Chester barn collapses under heavy snow

Firefighters and rescue personnel from several Windsor County fire departments worked to rescue more than 40 cows at the Roman Way Farm in Chester Feb. 8. The farm is owned by veterinarian Dr. Roy Homan.

The 200-foot-long free-stall structure gave way late Feb. 7 when a quarter of it collapsed due to heavy snow on the roof. Fire Chief Steven Locke said at least 40 cows had been under the collapsed roof buried in snow and debris. More than 20 cows were rescued by noon Feb. 8. Dr. Roger Osinchuk, a Chester vet, was on the scene and told reporters that the trapped animals were unable to stand.

Crews from Brattleboro, the Chester Fire Department, Rutland, Springfield, and Urban Search & Rescue from Hartford, were on the scene.

"Farms have lost livestock to the barn collapses," Deputy Agriculture Secretary Diane Bothfeld said. "There has been no loss of human life, but there are often farm workers in the barn throughout the day and there is a real safety concern for them if a roof collapses while they are working." Heritage Deli, Jiffy Mart, and Lisai's Market in Chester pitched in to help the Homan family farm with food and drinks. American Red Cross of Vermont and the Green Mountain Chapter-Disaster Action Team personnel also arrived on the scene to provide aid.

Guidance for what constitutes a safe load of snow on your roof is based on a number of factors so is not the same for every dwelling. It depends on the age of the roof, the amount of snow on the roof, and the weight of that snow. Warm temperatures on Sunday and Monday have added to the weight of the snow.

John Wood, director of the Vermont Division of Fire Safety says strange noises, cracking, or visible movement of rafters should be signs that your roof is headed for a collapse. However, he does caution that those signs won't necessarily be there before a collapse.

When clearing snow from a roof, work to ensure an even unloading from both sides at a time. Always work in pairs and use a safety line when clearing steep pitched roofs.

The center of the rafters and the center of the building are the weak points. It is advised to keep some 4x4 or 6x6 poles on hand to place under every fourth rafter, or along the center of the roof line. This will provide additional strength to the roof.

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