McNeill’s Burns; 1 Died

McNeill’s Brewery, local gathering place and pub, was lost to a fire last night during Gallery Walk. One person, not yet identified, died in the blaze which apparently started in the upstairs apartment at 90 Elliot St.

The bar and brewery had been closed since the Covid outbreak.
I have no words, just sadness. RIP

Photos are attached, taken by Deb Valois.

Comments | 3

  • RIP, indeed

    I drove by last night. Or tried to. Most of the street in front of Dewey’s was blocked off because it’s now a demolition zone. There was a big bulldozer parked on top of a stack of debris that used to be the building.

    I’m still making my way through the levels of emotions that arise from this tragedy. The only thing I have access to right now is extreme sadness for whoever was in that apartment. I hope they were either no longer alive by the time the fire started, or they were unconscious and had no idea what was going on. Nobody should be conscious when dying this way. It’s terrifying and cruel.

    Other thoughts that are coming up:
    Memories of how important Dewey’s was to my young, emerging self. I moved to this stretch of Elliot Street in 1994, when I was 20 years old. I spent a lot of time there and at Mike’s. (Apologies for “newcomers” who don’t know that Dewey’s = MacNeill’s, and Mike’s = Kipling’s.) I have a lot of funny stories from Dewey’s, and some of them are even fit to print in a public forum. The friends I made. The parties that ended up there (I’m looking at you, Jon-O’s First Ladies party!) The time I walked by in a nun’s habit on the way to a party (maybe the First Ladies party?), which might be why, to this day, Alfred still calls me “Sister.” The many times I threw people’s coats on a nearby table so I could sit on Fenwick’s throne. The people I kissed there, or left with for… Oh wait… This is a public forum.

    One afternoon I was there with a friend who regularly posts on this forum. We were chatting and kvetching and laughing, and some jerk sitting near us kept trying to get our attention. Ya know, like what happens in bars sometimes. We kept ignoring him until eventually he poked his head too close to us and slurred to me, “How’s your soup?” I barked back, “IT’S CHILI.” And resumed ignoring him.

    Farewell, Dewey’s. No matter how many years go by, I’ll never forget the aroma of hippie sweat, skunky beer, and cigarette smoke trailing in through the front door. And believe it or not, if someone bottled that smell, I’d buy it.

  • Road still closed Monday

    I drove by Monday and the street was still closed. Lots of trucks coming and going removing debris, and few local onlookers out walking by and checking things out.

    There had been some repairs going on to stabilize the building recently. There had been some supports outside holding the wall together.

    Ah, the giant chair. Darts. Ring toss. Music that is too loud.

    The big window in the front was a great feature… you could see who was arriving if you were indoors, and you could see who was there if you were showing up.

  • Info From Ray's Daughter

    ” “I’m Ray’s daughter. I’d like to share some details and dispel some rumors about Ray McNeill’s death. He was told in June that due to the structural instability of the building, the fire department would not be able to send a crew in there safely if a fire were to break out. There hadn’t been a fire in his 30-some years there, and he had an extensive sprinkler system, so he chose to stay. Anyone who loved him knew that you couldn’t tell that man what to do.

    “He knew he couldn’t open the bar this winter, and he didn’t need to be there for construction (in fact, he was told the renovations would be easier if he moved out) so he booked a tiny beach house in Baja, and planned to drive out here to Reno to spend some time with his grandkids and then drive on to there. He drained the sprinkler system so the pipes wouldn’t freeze while he was gone. He had “a few more errands” to do, and there were storms rolling into the Rockies and around Reno this weekend, so he stayed a few extra days. It never occurred to anyone that it was unsafe for him to stay in his apartment after the sprinkler system had been drained.

    “The fire likely started from an old multi-port electrical outlet behind his TV, next to stacks of magazines. He was probably asleep when it happened, as he’d told several people he was going to bed shortly before. From the scene, it looks like he awoke to an apartment full of smoke and fire, and between the smoke and carbon monoxide he only made it to the top of the stairs before he collapsed. My understanding is that smoke and carbon monoxide poisoning makes a person giddy, happy, and unafraid in their last few moments, and I’d like to think that his death was like this, as peaceful as a death by fire could be. His body was not burned, and he was not trapped. It took at least 90 minutes for the fire department to break through the right part of the roof to sight him, and at that point they were certain he was dead. Due to concerns that the recently-burned and completely-soaked wood floor might collapse, they couldn’t risk a firefighter’s life to check. They even brought in an engineer to try to emergently assess the situation, and were told they needed to wait for a team to come in the morning before broaching the scene.

    “I was an EMT in college, and the one cardinal, inviolable rule was that you do not proceed onto a scene until it is cleared for safety. You cannot risk losing a second life. My heart goes out to the firefighter who had to climb back down that ladder and tell the crowd they’d done everything they could. As a doctor, I remember the names and families of every patient I have failed to save. Each one was followed by months where I tortured myself with alternate scenarios where they might have lived. The truth is, we do our very best with the information we have at the time. They didn’t know he was up there – none of us knew for sure, and there was some confusion at the scene about whether he was in Mexico already. Had they known, they still would have had to proceed in the same manner. I promise you no one in that fire station wanted my father to die. There is something called Second Victim Syndrome, which describes the way a doctor tortures themselves after the death of a patient they failed to save. I’m sure firefighters experience it too. I hope they are not haunting themselves with the what-ifs. Please extend your love and support to the Brattleboro Fire Department. They followed protocol. They made decisions that might have prevented losing a second young hero’s life.

    “The building was torn down immediately because it was a risk to the community. What if another fire had broken out? What if people had ventured in? Yes, they drove an excavator onto the main floor to demolish it, demonstrating that the foundation was sound enough for that, but their real concerns were the top floor and roof, damaged by fire.

    “And no, the fire department did not put things from the bar out on the sidewalk for anyone to take. They entrusted what could be saved to a few individuals, with my blessing, and those things are being stored until my sibling and I can go through them.

    “Our community is in mourning. I’ve heard rumors that my dad committed suicide, setting the fire because he knew the fire department wouldn’t go up there. I’ve heard outrage that the fire department didn’t “save him.” I’ve heard conspiracy theories about how they tore down the building to cover up their mistakes. These sensational fantasies and lies are not helpful to a small town dealing with a large tragedy. Please have some grace for everyone involved and the difficult decisions they had to make, with limited time, limited information, and high stakes. Please believe that everyone did their best, and extend your support to *everyone* involved. I know my dad would have.”

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