‘A huge loss’ | News, Sports, Jobs

A young Ken McLaughlin, right, stands with firefighters Carl Smith, left, and Bob Nadon beside a Saranac Lake fire truck during the Santanoni Apartments fire on Church Street on April 13, 1973. ( Company file photo)

As the community remembers him for his decades of service with the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the Police Department, and the Town and Village Courts, Harrietstown leaders are looking for someone to fill his judicial role.

McLaughlin was two years into a four-year stint on the bench. Harrietstown Supervisor Jordanna Mallach said the city has contacted the state’s Fourth Judicial District, in which the city is located, for guidance.

The city council will discuss its options at its next meeting on February 24.

City Clerk Sabrina Harrison said the city may try to appoint a judge from a nearby town in Franklin County. It may also seek candidates who are not currently judges.

Ken McLaughlin swears Lidia O’Kelly as Assistant Accountant for the Village of Saranac Lake in April 2018. (Company File Photo – Glynis Hart)

To become a judge, one would have to undergo a five-day training course to be eligible for the position.

If the city nominates someone to be a judge, they will have to run again in November to retain the seat.

The city contacted the Franklin County Board of Elections to put that seat on the Nov. 8 ballot, Mallach said.

In the meantime, the only other judge in town, Allen Wright, will take all the cases. Usually judges take two weeks on, two weeks off, but Wright will have to be on call the whole time. Wright was elected to the position in November 2021 and court clerk Theresa Callahan started at the same time.

“We have two very green people” said Councilwoman Tracey Schrader.

Harrison, a former city court clerk, said Harrietstown had a relatively busy courtroom for the area.

“It’s a lot for one person” she said.

memories on the bench

Mallach said McLaughlin handled the job with “Respect and integrity.” She said he was smart and “deeply committed” to his work and his community.

“He was a great judge” said Harrison.

His decisions were thorough and he was always respectful of victims and defendants, she said.

McLaughlin became a Saranac Lake Village Judge in 2010. When the Village Court was dissolved in 2014, he became a City Judge. It was then that Harrison began working with him.

Harrison said McLaughlin loved his wife, Kathy Peer, and his dog “Lady.”

“I always remember seeing him around town walking his dog when I went for a morning run,” Mallach said.

She said she still got a nod and a smile from McLaughlin.

Harrison said she received a call from former Franklin County Assistant District Attorney David Hayes sharing the sad news five minutes into a city council meeting last week. The rest of the meeting, she said, town members were “in a state of shock.”

“It was a very difficult meeting to end” Schrader said, especially for Harrison. She had worked with McLaughlin in court for eight years and was saddened by his death.

“Certainly a huge loss” said Harrison.

Ardent Volunteer

McLaughlin has held numerous positions in the local community, including two decades of part-time work with the Saranac Lake Police Department, rising through the ranks of the state Department of Corrections and Community Services, and working as the deputy fire coordinator of the Franklin County.

He was a Republican who got Democratic nominations, an active volunteer, and someone who hung on to work for a long time.

“I just like it” McLaughlin spoke about working justice in a Republican caucus where he was appointed in 2015.

McLaughlin spent nearly 56 years as a member of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department. He was a firefighter for over 40% of the SLVFD’s existence.

McLaughlin started at the age of 18, following his friends. As part of his training, he jumped from the roof of the Petrova Elementary School building into a net held by other firefighters.

He joined the army when he was 19 and served for two years as an infantryman and vehicle mechanic along the Czechoslovakian border. Every time he returned home, he returned to fight fires and deal with emergencies with the SLVFD.

In 2015, at age 67, he fielded more SLVFD calls than any of the department’s 40 members at the time.

“I guess I don’t know how to slow down,” he then said to the Enterprise.

He has undergone countless hours of training.

“It’s probably one of the most serious voluntary organisations, but it has to be”, he told the Enterprise in 2016. “You are dealing with people’s lives.”

In 1979 he rescued a 79-year-old man from a burning apartment on the fifth floor of the Lake Flower Apartments tower block on Kiwassa Road. McLaughlin was the first to arrive and found the unconscious man in a burning chair. He removed his belt, wrapped it under the man’s arms, and dragged him out of the building, saving his life.

In 1992, he helped rescue a woman with no pulse and her baby from a car that overturned in a pond near the Scarface Mountain trailhead in Ray Brook. He took off his seat belt, pulled it out the window and pulled out the car seat with the baby inside.

Her fellow firefighters resuscitated the mother and the baby survived.

“It was quite special” McLaughlin told the Enterprise in 2016.

McLaughlin was most recently the Safety Officer for the SLVFD Dive Team.

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