Friday, January 4, 2008

Cold & Fires

First off, the past two days have been very cold here. Wednesday night had to be the coldest night of the year with lows down in the lower teens. With the very low temperatures the fire danger increases as people do crazy things to keep warm. We actually had two structure fires Wednesday night and Thursday morning both somewhat related to the cold.

Wednesday Night
The first fire the home owner was very lucky. They actually had a chimney fire. They called 911 shortly after 9pm and advised that they thought the fire was out but wanted the FD to come out and check it. Lucky for them they made that call. When our first units arrived they advised nothing showing and a couple minutes later canceled all other units. Since it was about a 10 mile drive by fire truck from my station I was still in standby mode since we had two stations closer anyway. About 30 seconds later the Incident Commander who was our chief came back on the radio and asked to have all units including our Mutual Aid (two other fire Dpts) paged out. I thought oh crap, something has flared up and now the whole house is on fire.

I had about a 3 minute response to Station 3 and shortly thereafter we had a 3 man crew on Engine 64 and a driver on Tanker 2. I was the Engineer(Driver) on E64 and had Bobby as Captain so we sped away thinking all the time oh crap, this is not going to be good. It was 19 degrees at that point. As we were en route the Chief advised that they thought the fire was out and canceled our mutual aid. He asked that our unit come on in and provide salvage and overhaul manpower.

We went inside and found out that the flue on the chimney which was a metal pipe had actually vented the fire out one of the joints and had started catching one of the studs on fire in the attic. Luckily, since the home owner had called 911, one of our Lieutenants went up in the attic to make sure there was no hidden fire and once he did, he found a spot smoking on a stud. He had a water extinguisher with the inside crew so he just quickly squirted some water on it and the fire was out. Another 5 minutes and the whole attic of this house would have been on fire and we would have had a much worse outcome.

In order to check for any other hidden fires, we had to take out probably a 6 foot by 6 foot section of sheet rock then clean out all the insulation around the flue pipes. Let me tell you, as firefighters we can tear some stuff up quick if needed to get to hidden fire. Since fire fighting is a total team effort, you never know what you may end up doing. So I was stuck holding the trash can while one of the guys shoveled out insulation from up above me. I can tell you, thats some nasty dusty stuff. We used our thermal imaging camera to check for any hidden heat or fires also. After we were all satisfied there was no fire, we swept and cleaned the floor of the debris. Lucky for this home owner all they will have to do is replace some sheet rock and insulation. Speaking of insulation, the blown insulation tends to hold fire so it had to be cleaned out totally in the burn area. We were pretty happy that we didn't have to pull a hose line or spray any water from the pump especially with the temps. The strange thing about this fire is that about 8 years ago we fought a fire in the same house. The house didn't burn down twice so thats a good thing!

Thursday Morning
I did not make this fire as I had to be at work. This one was not good. A single mother and her three small kids were asleep in her mobile home when she awoke to the smell of smoke. She quickly got up and got her kids to safety before the whole trailer went up in flames. They had no gas heat and were relying on a space heater in one room to keep warm. It was later found that her 4 year old decided to play with matches while the others were asleep and when he lit the match, he dropped it on the couch which immediately went up in flames. There were no smoke detectors so it was a stroke of luck that they got out alive. The trailer was a total loss and so was all of their belongings. This young mother of three is actually one of our probationary fire fighters. There has already been a bunch of donations of clothes and money from area fire departments so they will be well taken care of. This was one of those cases where things could have been much much worse. Clothes and belongings can be replaced, lives cannot.

This is the time of year when people become careless, not cleaning their fire places, using unconventional methods to stay warm, etc. Candles are the biggest cause of fires that I have seen and some people think they can keep warm by burning these. If you have young children, keep matches and lighters hid and away from their reach. Not smoking helps eliminate this pretty quick. Be careful out there and think.

1 comment:

Susan said...

It is uber-cold here in Lake Tahoe!