shuffled and occasionally a soldier glanced back, flashing a smile at a mother, a father, a wife or a child.
They were all ready for the next chapter. Continue reading

A time to salvage

Brattleboro fire victims are allowed to check what they left behind

By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

Published April 21, 2011

BRATTLEBORO — When the fire alarm sounded Sunday night, Shawnna M. O’Connor headed for the street.

Thinking the alarm would last just long enough for firefighters to discover burnt food in one of the 59 units of the Brooks House, she left her 7-year-old cat, Juniper, inside her fourth-floor apartment.

“I knew where she was, but I didn’t think it was that big of a fire,” O’Connor said Wednesday. “About six months ago there was an alarm but it wasn’t a big fire.”

But as she reached the street and stepped into the Harmony parking lot to see flames shooting from the back of the building, she realized it wasn’t so minor.

Fire officials say a staple that pierced a wire in the third-floor ceiling sparked the electrical fire that could have been smoldering for more than a day before flames destroyed much of the fourth floor and a fifth-floor penthouse.

In the three days since O’Connor and an estimated 59 other residents have been homeless, she called local veterinarians and the humane society, hoping Juniper escaped and was turned in.

But there was no sign of Juniper. Continue reading

Fire caused by wire

Blaze extinguished, Brattleboro turns to victims

By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

Published April 20, 2011

BRATTLEBORO — An electrical fire that badly damaged a historic Brattleboro apartment building may have smoldered for more than a day before setting off the alarm that drew about 150 firefighters from three states, officials say.

The cause, they said, was a staple that penetrated wiring in the building.

During a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, town and fire officials credited the teamwork of fire crews from more than 20 Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont towns, and numerous town departments, for saving the 59-unit Brooks House from complete destruction.

The building sustained severe fire damage Sunday night to the fourth floor and a fifth-floor penthouse, and smoke and water damage on lower levels.

No one was injured in the fire, which officials estimate displaced up to 60 residents and at least seven businesses that occupied the building. Continue reading

Damage done in Brattleboro fire

Building fire called a tragedy for Brattleboro

By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

Published April 19, 2011

BRATTLEBORO — Fire investigators determined that an electrical problem led to a five-alarm fire at a downtown Brattleboro apartment building Sunday night, according to town officials.

The result of a day-long investigation at the 59-unit apartment on the corner of Main and High streets, known as the Brooks House, was released late Monday in a news release from Brattleboro Town Manager Barbara Sondag.

Several blocks of downtown Brattleboro surrounding the building were closed to motorists and pedestrians Monday as fire crews monitored the building for hot spots and engineers worked to determine the structural damage to the building.

Most of the fire damage was contained to the fourth floor and a fifth floor penthouse that houses four apartments, according to Brattleboro Fire Chief D. Michael Bucossi.

The lower floors sustained extensive smoke and water damage, Bucossi said.

It is unclear when the residents of the apartments or the owners of the 10 businesses located on the ground floor will be allowed to go inside.

Main Street will be open today to pedestrians, and businesses across the street from the building will be open, but vehicle traffic will be restricted, town officials said.

No injuries were reported in the fire, which drew about 150 firefighters from 22 Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont communities. Three firefighters were taken to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital early Monday for precautionary treatment, Bucossi said. Continue reading

Brattleboro closed after fire

5-alarm fire hits historic Brooks House downtown


Published April 18, 2011

BRATTLEBORO — A five-alarm fire ravaged a historic 59-unit apartment building on Main Street that also housed several businesses.

The blaze, which began Sunday at about 9 p.m. at Brooks House, wasn’t declared under control until 6:36 this morning, according to Brattleboro Fire Chief D. Michael Bucossi.

“It’s the biggest fire I’ve seen in my 33-year career,” Bucossi said.

No residents were injured, but three firefighters were taken to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for precautionary treatment this morning and were later released, Bucossi said.

At the fire’s peak, 150 firefighters from 20 to 25 departments in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts helped in the attack. Thirty-five remained this morning. Continue reading