The young man stood silent and motionless, holding a baby boy as he stared at the raging fire. The tongues of flame had consumed his garage and everything in it. Now they had jumped to his sport utility vehicle (SUV) parked close by. The single wide mobile home that he and his wife shared with their children stood about ten feet away. Thankfully, his family had escaped uninjured. The siding had been damaged by the heat of the fire, but the house had not caught…yet.
I was driving home from a search and rescue mission with the Beaver Volunteer Fire Department when the call for this fire came from Raleigh County control. Only a few minutes away, I drove to the house, performed a size up, communicated the situation to control, and established fire command. I had no engine, no tanker, no hydrant, no hose, no water, no other firefighters, and no bunker gear. All I could do was let my buddies in the county departments know what to expect when they arrived, ensure that no one was injured, and that no one tried to go into the burning building. A pickup truck with some young men drove up and they asked if they could help, but in so doing blocked the only access to the fire, a narrow gravel driveway. I asked them to leave so that the fire trucks could use that driveway to approach and fight the fire. They moved. A neighbor walked up and asked what he could do. I asked him to go back to the crowd of people milling about thirty yards away and ensure that they kept a safe distance. He did. Someone else asked me if the burning SUV would explode. I answered that cars burn but rarely explode, unlike in the movies. Pressurized containers like those used to inflate airbags can make little bursts. The garage collapsed, and I relayed the update to control.
It seemed like an eternity but was really only a few minutes before the first engine arrived. The driver missed the narrow driveway so I guided him. The two-man crew hooked up an attack line (hose) and the firefighter with bunker gear attacked the fire. A tanker arrived with one firefighter, who was also the driver. We hooked up a supply line to transfer water to the engine, which was rapidly running out. We set up a second attack line from the tanker as another engine arrived. A pressurized cylinder in the SUV burst but caused no further damage. The local sheriff and the ambulance arrived and did their part. The fire was soon out.
In this time of COVID-19, riots, and other serious problems in this great nation, this young family suffered another misfortune. Their property losses were great, and they still have to repair their home. The young man and his bride had no idea that morning of the troubles that would beset them by noon. Such an attitude is commonplace. No one thinks that disaster will strike them…until it does. The following list includes a few things to know and do to minimize your chances of having a fire, or getting injured from a fire if you have one.
- Modern construction, with its lightweight construction of thin, engineered wood, is highly vulnerable to collapse in a fire.
- Plastic items, made of hydrocarbons, burn hotter and faster than wood. They also release toxic gases like cyanide.
- Unprotected steel will not burn but it will melt, elongate, and fail.
- Carbon monoxide is odorless but can kill quickly. Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and check them.
- Keep rooms clean. Stacks of papers, books, clothes, and other items make terrific fuel.
- Keep fire extinguishers in kitchen and workshop areas. Know how to use them and keep them ready.
- Do not overload electrical sockets.
- Wherever you work, clean up. If you are working on a lawnmower and spill gasoline, or cutting wood and make sawdust, clean it up. The job is never over until the clean up is done.
- Visit your local fire station and get to know some of the firefighters. Ask them to inspect your house and workplace for fire safety.
- Never leave food cooking unattended.
- Do not smoke in the house.
- Avoid portable and fixed space heaters.
By learning and doing, you will minimize your chance of facing misfortune like this young family.