In the middle of a village gathered in celebration, Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In workers mourned while celebrating one of their own.
Jill Vanselow took Thursday night off from serving ice cream at Jumpin’ Jack’s because she wanted to be well rested for the Scotia drive-in’s annual pre-Fourth of July fireworks display on Friday. It’s the Scotia landmark’s biggest day of the year.
In many ways, at least for the workers, it was one of the saddest.
“It’s gonna be a tough day,” Mark Lansing Jr., the drive-in’s manager, said Friday afternoon. “She always said the fireworks was her favorite night of the whole year.”
Vanselow, 55, died Thursday night in a fire that started in her basement apartment, located in the left rear corner of the Ten Broeck Apartments in Scotia.
As thousands gathered at and around Jumpin’ Jack’s for a fireworks show, the familiar shouts of workers calling out orders and heralding tips could be heard. But those workers had Vanselow’s initials, JV, written on their hats or arms. The joyous celebration of summer doubled as a fitting memorial to someone described by all as upbeat.
“We are going to use the fireworks and dedicate it to her as a remembrance of her life,” owner Mark Lansing Sr. said Friday night. “She was a happy person. She wouldn’t want us to be miserable,”
As thousands milled about, some with trinkets bought from sidewalk vendors, and awaited the night’s entertainment, workers smiled and shouted and remembered an 11-year employee.
“She was always happy,” said Anthony Puglisi, the ice cream manager. “She always wanted to find a better way to do things. She really cared.
“I’m numb. Down here, it’s family.”
Born in Syracuse, Vanselow wasn’t married and had no children. Her love for her job could be seen in her last Facebook profile picture — an ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles.
“She was great,” Lansing Jr. said. “Always said ‘Hi’ to you, always smiling. She’s gonna be missed quite a bit.”
The fire’s cause was not determined Friday, as state Office of Fire Prevention and Control officials continued to investigate the blaze that started in the area of Vanselow’s bed, Scotia Fire Chief Ken Almy said.
Scotia firefighters were called to the 11 N. Ten Broeck building, located down the road from the Fire Department, at about 8:10 p.m. They arrived in under a minute to find heavy flames coming from the front and rear entrances and smoke throughout, Almy said. The fire was called under control about three hours later. Firefighters from Thomas Corners, Beukendaal, West Glenville and Schenectady also responded.
“It was really hot and it was really smoky, and it was a tough fire to fight,” Almy said.
The building’s “balloon frame construction” also caused the fire to spread quickly through the walls, he said. “We ended up chasing it all over the place.”
Firefighters entered the front door and went down to the basement, but were unable to get to Vanselow’s apartment.
“We were just met with heavy smoke and flames and high heat conditions,” Almy said.
“A while afterwards,” after fighting the flames from the outside, crews entered the apartment and found Vanselow’s body inside, he said.
The fire displaced about 20 people who lived in the three-story, 14-apartment building. They received food and clothing from the American Red Cross and were offered shelter, but they all had places to stay, a Red Cross spokeswoman said.
It was unclear if and when they would be allowed to return to their homes. By Friday afternoon, Scotia police had released the building back to the owner, Peter Schult, who was expected to let residents retrieve their belongings.
At the scene of the fire Thursday, Mayor Kris Kastberg said Schult is a reliable landlord.
“I know that the owner of this building is a good owner, code-compliant,” he said.
Chief Almy said there was extensive damage to the building’s basement, especially in the apartment where the fire started. The first- and second-floor apartments directly above also received some damage, he said.
The rest of the building suffered smoke damage, he said.
“There’s a couple areas that are questionable, but for the most part the building’s intact,” he said.
Thursday marked the village’s first fatal fire since 2007, Almy said.
“Nobody likes calls like this,” he said. “We’re a pretty tight-knit community here, and it’s very unfortunate.”