Firefighting

Awake at 3:00 a.m. Fighting fire at 3:45 a.m.

You’ve all heard me talk about wild land fires and how oddly fun they are even though you’re risking your life, you are still serving people and doing something to better your community. The stakes are a little higher when you talk about buildings on fire.

This past week I was able to respond to a fire in the vicinity. It wasn’t in our department’s area, but it was close and it wasn’t long before they called us in for “mutual aid” at the unholy hour of 3:00 in the morning. Fortunately it wasn’t a house and nobody got hurt, but it was a string of businesses in Idaho City. It was a historical site for that matter which in this case means, there were not very many safety measures built into the buildings. Four businesses were nearly burnt to the ground even by the time we got there and the last was in bad shape.

It was amazing how much we could see in the dark, but there were several street lights and innumerable headlights shining on the buildings. The roof was plated with metal which is a good thing in snow/fire country, but they had only used the metal to cover up wooden shakes. The shakes were burning underneath the metal and most of the attic in the last building was ablaze.

Unable to reach the fire from the outside, and unwilling to enter the building without knowing if it was stable, we were assisted by a tractor in pulling the roof nearly off. The bucket ripped large holes in the roof and we were able to see live flame and smoke aplenty.

We dropped about 200 feet of hose between the truck and the fire hydrant so we had enough water to go around and we certainly needed it as our truck only carries 500 gallons. We had one hose stretched out in front of the truck and we could cover the entire front, side and back of the building with it. There was another truck from another department covering those three faces as well and when the tractor started ripping the roof off, we two crews were able to get good angles on the holes to put out the fire.

We worked thus until about 6:00 when the flames began dying down and the cool of the morning took over the job for us. Weather is a large factor in fire and the cooler the air is, the cooler the fire is and the less it takes to put it out. By this time local businesses had started serving coffee and breakfast sandwiches, something we all desperately needed. Not being a coffee drinker on an ordinary basis, I was quite pleased for the caffeine boost to help me along.

After breakfast we started ripping into the buildings by hand to put out what was left of the fire. Only small pockets remained, and we were careful to watch our surroundings anytime we came onto the board-walk or inside the buildings. There was an endless supply of nails on the floors and sticking out of boards, metal and walls so we had to be careful about foot placement, where we stood, where we sprayed water, where we did anything.

The thought of spraying water reminds me, the structure nozzles are powerful and pushed me around pretty good. In my own defense, I am not a very large person, but even the guys on the department were manhandled by the water. A 2 1/2 inch hose-line can push a lot of water and it can be remarkably heavy. Any movement at the nozzle affects the entire hose and if you’re holding on behind the front-man, you can get pushed by him turning the hose on and off.

With only a maximum of two hours of sleep under my belt, I was glad to quit at 8:30 and make for home. The fire was out and it was down to mop-up and salvage. We were not the local department so they cut us loose and we were able to go home.

As a closing thought, there is nothing quite like a structure fire. Nothing compares to its spectacular showing, but then nothing compares to the awful destruction either. Four businesses were destroyed in a small town, four businesses that depend largely on summer traffic and you can guarantee they won’t be getting that. There was next to no salvage and the proprietors were left with a heap of ashes for their hard work.

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