In the previous post, Hammock Publishing’s Bill Hudgins provided his first-person account of the fire at the historic First Presbyterian Church in Gallatin, Tenn., outside of Nashville. This morning, he returned to the church to help other church members begin the clean-up. Here is his follow-up account:
A clear cold morning revealed the true extent of the previous night’s fire damage to First Presbyterian Church in Gallatin, TN. Actually, the morning started with a scare, because around dawn, it was clear that some part of the roof was still burning. The stream of smoke, backlit by the sun, whipped away in the breeze behind a TV reporter who was doing a live remote from in front of the church. I was home watching, and wondered if she was going to stand there and comment while it burst into flame again. Fortunately, the fire station is a block away and they had been checking, too, and were there as the reporter was signing off and before I could think to grab the phone.
They were still there an hour or so later when I arrived to see what was happening. It’s a good thing to have builders and contractors and construction company people as members of your church. A generator was going, powering up lights and a shop vac. A couple of kerosene heaters were blasting away. I was assigned mop detail, to push water out of the ground floor. Anyone who has ever run a mop or a squeegee knows that you lose as much as you move, but if you keep at it long enough, dry spots start to appear. And so they did-we mopped below as, above and off to one side. firemen sprayed more water and hacked glowing chunks out of an ancient poplar beam that had resisted wind, rain, hurricanes, snow and ice storms and time itself, and now appeared reluctant to give up the last remnants of the fire.
Our sheriff had offered the aid of a group of trustys, from the jail just a block or so away. They pitched in with vigor, bringing ash and moisture damaged hymnals and Bibles out of the sanctuary, boxing them up and loading them on a pickup. I was packing the boxes in the pickup and wound up being interviewed by another TV team doing the follow-up story. We drove the books about 100 feet to another door and the trustys and others carried them upstairs to the relatively unscathed library where Servpro would take them to be cleaned. A funny story – one of the women of the church was determined to find something to do to help, and grabbing a broom, proceeded to sweep in front of us guys as we labored up the steps with the boxes of books. Someone gently directed her to another place to sweep so we didn’t have to stand there while she cleaned the path for us.
Our aged pews were recently restored by a master craftsman here in town. Most escaped water damage, because the fire was concentrated at the front of the sanctuary, but they had soot and ash all over them. As some guys who work for a local contractor unbolted pews, the trustys carted the pews out, to be taken to Cresent Furniture’ warehouse here for storage and cleaning. I spotted one pew outside in the sun, waiting to be moved. Someone had left a book on the seat, and the clean rectangle of rich red plush upholstery shone in the sun, surrounded by gritty grey.
Before noon, the fire finally appeared to have given up, and the hoses had been coiled and stored. I heard the siren go off down the block – another call, elsewhere. I hoped it was a false alarm. All this time the temps had been in the mid to upper 20s. That’s cold, and I realized I was suddenly very chilly, but it could have been worse if the temps had dropped just a few degrees further in the night, to the teens as they were over Christmas weekend. The sun was out, and salt lay everywhere, and our footing was pretty decent.
Another funny story. My wife came down and saw the interior damage for the first time. She was talking with one of the church trustees, praising the job the jail trustys were doing. He misunderstood and thought she was complimenting him and his two equally elderly colleagues. He did think it was pretty funny when she explained.
By a bit after noon, the trustys and the Servpro guys were carrying out bags of insulation, soaked ceiling tiles and debris, plus rolls of drenched carpet. The contractor and his crew were bracing up the roof over the organ at the very front of the sanctuary, to allow them to place tarps over the hole. The blackened walls of the sanctuary gave off a fine rain of dust and soot, caught in sunbeams streaming through the roof. We had a brass cross mounted in the center of the organ pipes, and it was still there, stained, wobbly, but otherwise undamaged. A blackened glass cup on a shelf in the back held 40 cents, someone’s honor contribution for a copy of the “Upper Room” of which four more, sooty copies lay on the shelf. We’re going to have a prayer meeting at 6 in the parking lot, and a meeting of the church membership afterward to discuss the future. As our minister said, the church building burned but the church is undamaged, and goes on.