Print Story Wore out the wrong one
By johnny (Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 05:19:33 AM EST) (all tags)
On Sunday mornings I'm supposed to go up to "the barn" at Dept of Public Works at around 9:15. There I meet the captain & whatever other guys from my truck happen to show up, and we drive 1 mile down the road to the fire station & back the truck to the driveway & commence radio & equipment check & general hanging out & drinking coffee & bullshitting with guys from the other trucks. All trucks pull out of the station onto the driveway for the radio check. About 10:30 we return the truck to the barn & go home.

But my truck (651, the ladder) is off-island for servicing. So I decided to skip the firehouse & take my dog for a long walk instead. She's really hyper & I wanted to wear her out so I could come home & work without her driving me crazy.

So I got up yesterday, resumed writing an article for my blog -- something I've been working on for weeks in 2-minute increments. It was going pretty well & I really wanted to keep writing but my dog was getting all jumpy and antsy & being a general pain in the ass, so I grabbed the 30 ft leash & said, "OK, let's go". It was about 8:30 in the morning.

There's a nature preserve that borders my back yard. We set out on our usual route, about a half mile walk. But then I varied it & went exploring and took some different paths, up some steep hills, down some hills, over to the lagoon, and so on and so forth. I figure we went five miles at least. Came home, got the puppy some water. It was 10:30.

This was the first Sunday in 6 months that I had not been down at the fire station for equipment check.

I still had not had breakfast.

Dear Wife was abed watching TV. She's still on the mend from that broken shoulder & I do the cooking. I got out the ingredients for eggs & homefries & coffee & etc.

Turned on the stove.

That's when my pager went off.

"838 to all Tisbury fire personnel. Report of a chimney fire at the Barnes residence, number 1 Colonial drive, the road next to Cronigs Market. White house, first on the left beyond the Cronigs lot."

I figured (correctly) that that must be Mike Barnes, owner of Aboveground Records, son of crazyman trucker Trip Barnes, for whom I have driven long and short haul furniture trucks, and of Trip's first wife (of four) Judy Cronig, with whom I work at the Island Food Pantry.

Shit. I turned off the stove. Went to tell Dear Wife. "Sorry baby, no breakfast. Fire."

Almost immediately I heard dispatch responding to the trucks signing on.  "Roger 623, you're on the air at 10:31. Roger 661, you're on the air at 10:31," etc.  Of course they were rolling quickly! The trucks were already outside and guys were already there for the equipment check! Good timing, Mike!

"Roger 610, you're on the scene."

Of course, my truck wouldn't be signing on. My truck is off-island.  Sniff, sniff. My gear is in my van -- got it off the truck before it left for service -- so

A few minutes later, while I was en route, I heard dispatch: "All 551 personnel, 610 requesting mutual aid. . ."  So, our chief was requesting the ladder truck from Oak Bluffs, the next town over. Sounded like perhaps a bad fire.

I got to the intersection of State Road and the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown road in about 3 minutes. Here came a police cruiser screaming up the road. Then one more fire engine from our station. Then some guys with red lights (I just got my permit application & don't have a red light in my car).

I put on my high beams & pulled out behind the last of the red-light guys following behind the cruiser & engine. Zipping by people pulled over on the right & left.

I pulled into Cronig's lot, got out my gear & suited up. Walked down to the fire scene. A bunch of ladders, and over on the far right side of the roof, two guys wearing air packs were removing the chimney cover. A lot of smoke was coming out, but nothing too horrible. No flames. The front door was open. Lots of guys standing around with hoses in case things got worse. The chief & assistant chiefs were standing together; chief was holding the accountability board, which is used to keep track of firefighters on the roof or in the building.

I said, "Excuse me chief, but are there any officers from my truck here?"
Chief said, "That's Troy up on the roof. None of your other guys are here."
"Anything I can do?"
"Stick around."

The Oak Bluffs ladder had arrived & was being positioned. It's red. Tisbury trucks are green.  It was just for insurance. This fire was not scary.

Alan came up. "Chief, there's an oil furnace. Want me to go shut it off?"
Alan is a firefighter is whose day job is installing & repairing furnaces. He knew the house.  Alan's the only black guy in our company. Or, dark-skinned, anyway. I think maybe he's Wampanoag.

"Sure. Good idea. Take John with you. Show him what's what. John, where's your tags?"

"Fuck if I know, Chief. They're on 641 or something. The utility truck where we put our shit when 651 went off-island."
"Yeah, well, you should know where your tags are."

Every firefighter has two name tags. When you go into a building or onto a roof, you give one to the accountability officer, in this case the chief.

So, Alan and I went around the house to the back door. Before we got there, we came to the propane tank. He lifted the lid & shut it off.

We went to the back door, into a kind of family room. In front of the door to the basement there was a small fender amp and, on a stand, a really nifty dark mahogony solid-body SG-shaped 3/4 size Guild electric guitar.

"Holy shit what a sweet guitar!" I said.

"Yeah, well, move the stand so we can get to the basement."  There was also a nifty telescope blocking the way. We moved that too.

So we went down to the basement, which was cluttered with tools, toys, boxes, went to the furnace, and Alan showed me how to disable the fire sensor. "Furnace off," he said. He radioded the chief with that info.

We went upstairs and he showed me where the emergency furnace shut off switch was. "Turn that off too, please. I'm paranoid."

Clearly there was very little danger here. The fire was confined to the chimney & was mostly out. We were being overly cautious. We went into the living room, where there was a fire extinguisher and a lot of green powder on logs in a fireplace that were mostly extinguished. Powder on the hearth & rug & leggo toys. Some children must have been playing in front of the fireplace when the chimney caught. There was a smell of bacon in the air. Somebody else was missing breakfast.

On the way out I asked him about the blue flame reportedly seen at the Codding Lane fire. "Yeah," he said. "You got to be careful when you have propane feuling a fire. You don't want to put out that blue flame, cause then you've just got gas building up and it could explode."

Went back around to the chief. Up on the roof, the guys had succeeded in removing the chimney cover, and one of them was looking right down the chimney (wearing an air pack, obviously) as the smoke still billowed out.

Chief said, "Look at Doobey, with his head right down in that smoke. Looks like he's muff diving on his high school girlfriend."

"That's our chief," I said. "Keeping discussion professional at all times. Is your radio on, Chief?"

By this time my captain had shown up.

So, he sent me inside to put down a tarp, remove the smoldering logs into a metal pail & carry them outside & extinguish them; little jobs. "Give the rookies things to do. Keep them interested."

Soon the fire was declared out. Various trucks & engines dismissed.

I went over talk to Mike & his wife. They're about 30 years old. Their two sons looked to be about 6 or 7. They were profusely thanking all of us. "You guys are incredible. You're fantastic."

"Man, that Guild," I said. "Holy cow. And was that a 3/4 size strat I saw on the living room wall?"

"Yes," those are our boys' guitars.

"Christ," I said.

"You know what else I have in there? Two 1972 telecasters. When I realized it was a real fire, I got my wife & sons and cats out, and then you guys showed up. But if that house started to go down, I was going to bolt in there for my guitars!"

So, I walked back to my car, and Joe called out to me & said, "John, come down to the station if you have a second, the new books came in."

My pager came on, "Roger 610. All companies clear of the scene."

I went up to the barn to get my tags to put with my gear so that I wouldn't be embarrassed if another fire happened before the truck came back, and then I went down to the station to pick up my brand new copy of Fundamentals of Firefighter Sills (1,030 pages, 4.8 pounds).

Then I went home, made breakfast (it was about 1PM), got really sleepy, and took a nap. I was friggin' exhausted.

When I woke up, it was 3:45. My dog was hyper. I took her for a walk.

I went to the grocery store & got some dinner stuff.

Cleaned up the breakfast dishes.

Made dinner.

Went to bed.

Today I walked the dog and wrote this.

Maybe I'll get back to that other article some day.

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Wore out the wrong one | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Sounds like a good Sunday [nt] by debacle (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 06:58:09 AM EST


Oh, to be so civilised and abundantly equiped! by stevew (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 04:58:39 PM EST
Most of the fire fighting in my area is focussed on keeping wildfires from getting to the buildings rather than stopping the fires in the buildings spreading.
Very often, the firefront is higher than the house, wider than the house (actually often several kilometres wide) and approaching at 10-20 mph so the house lasts less than a minute if it is caught.
Since my local area has thousands of dwellings spread out in bushland, we often deploy multiple teams of two or three people crewing  small trucks with about 700 litres of water each, protecting individual houses.
Many of the dwellings are home built cabins or even trailers as well as regular houses. They are all home to somebody, so the trailer with the old guy and his dog gets as attention just like the twelve bedroom farm house.
We rarely put large fires out. We contain them (clearing and backburning [night backburning]), we try to stop the edges jumping roads and trails and we protect structures. One of our best fire tools is not a pumper but a bulldozer. That last photo was the extreme edge of 5 sq miles of intense fire just breaking out of the forest onto the roadside. The next five minutes were much more impressive (100' flames and fire tornadoes along 800 yards) but I was on the end of a hose stopping it spotting over the road by then and not snapping pics!

scary, scary, scary by johnny (2.00 / 0) #3 Tue Feb 17, 2009 at 02:53:35 AM EST
We have brush fires here, but seldom wildfires. We have nasty fires when whole buildings burn down, and if they're in a downtown section, it's a challenge to make sure the whole downtown doesn't go.

But I must say we don't face anything like giant walls of fire approaching at 20 miles per hour.

We are abundantly equipped. In my town (winter population 5,000; summer population 22,000) we have a ladder truck with an 100ft fully articulated areal platform, three engine/pumpers, and a rescue truck that can also push a small amount of water. Plus a utility truck that can move men or equipment. One of the engines is equipped for handling hazardous materials. Since we're on a harbor, we also have a rescue boat.

There are six towns on the island (which is about 100 square miles), and six fire departments. A total of three ladder trucks & probably 25 or 30 vehicles altogether.  For an island with a summertime population of about 120,000.

On NPR yesterday I heard some stories about the Australian fires, and then a heartbreaking story about the fire department in Kabul, Afghanistan.

They have 13 fire engines for a city of 4 million. And those engines are old and leaky. And I'm sure buildings there are not built to code. Plus, they have people blowing shit up from time to time.

I find our job here exciting enough. Glad I don't have to fight fires in the eucalyptus outback of Australia or the crowded streets of Kabul.
Buy my books, dammit!

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Wore out the wrong one | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback