Andale church parishioners pick up the pieces after fire damages roof

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

St. Joseph Catholic Church parishioners and neighboring community members spent Monday morning clearing out the parish after a fire heavily damaged the roof.

Pew after pew was carried out and removed from inside the church. Many of the pews still in good condition after the fire.

For many long-time parishioners of the church, like James McFadden, it holds a special place in their hearts. McFadden held back tears thinking about the memories made there, "I was married here and all my kids were baptized here."

It wasn’t just Andale residents out helping but people from neighboring communities banded together to clear up the mess.

 Lynette Markel said, "we help each other out when there is tragedy ... It touches my heart to see."

Inside the church the floor is covered in soot and it remains damp from fire crews fighting the flames.  Sedgwick County Fire Department is estimating about $1 million dollar in damages.

When Chase Kear heard about the fire he felt compelled to help with the clean-up, "we all take care of each other and everybody pitches in."

While a number of outside fire agencies assisted with getting the fire contained.

The Wichita Fire Department is getting a lot of heat for leaving the scene.

The Wichita Firefighters Union posted a message on its Facebook page blaming the Wichita Fire Department administration for the poor decision to leave.

The post stated, “The Wichita Professional Firefighters deeply regret the unfortunate decision to abandon our brothers and sisters of the Sedgwick County and surrounding volunteer fire companies during a difficult firefight in Andale early this morning. Rest assured this was not our decision but that of the Wichita Fire administration. The decision to leave in the middle of a firefight effecting a building that is so important to the community was irresponsible and not consistent with the long-standing traditions and standards we as firefighters hold dear. There is never a situation in which this is a good and responsible decision. We pray for a speedy recovery of our brothers injured while doing what firefighters do. We hope you can find it within yourselves to understand and again we are sorry.”

Wichita Fire Department Chief, Tammy Snow, tells KAKE News she is disappointed in the decision by the battalion chief on duty to leave and admits its own policies were not followed. Chief Snow said, "our policy is to obtain permission from our deputy chief or above and that didn't occur. We didn't follow our own policy. There was an error in judgement and we had our units respond back."

While many are still sad this beloved church is damaged they're counting their blessings it wasn't a total loss.

McFadden said, “the church is a building but the church is also a group of people. The people are still here and they will rebuild."

Two firefighters were injured and treated at a local hospital with burns and smoke inhalation. Both have been released at this time.

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