April 12th, 2006


Another Hot Time in Albion

Okay, pop quiz, people. You're responding to a fire with a five man engine company: Engineer, captain, safety officer, and two firefighters. Waiting at the scene is an experienced firefighter who works at the Noble County Courthouse, a block from the fire. So you've got six firefighters, and one fully equipped truck with a thousand gallons of water. The second-in truck, which will catch the nearest hydrant 600 feet away, is a precious few minutes behind you, and will take another few minutes to get the supply line set up to flow more water.

On arrival, a two story wood frame home, with no one inside, is completely engulfed in flames -- sheets of flame roar from every door and window and begin to break through the walls and roof. You wonder how, at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, no one noticed the fire sooner, but you have other concerns at the moment:

On side 1, downwind of the fire and where you have to park the truck, the entire front yard is on fire.
On side 2, a large 2 1/2 story wood frame home is about 20 feet away, and the vinyl siding is starting to melt and curl.
On side 3, a propane grill is right up against the building and being impinged on by flames. The grill's propane tank is venting a 3 foot torch through its relief valve, a sign of imminent BLEVE (tank failure and explosion).
At the corner of sides 3 and 4, the power line to the home is beginning to melt and smoke.
On side 4, the siding is beginning to get hot on the house across the alley. But a more immediate concern is the natural gas connection to the house, which has failed. A six foot jet of flame is venting from the gas line.

What do you do ... what do you do?

Well, if you're me and stretching the first hoseline, you cool down the humongous home on side 2 so it won't burst into flames, then hand the line to your less experienced partner and have him soak you and the propane tank while you shove the grill out of the way, grab the tank, and haul it to safety. Then you realize the relief valve has melted completely, and there's no way you can shut off the no longer burning flow of propane. Then you say one of those 7 words you can't say on television.

Unfortunately, a big crowd has formed by that time, so everywhere I turn there are either endangered civilians or a honkin' big fire. Have you ever watched the old Batman movie, based on the campy 60's series? There's a scene where Batman has a bomb in his hands that's about to go off, and he's running around looking for a safe place to throw it. Crowds come out of the woodwork from every direction: fishermen, nuns, Girl Scouts. Finally he shakes his head in frustration and says, "Sometimes you just can't get rid of a bomb."

Like that.

Meanwhile, the other guys have stretched a second hoseline to the other side of the building, where they encounter the natural gas connection belching flames toward the other home, and use more words you can't say on television. Eventually they manage to clamp the gas line off, as I find a safe, downwind place to let the propane tank empty out. And about that time the electric line burns through, falling to the ground in a shower of sparks. We have yet to put a drop of water on the original burning house; we're too busy trying to keep the entire town from burning down, and us from blowing up.

Fast forward to four hours, six fire departments, 60 emergency services personnel, and many tens of thousands of gallons later. Everything that could possibly go wrong did, at first, but ... no serious injuries. Despite the loss of one house, it counts as a success story.

Once I was relieved, so I could take over the safety position, I was able to grab the camera, so -- pictures to follow. So, how was everyone else's Tuesday?