I was asleep when the pager went off with its short, bursting beeps. I put on my flip flops, told Tye he was in charge of the house, and got in my truck. I turned on my red flashing light that was on the dashboard and drove the five minutes to the fire department.
We were responding to another district as automatic aid. That means if it was a certain type of call, like a structure fire, we were set to respond automatically to help them.
People were opening up the bay doors as I parked. I went in, got dressed in my turnout gear, and got on the only truck left, 511.
511 was an old Budweiser truck that we used to hold our generator, extra gear, tools, and the hydraulic rescue tools like the Jaws of Life. I got in and we responded to the fire.
The radio traffic was constant telling us it was a bigger fire than I imagined. It added to my adrenaline rush and general nerves. Once we got to the scene, I could smell the heavy smoke in the air. I put on my air pack, heard the beep as I turned it on, and listened to the air fill the hose. I walked to the scene and was already needed to replace someone who was ready for a break. Thirty minutes is what our air tanks held, depending on how calmly we breathed, and it was the perfect amount of time for a break.
By the time we got there, firefighters had already put out the main flames, so we were going in to put out hot spots and look for other places that may cause an issue later in the evening. Fires love to hide in the corners and reignite when all of the emergency personnel leave the scene. I had a Halligan tool and was ready to go in, willing to chop into walls or floors if need be to find hiding flames.
When I entered the house, I heard yelling from all the rooms and the only lights were coming from other firefighter’s headlamps, and mine lit my future path as best it could through the thick smoke. My partner had his hand on my shoulder as we made our way to the room at the left. I noticed the walls were wood and not sheetrock which was no good. Fire loved to hide behind wood, too.
The room we were in was a bathroom in the back of the house. The toilet tank was broken, spilling water all over the floor, but we saw no fire in that room. We moved down the hall, his hand on one of my shoulders as the radio on my collar spit out continuous chatter from the scene. I kept one hand on the wall as we moved down the hallway, the other held the tool, and we continued to look for potential hot spots.
Once we were sure we found all the fire, we ended our night carefully carrying out items like family photos, important papers, dishes, figurines, and anything else that may be salvaged. Anything made of fabric like clothing and furniture was never carried out because it could not be saved. Once the truck pumps stopped making noise and people stopped yelling and speaking frantically, that’s when we were all reminded that we were in a stranger’s home who would have a long road ahead of them.
It was such a somber time for us at the fire department, looking at the photos and seeing people’s faces smiling in them. Children’s artwork littered the fridge and people’s shoes stood waiting by the back door. Nobody expects a fire to take away their house and belongings, and maybe their life, but it happens. Although we felt for the families, stuff is stuff, and life is life.
What saved this family was their working smoke detectors. Although their house was a total loss, they got out of it in time. Of course they were sad to lose their home and belongings, but they still had each other. This is only one of the stories about life-saving smoke detectors that I can tell first-hand. They do work as long as the batteries are fresh.
When we change the clocks twice a year, we are supposed to change the smoke detector batteries. It takes only minutes and is worth your peace of mind, and more importantly, your life, your family’s life, and your pet’s life. Visit the National Fire Protection Association to find more information on fire safety. They have printouts for kids, also, that are fun and informative. Smoke detectors save lives, they just do.
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