’It was unlike any day for me’
Acting city manager recalls downtown Denison fire
While Oct. 9, 2019 will go down as a day of loss for Denison’s downtown community, in the eyes of city staff said it also represents a day when the entire community, city staff and residents came together.
One year after the fire, Denison Finance Direct Renee’ Waggoner, who was acting as city manager that day, said she remembers how many groups and individuals came together for the common good that day.
In her nearly 18 years with the city, Waggoner has acted as city manager many times. However, she has never had something quite to the level of last year’s Main Street fire, which destroyed three downtown buildings, happen while she was filing in for the city manager.
“I was filling in as the acting city manager, and I have filled that role on many occasions over the past several years when the city manager is out,”Waggoner said. “But nothing has happened to the level of the main street fire when I was acting city manager. It was unlike any day for me and probably a lot of people within the city haven’t experienced anything quite like that.”
On that day, City Manager Jud Rex, Mayor Janet Gott and other city leadership were away at a state municipal conference in San Antonio. During similar trips, the role of city manager is traditionally handed to senior city staff.
“There is always something going on, issues going on or decisions to make, but it was never something that required bringing together the entire team like that day,” Waggoner said.
Waggoner first learned about the fire at around 10 a.m. when she heard sirens in the distance. This was followed by a coworker talking outside her office and mentioning something happening on Main Street.
“They were very concerned and so I headed down the front stairs and I could see out the front windows,” she said. “Once I got outside I asked what was going on. I could see some smoke across the street and they said there was a fire there.”
Early on, there was some confusion about the scale of the fire, including initial rumors that the fire had been fully quashed and put out. However, the blaze continued throughout the day.
“As soon as I got outside and figured out what was going on, I reached out to the Mayor, Janet Gott, and then to City Manager Jud Rex to let them know what was going on,” Waggoner said. “I texted and called them off and on all day. I am sure it was hard for them to be far away knowing everything was going on.”
Waggoner remembers how multiple city departments came together to assist that day. While the fire department fought the blaze, police helped block off crowds at a safe distance. Public works employees helped maintain water pressure in the district for the firefighter while also working to get gas and electric services cut off. Meanwhile, parks employees worked to distribute water to everyone assisting.
“It was just a team effort by everyone, and not just city staff,” she said. “I know representatives for churches and restaurants were showing up to make sure everyone had food and water.”
Waggoner is always prepared for an emergency while serving as the city manager, but no one is every truly expecting something like this to happen.
“I think we are ready knowing things need to be in place in case something happens, but I don’t think you ever really expect it to happen,” she said. “It’s one of those things you never want to happen, so you never expected, but I always try to be ready for the unknown.”