Editor's note: It is not often that we give a byline to someone not on our staff, but we felt the firsthand account by Swan Lake Grocery owners Rob and Deb Newcomb of the tragic Oct. 6 truck crash and explosion that took the life of driver Andrew McHugh, 23, of South Bethlehem, New York, and severely damaged their store was worthy of an exception. The Newcombs convey a powerful sense of the immediacy of the events of that evening, and an equally strong sense of their heartfelt gratitude for the support of their community in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Where to begin? The phrase "thank you" is too simple.

On the evening of Oct. 6 our world changed. Our tenants, employees, our community and the life of Andrew McHugh in mere seconds changed. Being awakened from a sound sleep by the terrified voice of our tenant, being assured all tenants were safely out of the building, rushing to the store, seems all to be a dream. Yet the reality: A 23-year-old is gone, his friends and family struggling to make sense of the senseless. We with the reality that one man’s dream, challenges and pride of what he built … gone.

The evening so overwhelming with emotion from the realization a life was inside the burning truck, the truck still ablaze, we watch as the building continues to erupt in fire … his life, our life, our employees' futures, all entwined and in the hands of the first responders. One team concentrates on the truck, the others on our store simultaneously, extinguishing the fire.

The firemen … the volunteers … men and women from the towns of Belfast, Searsport, Monroe, West Frankfort and Frankfort Village; working in such unison that one forgets this is not their primary job. True professionals, asking for keys to gain access to the building instead of destroying entrances that might be saved. They entered the fire, think about that. The volunteers entered the fire with hoses and air tanks to fight the blaze from within. Extinguishing the fire using every tool available with pure grit and determination … the blaze was stopped.

"Thank you" cannot capture the depth of the gratitude we have. These men and women were awakened like us from sound sleep, yet it was their job to fight the fire while we could only look on. Without question, without doubt, they worked, they succeeded. They are truly our heroes. Yet one’s job was not complete, Howard Wells, realizing the gaping hole left in our building, offered to go home, where he had some spare plywood to secure the building. We thank you.

To our friends, employees and our loved ones who stayed up throughout the early morning beside us, supporting us with hugs and words of encouragement, we thank you. To our family and friends who lay awake in their homes unable to be by our side, but constantly calling or texting us with love and support, we felt you and thank you. To our friends and family we decided not to awaken that early morning whose love and support is unending … we thank you.

The firetrucks depart …  we go inside our once-vibrant company, askew with debris, water and foam raining down, floors so drenched the water rises over the top of our shoes. Emotions, mixed with the realization of how to begin anew? The offers of help are immediate … with one phone call they arrive: DJ Armstrong, Mac’s Electric, to secure the building, Kienow Refrigeration to disconnect compressors, Arch-Angel computers to salvage what could be saved from mainframe computers. Each available immediately, without question, to offer their unique professional advice … we thank you.

The outpouring of support from the community. The overwhelming offers of help. We have always been the ones willing and able to donate over the years … now you, our beautiful community … graciously, without hesitation, have offered to give back. They say, “It is easier to give than to receive”; this, we can assure you, has been very humbling. We thank you.

An army of volunteers from the Faith Temple church, Belfast Area High School’s football team, MMA friends of our son, AG of New England, employees, family, friends and neighbors all came to help. You, our cherished community, came and offered to help. So overwhelmed by each one's offers we could not find enough tasks for all to help with …. unbelievable. We thank you.

We have received cards and phone calls, donations of food, lunches provided for us and our employees, coffee from Athena at Dunkin' Donuts, cash donations, drinks from Darby’s purchased by our beautiful waitress, gift card from employees of Rollie’s, a much-needed massage from Susan Wieman of Essentials Massage, and lastly a donation from Paws and Claws for a grooming for our dog, who had already been scheduled prior to the fire. We thank you.

We have been truly blessed to be a part of this community. A community which, led by David Moore, came together in prayer to mourn the passing of Andrew. With the help of Father Bob we again offered prayer and blessings to Andrew … his friends and family, our tenants, our employees and construction crew and lastly our store, in private ceremony. We thank you.

We have begun … the healing, the rebuilding. With the tireless efforts of a team of true professionals from Servpro and our general contractor, DJ Armstrong, the interior of our store has been gutted … stripped to the studs. The removal of the exterior to begin this week. The passage of time will reveal the rising of a rebuilt Swan Lake Grocery. Updates can be found on our Facebook page. We thank you.

We are honored to be a part of this community. We cannot wait until once again, we can be the providers of comfort with donations to those in need, the welcoming back of our neighbors in conversation as you shop. Our humbled gratitude, our thanks and assurance to each of you: We will never forget.

May God bless each of you as this year continues.