After the blaze, Bridgewater pulls together

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Mike Nauss, fire chief of the Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Department, stands in front of the wreckage from the blaze. Nauss spent hours on the scene, from when it was first called in to knocking down the fire to coming back to deal with hot spots.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Jessica Nash, a full time paramedic and volunteer fire fighter with the Bridgewater department, was on the scene the night of the fire and came by a couple times to deal with hot spots as well.</p>
  • <p>PHOTO COURTESY DAVID MITCHELL</p><p>A little girl was spotted handing out cookies to firefighters the morning after the fire.</p>
  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Young tattoo artist Rennick Clattenburg lost all of his equipment and supplies in the blaze. Clattenburg and his mentor Aaron Kaizer are the subjects of a GoFundMe campaign to help cover costs. Their shop - Artistic Issues, was completely destroyed.</p>

From starting fundraisers for friends, to bringing pizza or cookies to firefighters, to just expressing their sympathies on their local newspaper's Facebook page - the citizens of Bridgewater weathered a difficult week together.

The blaze that ripped through three historic buildings on King Street was one of the worst fires Mike Nauss, chief of the Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Department has ever seen within the township.

"This is the biggest one I've been on that's actually in Bridgewater," said Nauss. "I knew we were going to have a big fire but my thought was 'We have to keep it controlled to this one area and don't let it escape the block area' and we met our goal."

It wasn't long after the fire had been knocked down that locals started to stop by and drop off snacks or water. Bystanders took note however when a tiny girl in a cardboard crown came over to hand out cookies. Nauss says his wife babysits the little girl and when she noticed he wasn't around Monday morning like he usually is, she grew concerned.

"My wife told her I was down at the fire scene and she decided she needed to make some treats for the firefighters," said Nauss.

Nauss says the community has been very understanding of the situation and many showed up to make sure the volunteers had something to eat or drink. He also says he's proud of all of the firefighters in his department and all of those who responded for mutual aid.

Over and over the department was called in to deal with hot spots. People like Jessica Nash, a 27-year-old volunteer with the Bridgewater department, came out to help as much as they could.

"I was mostly on one hose line with somebody else going into the windows," said Nash.

Nash is a full time paramedic. Despite the already hectic workload of that job, she tended the fire as much as she could fit in with her work schedule. Coincidentally, she had been at a networking conference for female firefighters just hours before the blaze began.

"When I got here the fire wasn't through the roof yet, but that happened pretty quickly," she said.

When LighthouseNOW spoke to her, Nash was helping to tend hot spots that were continuing to pop up during the investigation and demolition.

Bridgewater's own mayor - David Mitchell, also came down with treats for firefighters, including ten pizzas, an act that prompted a letter to the editor in this week's LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin.

The mayor posted about the blaze on his Facebook fan page the day after, lauding community members, first responders, town employees, and neighbouring communities.

"We are grateful that nobody was hurt and despite the loss of the businesses in the affected area, we know that our town is strong, the area will be rebuilt and will emerge better than ever," wrote Mitchell.

Speaking to LighthouseNOW, Mitchell became emotional.

"They just do it, they just soldier, on, I can't even wrap my head around how they do it, I'm not a firefighter," said Mitchell. "It's amazing, I just keep going back to that word, it's amazing what they did."

Watching livelihood go up in flames

Rennick Clattenburg was having a pretty typical evening before finding out the tattoo studio he works in had been caught up in the devastating fire. He had gone for a motorcycle ride and even popped by the studio that afternoon to grab his favourite sweater before visiting a friend.

The 20-year-old Lunenburg County man was home that evening when friends started calling and texting him telling him the building was on fire. Clattenburg rushed down to see what was happening.

"To see something you live for as a passion be up in flames right in front of your eyes is just devastating," he said.

Clattenburg is well-known in the community for his artistic talent as he started tattooing young - at 13, in fact - apprenticing under Aaron Kaizer at Artistic Issues.

As Kaizer was taking time off to recover from surgery at the time of the blaze, Clattenburg says he felt like it was something out of a TV show when he discovered the shop he was minding was on fire.

"It's like one of those scenes where the parents go out of town and they tell the kid not to do something," he said, chuckling a little.

Clattenburg acknowledges there was nothing he could do and that his mentor told him as much; still, it's been difficult for him to process.

"I just felt terrible and I didn't know what to do with myself."

Unfortunately for the tattoo artists, they were uninsured and are now out thousands of dollars worth of tattooing equipment, ink, and other gear.

Since the fire however, the pair have been on the receiving end of not only two GoFundMe campaigns online, but also dozens of messages from tattoo artists across the province offering space at their studios, supplies, and use of equipment.

"We've had a lot of tattoo artists reach out to us, especially ones I look up to," he said.

For now though, Clattenburg says he and Kaizer are taking a break from tattooing. Kaizer is still resting after surgery and they need time to determine where they might set up again.

Clattenburg says they are overwhelmed by the response from the tattooing community, but also wants to thank the first responders and local residents as well.

"I do want to give a personal shout out on behalf of the shop," he said. "[The firefighters] did their best to save what they could."

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