Chester House innkeeper’s calm helps to save historic structure

Firefighters from several towns stage along Main Street to help fight a fire at the Chester House Inn shortly before midnight on Monday. This and cover photo by Marie Tyrrell.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Firefighters work to douse the fire at 266 Main St. Photo by Marie Tyrrell.

Chester Fire Chief Matt Wilson credits the Chester House Inn owner’s calm demeanor and  knowledge of firefighting in helping firefighters extinguish a chimney fire that had spread into the walls and roof and could have been much worse.

There were no injuries and everyone including pets made it out of the burning building. The fire was called in just before midnight on Monday.

According to Wilson, innkeeper Bob Francis — who was a volunteer firefighter for 25 years in Connecticut before moving to Chester — remained calm and gave firefighters a lot of valuable information about the fire even before they had left the station for 266 Main St., across from the Green in Chester.

A chimney fire burned upward at the Chester House Inn. Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

“He was able to tell us that the fire was in the walls with his initial call,” said Wilson. “And,  as we were leaving the station, he told us the fire had gone through the roof. We were able to upgrade to a second alarm because we knew we had a structure fire before we arrived.”

Wilson said that Francis did “an awesome job throughout, keeping his composure while giving our guys perfect directions on getting to the fire.” The second floor was “black-out conditions and old school, crawling on the floor to find the fire.”

On Tuesday morning, Francis told The Telegraph that he and his wife Jan had just gone to bed at about 11:45 p.m. when he noticed a crackling sound.

“It sounded like sleet on the roof,” Francis said, adding that he then went downstairs to investigate and found that the fire alarm system was in ‘trouble mode’ and when he reset it, the panel went dead. “I guess the fire burned through the wiring,” he said. At that point, he said, the smoke alarm went off and his wife Jan yelled that there was fire in the walls.

Pointing to a spent fire extinguisher near the back door, Francis said he put out the fire in the first-floor wood stove, called 911 and got the couple’s three dogs and one cat out of the house.

Damage to the 2nd floor, including the Francises’ bedroom, caused by the fire. Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

Wilson said that the fire caused heavy damage to the first and second floors in the middle section of the house, where the owners live, and burned through the roof. There was also smoke and water damage in the kitchen.

The main part of the house, which fronts on Main Street, was built in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The newer portion, which includes the innkeepers’ home, was built in the early 20th century. The entire complex is a contributing structure to the Chester Historic District.

Francis said there were no guests in the inn, although they are fully booked for this weekend. A cleaning crew had arrived on scene early Tuesday morning, but if the inn is unable to function by then, Francis said, Bret Rugg of the Fullerton Inn said he could accommodate some guests.

The Chester Fire Department, which was called out at 11:47 p.m., was able to return home at 4:30 a.m. The Chester Ambulance and firefighters from Proctorsville, Springfield, Bellows Falls, Grafton, Rockingham, Westminster and Ascutney also responded while Reading and Weathersfield covered the Chester Fire Station.

According to a fire department press release, the Chester Fire Auxiliary provided coffee and snacks at the scene with the help of the Fullerton Inn.

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  1. Richard Pease-Grant says:

    What about his wife, are you kidding me?

    Come on, someone had to stay there and fight the fire while he saved the dog!

    Sheeesh! 😉 you shouldn’t need that explained to ya! I can tell you must not have a dog or a wife!

    ChucKling RP-G

    On a serious note:

    Glad to hear it was no worse! kudos to all! CFD is all over it again!


  2. Second paragraph…
    “There were no injuries and everyone including pets made it out of the burning building.”

  3. Brad Benedict says:

    He got the cat and dogs out, but what about his wife, Jan?