On a summer afternoon, I was working in a neighboring town when their tone went off for a structure fire. Not hearing a lot of response, which is common in small towns during daylight hours when people are working out of town, I made my way toward the fire location. Since mutual aid had not been called, there was nothing I could do in an official capacity. When I arrived on scene and observed heavy smoke from the eve vents, and our department had just been dispatched as mutual aid, I called dispatch and asked them to have the mutual aid piece put my turnout gear on the engine and they said they would.
As it turned out, there were no chief officers from the town department the fire was in, so I asked if they wanted some help. After getting the OK, I decided to have a look around. Our department had not arrived so I was in civilian clothes and when I started to enter the building a citizen tried to keep me out explaining that the building was on fire.
I assured him that I was aware the building was on fire and that I was a firefighter and would be fine.
The structure was a two-story colonial with an attic and an ell. The fire appeared to be in the attic of the main house. I entered the ell, moved to the main structure and went to the second floor. Very little smoke. Locating a door to the attic, I opened it and saw the attic full of fire from one end of the house to the other. I closed the door and exited the building.
One volunteer was spraying water in an eve vent from the outside and I asked the pump operator who gave me permission to take control to instruct him to stop wasting the water.
Then I took a 2 ½-inch dry line to the front door and up the stairs.
I dragged plenty of extra line up to the second floor at the door to the attic and then went back outside to see what resources I had. Our department had arrived so I now had turnout gear and we had one really good interior guy, and the host department had another good interior guy, so I took them to the second floor. I explained that the attic was full of fire and I wanted them to open up as soon as they opened the door and advance as best they could playing the line from front to back, back and forth, and told them that I was sure we could save this place.
The guys did a spectacular job. It was textbook for a small town department to save a house with that much fire in it with a very limited crew. After the fire was knocked down, the interior guys shared that they thought they had no chance of putting the fire out, but they did just what they were told. They said they gained a lot of confidence in their ability at that fire.
Because of the age of the house and other structural and mechanical issues, the decision was made to tear the house down. That sort of thing always hurts when you think you’ve had a good save. The people built new on the same location and I was very surprised and pleased when the Chief and I got an invitation to their housewarming. After the initial meeting and greeting and sharing snacks, the lady of the house offered us a tour. As she went about her new home, she pointed out item after item that had been salvaged from the fire home. Feeling how much those things mean to her was very special. That‘s why we do what we do.
A funny thing happened as we were mopping up the day of the fire. The phone in the ell rang and I picked it up. The person on the other end asked who I was. I answered “The fire department”. She replied, “Is this a bad time to call?” I answered “Yes it is”. No further discussion.
More Bill Packard
Volunteer firefighting is one of the most rewarding, fun things anyone can do if they’re on a department with the right culture. My hope is that these stories can create enough interest in even one person to join a local department and feel the satisfaction that comes from being a firefighter and understand what makes it so special.
Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of BPackard.com. He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant.