The Freedom Valley Chronicles: The Millennium Fire – Part Thirteen People, Businesses, And Organizations That Helped Residents

A number of people, businesses, and organizations helped the residents of Riverwalk At Millennium following the fire at this rental residential complex in Conshohocken. Some of the assistance was publicly known. Others provided assistance quietly behind-the-scenes.

Some of the assistance involved coordination and logistical support with other organizations. Help also came in the form of nourishment. In addition, cash and product donations were made by hundreds of people wanting to help the survivors of the fire.

A few of the stories follow:

“The Montgomery County Department of Public Safety helped coordinate the response to the fire and its aftermath,” explained Mr. Thomas Sullivan, Director of Public Safety for Montgomery County.

“It was non-stop,” stated Mr. Sullivan. “We had the fire to stop. To contain. We had help from firefighters from throughout the region. After the fire was under control, we still needed to make sure any hot spots did not re-ignite the fire.”

“We used a lot of technology we had received from the United States Department of Homeland Security, especially the communications systems,” continued Mr. Sullivan.

Sometimes the needs of those helped were simple things that most of us don’t even think of as we go about our life each day.

“We helped the hundreds of residents who become homeless that night,” explained Mr. Sullivan. “Ordinary things like getting keys to start their cars. The cars may have survived the fire, but there were no car keys left to operate the cars. The keys were destroyed in the fire.”

Beyond the activities to help coordinate the efforts to stop the fire and help the residents with their immediate needs, the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety also oversaw the after action review of the fire. We’ll have details on this investigation in a future edition of The Freedom Valley Chronicles.

Fire companies and fire departments from throughout a number of counties helped fight the Millennium Fire in Conshohocken. In addition, one fire company utilized its building to directly help the residents that were evacuated from Riverwalk At Millennium.

Residents were brought to or came on their own to the Spring Mill Fire Company Station on Hector Street in Whitemarsh Township.

“Whitemarsh Township Police arrived at our firehouse shortly after about 5:15 PM and asked if I could open the fire station hall because they were going to bring displaced residents from the scene to our building,” explained Ms. Ann Waters. “The police explained that the American Red Cross was on its way to our fire house to help these people.”

“At the time of the fire I was very active in Spring Mill Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary,” stated Ms. Waters. “On the day of the fire as well as the next day, a number of our Auxiliary members provided ice and refreshments to the firefighters that were fighting one side of the fire. We also helped out the Riverwalk At Millennium residents while they were at the fire station.”

“We assisted the American Red Cross in setting up the Spring Mill Fire Company Ballroom for the people affected by the fire,” continued Ms. Waters. “There were food donations coming in from everywhere. I went to the Wawa on Butler Pike to pick up sandwiches and other items.”

At the same time that Ms. Waters was at the Wawa on Butler Pike, a representative of O’Neill Properties Group was also at that location. Both had asked that specific Wawa to make as many sandwiches as the store had rolls – Ms. Waters was there to pick up sandwiches on behalf of the American Red Cross for the residents being brought to the firehouse, while the representative of O’Neill Properties Group was there to pick up sandwiches for the firefighters on the scene of the fire.

The situation was resolved with the Wawa in Plymouth Township providing sandwiches for the residents arriving at the firehouse in Spring Mill and the Wawa in West Conshohocken providing sandwiches to O’Neill Properties Group for the firefighters on the scene of the fire.

“A number of people helped out that night,” explained Ms. Waters. “Among those that provided assistance were Ms. Wendy McEleney, Ms. Traci Hood, Ms. Lavonne Gregory, Ms. Amanda Gregory, Ms. Rita Fleming, and many others.”

“There were lots of questions from the displaced residents,” stated Ms. Waters. “We directed them to the American Red Cross volunteers at the firehouse. They were assigning people to hotels and busses were shuttling everyone to the hotels. Everything was running smooth.”

Ms. Waters noted that a number of area elected officials were on hand to help as well. “It was good to see the Whitemarsh Township Supervisors in the Spring Mill Fire Company Hall. It was nice to have their support.”

Among the businesses in the Freedom Valley that brought food, personal care products, and other items to the Spring Mill Fire Company as well as to firefighters on the scene on August 13 and August 14, 2008, according to Ms. Waters, included:

The Home Depot (Plymouth Township) – Many cases of water.

Wawa (Plymouth Township) – Many sandwiches, coffee, donuts, milk, napkins.

Tony & Joe’s Pizzeria Restaurant (Conshohocken) – Seven pizzas and three large trays of hoagies (to fire fighters at scene).

The Deli on 4th (Conshohocken) – Eight cases of bottled water to the scene.

Trattoria Totaro Restaurant (Conshohocken) – Tray of pasta (to firefighters at the scene), paper products, and cases of water.

Primo Hoagies (Plymouth Township) – Several trays of prepared hoagies sliced and ready to go.

Franklin Deli – Several trays of sandwiches.

Philly Pretzel Factory – Large amount of soft pretzels and mustard.

Edward Freeman Nuts & Candies (Conshohocken) – Assorted snacks.

Radisson Hotel Valley Forge (Upper Merion Township) – Many boxes of personal size toiletries, including shampoo, moisturizers, soap, razors, toothbrushes, and combs, among other items.

Kingswood Apartments/Morgan Properties (Upper Merion Township) – Plastic lunch boxes with bottles of water and information for apartments.

Papa John’s Pizza (Plymouth Township) – Ten pizzas and paper products and bottles of soda.

Anonymous Dentist – Three cases of toothpaste and three cases of toothbrushes.

Anonymous Person – Two large trays of chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

Anonymous Apartment Complex – 25 plus bags with snacks and information on the apartments.

In addition, Ms. Waters stated that cases of potato chips, pretzels, and other snacks were brought by others to the firehouse as were four large blue cube ice chests filled with ice and bottled water. She also noted that many neighbors around the Spring Mill Fire Company brought in baby diapers, baby food and baby formula. “Many of these non-food items were provided to the American Red Cross,” explained Ms. Waters.

“We were getting things ready for the evening when one of our regulars noticed the fire. He called 911,” explained Mr. Paul DiBona, Chef and Owner of Pepperoncini Restaurant and Bar. Located at 72 Poplar Street, the restaurant and bar is about one block away from the scene of the fire.

“We were amazed at how fast the fire spread. The heat was overwhelming. Even a block away, you could feel heat that would be more typical of an open hot oven.”

The reality of what was happening came in the form of a phone call from someone Mr. DiBona – and millions of others – know by name – Mr. Jim Gardner of Channel 6 Action News.

“When the producer told me that Jim Gardner wanted to talk with me live on the air, I didn’t really believe ABC was calling me. At first, I thought it was a buddy calling me as a prank. Then I saw the Action News van parking outside the restaurant. I tried to answer his questions to the best of my ability.”

“It was chaos that first night. You could tell from the faces. Some of the people were just so sad. In disbelief.”

“We went into our hospitality mode. We fed people for several days. We took trays of food down to the fire scene. We gave water to the fire police who were helping to direct traffic.”

“While regulars came in for dinner, no one asked about our specials that night. Others who weren’t regulars also stopped in.”

“I stayed at a buddy’s house that night in Conshohocken, but was able to go home on the second night.”

“During the days after the fire, as things settled down, people still came to look at the scene of the fire.”

“For several days, we had people stopping by just to talk to others. They just needed to be around other people.”

Looking back on those days, Mr. DiBona explains that he stepped up to help people in need – and people helping the people in need – because it was the right thing to do. “It’s just how I was brought up as a kid in Havertown. You do what you can to help those in need.”

Guppy’s Good Times held a fundraiser to help the survivors of the Millennium Fire. “We were proud to help the residents of Riverwalk At Millennium,” explained Mr. Robin Gupta, owner of Guppy’s Good Times.

“We held a large fundraiser about ten days after the fire,” Mr. Gupta continued. “We charged $20.00 per head. Two hundred people attended the function. It was one of our busiest nights. A total of $4,000 was raised from our guests that night.”

“One family received $500 to help them get another pet – theirs had died in the fire,” stated Mr. Gupta. “They seemed very appreciative of the assistance. The next morning, I handed the rest of the cash to Mr. Tony DeFazio who was helping lead the Riverwalk Fire Victims Fund.”

Some of the products donated to help the residents of Riverwalk At Millennium.
A variety of personal care products and clothing were donated to help the residents at Riverwalk At Millennium.

Beyond donations of products to help the survivors of the Millennium Fire, cash donations were made by a number of people and businesses to the Riverwalk Fire Victims Fund. The largest donation came from Upper Merion Township. Mr. DeFazio and Ms. Elise Gaul helped lead these efforts.

According to Ms. Gaul, $18,128.83 was donated to this Fund to help the residents. Beyond the $500.00 that was provided to one family to get another pet for one that died during the fire, the remaining funds were split evenly among a total of 156 residents that received assistance.

Ms. Gaul explained that the following cash donations were made to the Fund (the amounts were rounded):

  • Guppy’s Good Times Fund Raiser: $4,000
  • Conshohocken Merchants Association: $2,000
  • Tower Bridge & Associates/Residence Inn Conshohocken: $3,000
  • Upper Merion Township: $5,910
  • Spring Mill Café: $901
  • Maddie’s in Frazier: $2,050
  • Miscellaneous Donations: $264

The first photograph is courtesy of Mr. Dan Berger, August 13, 2008.

The logo of Montgomery County is owned by and is provided as a courtesy by Montgomery County, 2018.

The logo of the Spring Mill Fire Company is owned by and is provided as a courtesy by the Spring Mill Fire Company, 2018.

The logo of Pepperoncini Restaurant and Bar is owned by and is provided as a courtesy by Pepperoncini Restaurant and Bar, 2018.

The logo of Guppy’s Good Times is owned by and is provided as a courtesy by Guppy’s Good Times, 2018.

The sixth and seventh photographs are courtesy of Ms. Elise Gaul, August of 2008.

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© 2018 Richard McDonough