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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Retired Hartwick professor dies in fire


    It was Norma’s last show.

    On Sunday morning, WZOZ aired the final installment of Norma Hutman’s radio program, “”Issues Oneonta,”” which was pre-recorded.

    Hutman, a retired Hartwick College professor, died a day earlier when her home in the East End was consumed by fire.

    The blaze was so fierce when firefighters arrived shortly before 6 a.m. Saturday that flames were leaping from the upper floor windows on two sides of the house, according toOneonta Fire Chief Patrick Pidgeon.

    Hutman was found dead inside a first floor hallway during the ensuing hours-long fight against the blaze. Her death was ruled accidental, although the cause of the fire is undetermined.

    An autopsy was performed by Dr. James Terzian at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton on Saturday afternoon, according to Otsego County Coroner James Hurley.

    “”Miss Hutman passed away as a result of smoke inhalation, and her death was listed as accidental,”” Hurley said Sunday.

    Hurley, who was called to the scene at 7:30 a.m., said the fire department did an excellent job in a tough environment.

    The home was collapsing around them as they battled the flames, and at one point, a firefighter fell through the second floor.

    “”He was basically able to rescue himself,”” Pidgeon said.

    Firefighters were forced to withdraw from the interior attack and take a “”surround and drown”” posture, as they doused the flames from outside at a rate Pidgeon said was 1,000 gallons-per-minute or more.

    Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich fondly recalled Hutman on Saturday afternoon.

    “”If you had to describe her real essence, you had to describe her as a thinker,”” Drugovich said. “”Norma challenged everyone that she met to think more deeply.””

    Hutman, 76, retired from Hartwick in 1996 after a 32-year career. At the end of her tenure, she was a senior professor in modern and classical languages.

    In 2001, she became professor emerita of comparative literature, Drugovich said.

    She was also a founding member of the Snark and Bandersnatch Readers Theater Group, and was teaching herself Mandarin Chinese, Drugovich said.

    “”She really believed in international experience,”” Drugovich said.

    Last year, Hutman published a collection of children’s bedtime stories, “”A Bunny Named Cup Cake: The Complete Cup Cake Stories.””

    In 2004, she survived the crash of her Cessna Model 172F at the Cooperstown-Westville Airport.

    “”She was an eccentric and a very interesting person,”” said former colleague Dale Burrington, who taught philosophy at Hartwick.

    On her website, Hutman said she came to Hartwick to teach for one year, but stayed for 32, after coming to love both the college and Oneonta.

    In late 2009, she established the Florence and George Hutman Scholarship for International Studies in memory of her parents.

    When she retired, she took on other endeavors. She is credited by many for revitalizing what is now the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, and her “”Issues Oneonta”” radio show featured interviews with community members for more than a decade.

    Huntington Memorial Library Director Marie Bruni was a frequent guest.

    “”I have known Norma for 20 years, and I found her to be a delightful conversationalist. She was very intelligent,”” Bruni said. “”She was always learning, always reading. She was always trying to have stimulating conversations with people.

    Bruni said her appearances on the show were “”always good times.””

    Hutman’s final show featured an interview with Hartwick Professor Harry Bradshaw Matthews in honor of Black History Month. It was taped Wednesday, according to Central New York Radio Group General Manager George Wells.

    “”(Saturday) morning when we first got the news, there was a question about whether to air the show or not,”” Wells said Sunday. “”It was a very quick decision.””

    Wells said Hutman would have chastised him for even thinking about not running it.

    “”She put so much of her heart and soul into that show,”” Wells said. “”The research she put together was extensive. It’s certainly a loss for the whole community.””

    The fire that claimed Hutman’s life may have smoldered for hours before it was spotted by a passerby, according to the city fire chief.

    The Oneonta Fire Department was called to the home by Otsego County 911 at 5:48 a.m. The fire chief, who lives nearby, was on the scene a couple of minutes later. The first fire engine arrived at the home at 5:53 a.m., and firefighters launched an interior attack, according to Pidgeon.

    Capt. Rob Latourette immediately called for a full mobilization of the Oneonta Fire Department, and 31 city firefighters responded, along with personnel from West Oneonta andOtego fire departments. FAST (firefighter assistance) teams from WorcesterFranklin and Sidney also deployed to the scene, along with two Otsego County fire coordinators.

    After the battle against the blaze transitioned from interior to exterior, firefighters encountered low-water volume from hydrants. Tankers from MilfordWells BridgeSchenevus,Davenport and Pindars Corners were called to assist, and the Susquehanna River was used as a water source, Pidgeon said.

    There were three smoke detectors that were found in the ruins of the home, but it was not clear if any were working, Pidgeon said.

    He said he did not hear any activated smoke detectors when he arrived on the scene. Pidgeon also said the collapsing structure and water pressure posed problems that did not have an impact on Hutman’s death.

    “”She was deceased when we got there. It would not have changed the outcome,”” he said.

    There was extensive damage on the second floor in the central area of the home, and this is believed to be where the fire started, although an exact room could not be pinpointed, Pidgeon said.

    The cause is also unknown despite an intensive investigation in the heavily damaged house, which had to be shored up with beams, he said.

    “”It’s going to be ruled undetermined,”” Pidgeon said.

    The fire was not considered suspicious, he said.

    “”I believe she did smoke. That certainly is a potential that can’t be ruled out,”” Pidgeon said.

    The blaze was the 18th response by the fire department in an unusually busy 24-hour period. The department had twice the usual number of calls, with many of them related to the weather.

    A fire engine and ambulance from Laurens Fire Department stood by at the Oneonta station, and Laurens personnel handled three unrelated medical calls during the several hours it took to battle the blaze. Main Street was also closed for part of the morning.

    Wells said WZOZ will air a tribute show next Sunday in Hutman’s time slot that will begin with a recording of Hutmans’ signature greeting, “”Good morning.””

    Wells said he and Mayor Dick Miller, a former president of Hartwick College, are collaborating on the effort.

    “”She was eccentric and we know that,”” Wells said. “”But she was so dedicated to the community. That’s really what I saw with what she brought to that radio program. It was almost like taking the classroom to the entire community.””?

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