101 Things the Fire Department wishes you knew



Friday, February 13

...to investigate the smoke alarm...


The following tale is told not because we are reminded to always leave the engine with a tool; Not because we were the only ones to bring water to the fire; Not because you need to be careful when extinguishing burning wax, but because of how determined the owner was to "let us in."

THE EMERGENCY
A caller states, "Smoke alarm downstairs is beeping and the unit feels like smoke." Not smells, but "feels."

THE ACTION

We are second due in the first alarm compliment. It is early evening on a calm winter night, no wind. First engine reports smoke showing from a garage, no fire noted. We kick it up a gear. Our assignment as second in is to supply the first in engine so we pull past them and to the hydrant, it's a short pull.
The first in engine is at the garage door, peering in, we see no smoke. I grab my airpack, buckle the hip belt (like so many forget) and BAM! axe holster. Noting a heavy fuel load and no pre-connected line stretched yet, I reach for the pump can and away we go. Since our job is to back up the first line, and there is no first line, we're searching for the seat of the fire.
In this shotgun style house, the garage and attached area reaches back maybe 60 feet, on average, and can be dotted with small closets and in most cases small illegal apartments. As we pass the halfway point the smoke has forced us to our knees and we have yet to find the fire. Smoke is mostly light, grey, but no heat.

We have good communications, no one is panicing, a plan has been made and is clear. As I'm reaching past some debris to see how deep the closet is I feel a touch on my shoulder from behind.

It's a civilian. "I need to get to my unit and let you in" he mumbles as he begins to push past me into the closet. This guy is clearly altered and where on earth did he come from? He's got keys in his leading hand and before I can react he suddenly disappears into the closet, gone. My officer and I decide to give chase in the most unusual search and rescue I've been involved in in some time. Turns out what we thought was a closet was simply a jog in the hallway with heavy painter's canvas leaning in all directions. As I pass through, axe and pump can in tow, I see the occupant near another door near what must now be the back of the garage. Smoke is thicker and warmer here.
The man is trying to unlock the door when the officer reaches him first and pushes him forcefully out the back door, immediately ventilating the small, cramped hallway.
It also introduced fresh air to the fire area because the heat intensified behind the slightly open basement apartment door.

We found the fire.

The team now behind me started calling back for a line to be charged.
"We got it! Hand in a nozzle! We need a line in here."
My officer sticks his head in from outside and screams, "Did no one think to bring water to the fire?"
"I got this Cap'n" already footing the door open and peaking in I see what used to be a candle on what is still mostly a dresser, all standing beneath what might have been a curtain.
Not 30 seconds of quick bursts and the fire was out. Well before the line made it in.
When I hit the dresser the first time, I knew the wax would scatter, but I had no idea how neat it would look. It was similar to throwing water on a grease fire, only the wax cooled as it flew.

I tried to help overhaul but the man in the back yard needed my particular attentions at that time.
Turns out he ws fine, mentally sound, simply wanted to make sure we opened the door instead of breaking down the door. Not sure why, exactly, since the landlord now will have to explain why this guy was paying rent on a tiny little illegal bedroom in the back of a garage.
At the end of it all I didn't have a single drop of candle wax or water on my gear. The folks cleaning up were covered in it as it was still dripping from everywhere I had spread it.


Before you all start commenting about "You weren't on air?" and "No charged line?" We were on our knees to maintain clear visibility due to all the junk in this garage. On a similar note, dragging a charged attack line around a crowded area can prove dangerous. There should have been someone assigned to bring it in, and there may have been, but I never heard if there was.

I mention this incident here because it was hilarious to hear the Captain the next night tell the story of a man just wandering into a closet and disappearing, "And me and my medic say, let's see where it goes! Sure as hell it goes to the fire!"

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