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An artist rendering of Brown-Fuller Memorial Park, which will be built on the site of the former Star Hotel in The Square in Bellows Falls. The building was destroyed in a 1981 fire that claimed the lives of Bellows Falls firefighters Terry Brown and Dana Fuller.

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Park to honor firefighters killed in line of duty in 1981

Community members are raising money to expand efforts to honor the memories of Terry Brown and Dana Fuller, who died in the fire that destroyed the Star Hotel

BELLOWS FALLS—Forty years after they perished in the Star Hotel fire, firefighters Terry Brown and Dana Fuller are being remembered and honored as an ongoing drive seeks to finish the Brown-Fuller Memorial Park.

Currently, two benches donated by the Lions’ Club mark the site of the tragedy.

“The two benches are a great start to a wonderful memorial; however, they do not tell the full story of that tragic night,” reads a fire department Facebook post.

In early 2019, Chuck Wise applied for a state municipal planning grant that was awarded to the town of Rockingham later that year. It covered the cost of designing the park and site surveying.

In early 2020, the fire department formed a committee that included some members who were present the night of the fire to create a vision for the park.

They worked with landscape architect Jana Bryan of Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio of Bellows Falls to look at options.

Starting with an original concept for the park that was drafted in 1984, the group met numerous times throughout 2020, looking at design concepts.

The committee’s goal was to create a space for people to gather that honors Brown and Fuller “and tells the story of that night.”

Deborah Wright has donated, saying she did so “because this community needs a place of remembrance for our firefighters and a place to share our hopes and dreams together in a designated ‘square’ as many towns and villages do.”

Sean Long also supports the effort. “God bless Terry and Dana!” he wrote, thanking the department “for spearheading this beautiful memorial for our beloved firefighters.”

A deadly night

At the time of the Dec. 30, 1981 fire, which is believed to have started in the hotel basement and fueled by a large amount of clutter and trash, firefighters Brent Lisai, Terry Brown, then 21, and Dana Fuller, then 25, were among the first at the scene and entered the hotel at the same time.

Lisai was able to escape the blaze, but Brown and Fuller’s exit down a staircase was blocked by flames. They died of smoke inhalation when the air in their oxygen tanks ran out while they searched for residents who may have been trapped in the building.

Since the blaze, fire codes — nonexistent locally at the time of the fire — and firefighter training have been upgraded.

Firefighters also now have gear tags that allow them to know where an individual firefighter is and who is called into a building to fight a fire.

Lawrence McAuliffe, village manager at the time of the fire, said if the state had enforced safety code violation orders, there may have been less property damage and no loss of life.

The Brattleboro Reformer reported that the state safety officer listed 32 fire code violations that were observed in two inspections months earlier.

McAuliffe characterized the building as “below substandard.”

Brown and Fuller both graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School. Brown took the call to respond to the Star fire while on vacation from what was then known as Castleton State College, now Castleton University.

At the 30th anniversary memorial for Brown and Fuller, former Bellows Falls Fire Chief William Weston said, “We don’t want to remember the fire, we want to remember the firefighters.”

Fundraising for the project kicked off last fall with a spin ride at Flex Fitness that raised $6,500.

Since then, a GoFundMe site has been set up at bit.ly/625-bf-firefighters-park, where $7,345 from 27 donors has been raised of the $30,000 goal.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #625 (Wednesday, August 11, 2021). This story appeared on page A1.

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