Fourth of July eve. Is that really a date or should I just say July 3? Around 5 or 6 p.m. I get a call on my personal phone from the State Police telling me that a trooper is in a parking lot and can feel the heat from a fire next to a house across the street. Experience tells me that is not good. It was extremely hot that day and had not cooled off much as the evening approached. My high school age son was eager to tag along so off we went. No need to call the cavalry out until we had more info.
I met with the trooper and as I was getting ready to go across the road to speak to the person doing the burning, the trooper informed me that he had to leave for another call, but would be back.
Renovations were underway on the house and that included tearing down the attached barn. The easiest way to get rid of the unwanted lumber from the barn would be to burn it, so a permit was acquired. Maine allows open burning, but only certain things, like wood, brush and leaves. The permits come with guidelines.
In this particular case the permit was in hand and the hose was charged and being sprayed on the side of the house.
All the water hitting the house was turning to steam because the side of the house was so hot.
After a brief conversation, it was clear that the contractor had been quenching his thirst for some time on this hot July day and was not doing it with water. While he insisted that he was fine, I explained that he wasn’t and the situation was going to be dealt with.
He had several power tools around the area and I told him to pick them up so that they wouldn’t get damaged when we put water on the fire. He continued to insist that he was fine as we left to get the engine rather than pick up his power tools.
In a few minutes we were back with the engine and again I asked him to take care of the tools, but at this point he was getting a little feisty so the discussion was over.
Our department had a 3,000 gallon tanker with a top mounted deck gun and that was my apparatus of choice. I charged the pump and had my son go topside and man the deck gun. We opened up on the side of the house and I realized that we probably got there just about in time as even our big stream was turning to steam.
My son was concerned because the contractor was still there with his garden hose and getting wet from the deck gun. When he shared his concern with me, I assured him he was doing a fine job, just keep it up. It didn’t take too long to put enough water on the fuel near the house to be certain there would be no further issues that night.
About that time the homeowner arrived and I explained that unless there was somebody there all night watching the fire, there would probably be some fines involved and suppression costs. I think the contractor hates me to this day, although he did speak to me recently.
As we were filling the engine back at the station, the State Trooper returned, spoke to the contractor and homeowner, and then came over to see me.
He asked if I felt threatened by the contractor. I said not at all. He kept pushing, saying that he would gladly charge him and take him to jail if I felt threatened. I insisted that I was fine and asked him if the contractor was wet at all.
He replied that he was completely soaked even to the point that his wallet and license were soaked. I I think he got the message. Nobody went to jail, and the house didn’t catch on fire.
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.