Commentary: Southington Community Services are the unsung heroes

Glenn Dube, Southington firefighter

Glenn Dube, Southington firefighter

There are many, including me, who view public safety as a team effort. On every team there is the unsung group, the one that sport reporters don’t interview but teams can’t win without. You may know Mariano Rivera, but can you name the middle reliever who kept the game close until the late innings?

Our middle reliever is Southington Community Services. They are essential to the service we provide fire victims, yet few residents realize they exist. Nestled quietly in the former Fire Station 3 on Norton Street, Community Services is led by Janet Mellon, who works with full time employees Mark Fazzolari and John Adams. The department also includes four seasonal employees and 90 volunteers. They provide numerous services to town residents, especially those we encounter in an emergency situation.

As early as possible during a residential fire we call Janet, Mark, or John. That call sparks a flurry of behind-the-scenes activities, all designed to ease the suffering of fire victims. One of those three, often Janet, immediately comes to the scene. The primary objective is to assess the resident’s needs, be it housing, clothes, food etc. Janet’s team will get those things to the family, often while they are still at the scene.

Losing your home to a fire is a sudden, devastating experience. Often assessing needs means first helping emotionally, and it is not uncommon to see a team member holding someone’s hand or providing a shoulder to cry on. It is a visceral and powerful reminder of the importance of Janet’s people to our residents on one of their worst days.

While that team member is at the scene, others are rapidly mobilizing on Norton Street. If the family needs housing local hotels are called to reserve rooms for up to five days. Clothing involves both donated items and taking the family to local stores. They will assist with pets, sometimes finding a hotel that will accept them or placing them at the town’s animal shelter. Toiletries, bathrobes, refills of prescriptions. All the simple things we take for granted that have been destroyed.

In one recent fire the residents were too upset to think about clothing needs after a predawn escape with only what they were wearing. A member of the team worked with their adult children to buy clothes for their parents.

In another poignant case a young boy lost his prized stuffed animal. It was out of production and the team rapidly searched high and low to find a replacement. That exact replica stuffed animal was sitting in a hotel room chair facing the door when its young and heartbroken new owner walked in.

In another fire earlier this year, they were able to work with their contacts to keep the family’s child in the same school district. Keeping that child with his existing friends and familiar school surroundings was a huge weight off that family’s shoulders.

The team will work their contacts tirelessly to provide new furniture, housing, gift cards to local restaurants, or anything the family needs to replace that has been lost. They work closely with the Greater Southington Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to help make this happen. They work with local housing contacts to try, in the case of renters especially, to find a new place to call home. Many times people living in apartments do not have renter’s insurance, making the team’s work even more significant.

One of the first things they do at the scene is to give the family their personal phone number, so that the family can contact them at any time. Janet and her team try to follow each case through until the family is completely reestablished.

While most towns rely on the Red Cross, and Community Services does work well with them, our team provides services that the Red Cross doesn’t, services unique among Connecticut’s towns.

Spend any amount of time at Community Services and you can’t help but be impressed by the overwhelming amount of compassion and caring they have for Southington’s residents. They provide an amazing level of support to those in need, and while unsung, are one of Southington’s hidden gems.

Glen Dube is a Southington fire fighter and a regular contributor to the Southington Observer.

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