Blaze hits home of volunteer firefighter who received racist note

Aug 3, 2016

A fire ripped through the home of a North Tonawanda volunteer firefighter who received a racist note earlier this week.  

Apartment complex on Oliver Street in North Tonawanda where fire broke out.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Gratwick Hose volunteer Kenneth Walker is the city's only African-American firefighter. Walker received a letter on Monday containing the "n-word" and threatening him. It said Walker had until the end of the week to resign or he would "regret it."

On Wednesday afternoon, a blaze broke out in the Oliver Street apartment complex where Walker lives.

Amanda Walker, in red t-shirt, is comforted at the fire scene.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Walker’s wife Amanda was comforted at the scene. She tearfully told WBFO News her husband called her at work telling her the house was on fire.

“Absolutely disgusted, heartbroken, scared,” said Amanda Walker. 

The Walkers lost two cats in the blaze. Walker left the scene to meet with police investigators.

North Tonawanda Fire Chief Joe Sikora talking with reporters.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

North Tonawanda Fire Chief Joe Sikora told reporters his department is waiting for further personnel to conduct an investigation, but it cannot call the cause of the fire "suspicious" at this point. 

“It’s under investigation. We are waiting for additional personnel to come in from Office of Fire Prevention and Control," stated Sikora.

But when pressed by reporters for a cause, Sikora said he had "no idea."

“There is very little I can tell you right now," Sikora responded. Arson investigators were on the scene. 

Reporters asked Sikora his response to the racist letter Walker received.

“It’s totally unacceptable. It’s uncalled for. It’s crazy. I don’t know what else to say. It sickens me. I thought we were way past things like this. I’m appalled. I don’t know what else to say,” replied Sikora. 

The apartment complex housed four units. The American Red Cross tells WBFO it is assisting five people who lived in the apartment complex.

WBFO News contacted the City of North Tonawanda Mayor’s office, but Mayor Arthur Pappas is not making any comment on the matter at this time.

Oliver Street in North Tonawanda where blaze broke out.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

An investigation into the letter is underway. U.S. Attorney William Hochul said the letter is being reviewed at the federal level.

Walkers wife also told WBFO her husband is not backing down to the threat. 

"We're not backing down. Ken's going to take care of his family. Not resign. He wants people to know that. It was a racist's threat, but he's not intimidated by it and everybody is working to catch whoever did this," Walker said.