1971: Sometimes REKINDLES spells CHANGE

The title of this blog is based on a series of events that occurred on a Friday in October 1971, which had all kinds of twists and turns and was kind of freaky in origin as the fire occurred on a street named TERMINAL AVE.

I had just been assigned to a fire company after serving 13 months in the Fire Prevention Bureau as a new Fire Lieutenant. I was now a 6 year veteran of the department, but still a shave tail in the eyes of the senior fire officers assigned to shift # 3 and of course the senior firefighters assigned to the 4 companies at Fire Station # 3.

It was several more days to Halloween, Thursday October 28 to be exact and it had been a very uneventful day just 5 or 6 sick person calls. Follow the ambulance, bring in the stretcher, pack up the gear and return to quarters. The weather was clear with a chill in the air, but after all it was fall in the Chicago Metro area, what was known as Injin Summer, that time before the winds of winter would arrive to set the stage for snow and wind chills in the minus sub teens.

9:50 pm, the speaker opens and we are off to the apparatus floor and Eng. # 3 which was a Peter Pirsch and Sons 1954 open cab 1000 GPM, triple-combination unit. Pump, Hose and a 300-gallon booster tank with a crew of 1 officer and 3 firefighters.

Everyone in this department had a nickname and so the crew this day was Me, (The Little King), because I look and act as the cartoon character in the funny papers.  Earl, (Jew One), because the department recently hired 2 more persons of the jehu’dim faith and Earl was a 15 year employee, while the other two have only months on the job.  Leo S, because his last name is 12 letters long and then Rookie, Johnny Hoehead, a twisting of his last name.

The tone out alarm ends and dispatch announces “Eng # 3 Rubbish in the rear of 9520 Terminal, one caller for Rubbish in the rear 9520 Terminal for Eng 3—time out 2150 hrs”.

I suit up, Earl climbs in behind the steering wheel, the door opens and Giff the ambulance driver moves that piece of apparatus into the street to block traffic.

I climb aboard and stand up, look to the rear step to see if Leo S. has the rookie dressed and on board. He waves me to go. I sit down and tell Earl, GO.

We make the left turn at the end of the driveway and I wind out the “Q” siren to clear traffic that has ignored the ambulance blocking the street and is now in our way. Earl comes to a quick stop, as we are almost broad sided by a panel truck that has gone around the ambulance following a car that has ignored our flashing lights and siren. Giff is now out of the ambulance and holds up traffic and waves us forward.

I pick up the radio mic. “203 is responding to 9520 Terminal on Rubbish in the rear.”

Dispatch: “10-4 Eng # 3. One call for something burning in the rear area of that address.”

Me: “10-4 Dispatch”

Up Gross Point Rd, left turn on Church Street, 4 blocks west to Terminal, Right turn and 3 more blocks north to the location.  As we enter the 9500 block of Terminal there is a strong smell of something burning. Earl stops as we get to the cross alley and I notice smoke coming from the back of the house at 9520 Terminal. I also see 4 people across the street waving to us. I tell Earl to take the hydrant on the corner.

I call Dispatch on the radio.

“203 is 10-23 and we have a FIRE. Give me a FULL STILL on this call”.

Dispatch “10-4 your on the scene and requesting a Full Still at your location.”

As the rig stops at the hydrant, I exit the rig telling Earl to hookup to the hydrant and for Hoehead to help.

I walk across the street to the 4 people and ask if everyone is out and the husband says YES everyone is accounted for, only a very large dog is left inside.

I tell LeoS. We will lay out 2 lines. Left bed to the rear of the building and the right bed to the area of the front door for use by the follow companies. I also want the standpipe bundle to the rear of the building. I yell to Earl not to send the water until I call for it. He waves his arms in the air, meaning he understands.

I ask the homeowner if he knows where the fire is located and he answers “NO”

Dispatch to “203”

“Go dispatch this is 203”

“203—2-1-3 wants to know why you need a full still on a Rubbish Pile”

“Dispatch, we have a fire in a 3 level single family dwelling, I believe the fire is in the basement. We are 10-7 with two 2-1/2 s”

Dispatch “OK I will now send the follow companies.”

I call the crew to the side of the pumper to lay out the plan of attack.

Earl: Take the ax and look for basement windows at the front of the east and west sides of the building. Do not take any action until I yell to go. Take the west one first and then the east one, go back to the pumper and hold the water until I call for it. Charge the Left Bed only.

Leo, you and HoeHead come with me, we are going to make entrance from the south side.

As I come around to the rear I can hear the companies starting from Station # 3’s quarters some 8 blocks to the southeast.

I take my new portable radio from my top pocket and call the responding companies.

Historical Note: This is only 1 of 2 new HT 220 portable radios in use by  Suppression Units, only the Fire Chief and I have one. I purchased this one with my own money and I am the only company officer to have one.

“203A to Truck # 3 come in from the North on Terminal from Golf. Squad # 3 come from the west off of Lockwood down the North alley of the 5230 block of Foster.”

Squad 3 tell 2-1-3 to come up Terminal from Church and tell Eng #1 to back down Terminal from the south to our location.”

“209 and 214 got your message 203A”

“214 to Dispatch, by order of 203A have 2-1-3 and 201 report to the fire from the south on Terminal and have 201 back down to 203’s hydrant location.”

“10-4 – 214 your message has been received.”

At the rear of the building there is a service door on the right east side and a 6 foot sliding patio glass door is on the left side.

I place the gated wye on the ground just next to the service and LeoS connects the standpipe 1-1/2” bundle to the open port and closes the valve to that line and opens the valve for my hose line.

The plan is to break out the two basement windows and open the service door and allow the smoke to blow out, then have Earl charge the 1st line and for Me and Johnny to advance the hose line across the laundry room into the family room across that room to the stairway leading to the basement area and I am hoping that the door is closed and containing the fire.

LeoS is to go over to the glass sliding door, unlock it and open it to allow more smoke to vent.

Historical Note. We are not wearing SCBA’S (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) better known as Back Packs. The common use of this equipment was still more then 10 years in the future on this fire department. We had them, we just did not use them because it cost more then $12.00 to refill a cylinder.

Forward the 3 of us move. Me in the lead, nose to the carpet, HoeHead holding onto my right boot and LeoS to the rear humping the hose line.

All smoke, no heat, no flames. Then almost in front of me I see it. There is a flickering bright light, no more than a foot in front of me and then I hear it.

Good evening, I’m Fahey Flynn with the10 pm News.                  It is a large screen TV.

I bust out laughing. Well at least we know what time it is and the electrical power is still working in the basement level. As I head in the direction of the basement door, LeoS leaves our trio to open the Patio Door. The smoke starts to lift as I reach the closed basement door. Using the HT220 I radio Earl to send the water and wait for the line to get hard. I bleed off the air and hand the line to Hoehead and tell him to hit the ceiling area for about 1 minute as soon as I open the basement door.

I give the Go Command. I open the door, water on and there is a sucking noise behind us as the flowing fog stream of water is pushing the smoke back down into the basement and out the two broken basement windows.

LeoS has the 2nd line at my side and charged. We shut the first line down and wait to see if there is any open flame in the basement. I check to make sure the basement stairs are OK and we advance the first hose line while LeoS covers us with the 2nd line. As we reach the floor level it is back to noses on the ground. But something is wrong. All I can feel is lots of soft material and then bales of hay. We open the fog stream again and blow some more smoke out the windows and shut it down and exit the basement area to return to the exterior just as Hook & Ladder Truck # 3 and Engine/Squad # 3 arrive as directed.

I tell the truck to open both the front and back doors; no more ventilation will be needed. Then have the Squad report to my location.

I tell HoeHead and LeoS to take a breather and I lead the Squad crew back into the lower level and to the basement stairs. I tell them there is a charged line at floor level, but that there is very soft footing on the ground and to get some lights into the area to make it safe to advance the line.

Historical Note: This is the first time that lighting is used inside a building for fire attacks. These lights were only used outside or during overhaul, but never when water is flowing as someone might get an electrical shock.

As I go by the bathroom door off the family room, I find the very large dog lying on the floor having a hard time breathing. I struggle to pick him up and carry him outside. In the back yard the family runs to me and takes the dog. Earl brings over a spare air pack tank and opens the valve and allows the air to rush across the dog’s face.

As I look up from attending to the dog, I meet the dead faced stares of Deputy Chief 2-1-3 and he appears to be really upset with my handling of this call, from not telling him it was a house on fire and waiting for him to make the call for more equipment, to show boating saving a dog. All of this taking place in front of the family who by this time are getting more upset with every one of his words.

As I stand up, I see behind the D/C that the Chief of the Fire Department has arrived on the scene and is quietly listening to every word being directed in my direction.

I just smile at the D/C as he rants on and on. He finally turns around and comes face to face with the BOSS and he stops dead in his tracks. No more words, no more movements just speechless and motionless.

The Chief say “Give me a rundown Lieutenant”.

I reply “Of course sir. Lets go take a look at the area of origin.”

We go into the lower level and as we enter the basement area, the squad crew has lights on the area and there is little fire damage to the walls and ceiling. At this point I can now see why the footing was kind of soft, it is knee deep in confetti and there are about 10 bales of hay stacked around the outside walls.

The fire damage was confined to the floor area and the old cut up newspaper confetti. There are some stacked personal goods that were exposed to the flames and are giving off some smoke, but the real damage is minor.

I tell the Chief, we broke two basement windows and used about 200 gallons of water to extinguish the fire and that is the extent of the damage to the building other than moderate smoke damage to the rest of the house.

He asks the 3 other fire officers what kind of suppression operations they performed and they answer, ”Very little, the fire was out when we arrived.”

The Chief then orders me to start the investigation for Cause & Origin and to tell the D/C 2-1-3 to report to him in the basement. At the rear door I find the D/C and tell him the BOSS wants him in the fire area.

Historical Note: This is the first time that a fire suppression officer is ordered to handle the fire Cause and Origin.  Prior to this it was the responsibility of the D/C in charge of the fire call. Suppression Officers could find cause only for single unit alarms.

I walk across the street to talk to the family members and take the information for the official fire investigation. I did many of these in the time I was in the Fire Prevention Bureau. I ask if everyone is OK, no injuries, How is the dog and if they could tell me how they discovered the fire.

The two teenage girls were getting the decorations ready for the homecoming sock hop dance at the High School. The hay bales were to be placed on the stage in front of the band and the confetti was to be falling during certain times during the dance. It was a fall harvest theme turning to a winter wonderland theme. As the snow (Confetti) got deeper on the dance floor, snowmen made of pillowcases stuffed with newspaper would be added to the hay bales on the stage to complete the change from Fall to Winter.

The girls had left the basement area at 9:30pm and were preparing for bed when smoke started to come out of the heating vents in the upstairs bathroom. They told their father who was watching TV in the Family Room, that smoke was coming out of the heating vents. He opened the basement door, saw lots of smoke, closed the door and calling the Fire Department, told his wife who was in the kitchen on the 2nd level, to take the kids and dog outside.

I  ask what he had told the Fire Alarm Operator about the fire. He Said” I told him there was some papers on fire and to come around to the rear of the house.”

Well I guess that kind of leaves me off the hook on why a proper alarm response was not made for this call. Old Julius screwed up again, but then that would be another story.

I took down all the required information for the Basic Field Incident Report and than ask the family if there are any comments they would like entered into the official record.

The Husband says, “you got here so quick and it was like you had been here before” “How bad is the damage to our home?”  I tell them the fire damage is confined to the basement with smoke damage in the rest of the house. I will take them into the basement to examine the fire area as soon as the smoke level has decreased a little more.

The wife says “Thank You for rescuing our dog, he is like a family member”

The two daughters say “Thank You for saving our house. ”What is left of our dance decorations?” I say the paper is history mostly due to the water from the fire hoses, but the hay was untouched by the fire, however we will have to remove it to the back yard, because it is a fire hazard storing it in the basement area.

I leave them on the street corner and return to the basement and report the basic information to the Fire Chief while D/C 2-1-3 looks on without saying a word. The Boss tells me “Good Job, from the looks of things your crew did an outstanding job on this call. No need for follow up narratives.” He then turn to D/C 2-1-3 “It’s all yours I am returning home.”

As the Chief leaves the house he tells all the crews they did a great job and that

2-1-3 is in charge of operations. Good show, one final wash down, family tour and we are history on this call.  WRONG AGAIN because D/C 2-1-3 has a better idea. It is called pay back time.

He returns the second engine, Eng #1 (201) to quarters. Tells Engine/Squad # 3 (214) to pickup their tools and return to quarters. Tells Hook & Ladder #3 (209) to pick up their tools and report back to him in about 10 minutes.

He then orders me to pick up all of our hose lines except one 1-1/2” hose and to unhook from the hydrant and have the engineer standby the pump in case we need to recharge the line using tank water.

I call the Engine crew together to start picking up the hose and D/C 2-1-3 tells me “No, I told YOU to pick up the hose as punishment for using too much hose for a simple house fire.”

Well I have been around fires for more then12 years and I have never heard of this before, punishment for doing a Good Job, but a lawful order is a lawful order, says so in the GOOD BOOK.

Over achievement on my part, setting up an exterior defense while preparing for an interior attack on arrival of the follow companies, then having to change the attack plan to use available personnel due to the delay caused by dispatch and the efforts of 2-1-3 to get more information before sending  the additional equipment requested by an on-site certified fire officer.

First time for everything I guess. I go to the hydrant and shut it down, Earl comes to my side and attempts to uncouple the 5” hose and drain it. I tell him I have to do it by order of 2-1-3 and that I have to repack the Right hose bed by myself and pick up the standpipe line without any assistance. Earl looks in the direction of

D/C 2-1-3, turns around and climbs up into the cab and closes the door.

Since the right hose bed was not charged, only the last shoulder load was used, so it will be an easy job. I disconnect the last shoulder load from the second shoulder load and the bed hose line.

Remake the third shoulder load, carry it to the rig and connect it to the bed hose, Pick up both the first and second shoulder loads, place them on hose bed and reconnect them to the third shoulder load.

I go back it the rear yard, pick up the 1-1/2 standpipe line and drain it as I carry it to the engine. I place it over the mounted ground ladder, draining the water as I go. Then I go back to the hydrant and drain the 5” hose and place it back into it’s holder.

I double check to see that the ax Earl used to break the basement windows is back in place, the extra air tank Earl use on the dog is laying on the front seat of the cab so as not to be confused with a full tank, in case we have to go to another alarm.

As part of my walk around, I check the pump panel, open the tank to pump valve and check to see that port # 1 is open and that the pump is in gear so that if we need to use the line all that is necessary is to increase the pumps RPM.

I walk back to D/C 2-1-3 and say “Sir Engine # 3 is all picked up except the one line you ordered to be charged ready for use.

Lieutenant RickH from Truck # 3 (209) was talking with 2-1-3 when I walked over, but stopped talking as soon as I was in earshot.  He walks away and says to me” ENJOY”. He returns to his apparatus and radios Dispatch. (209 is 10-8 returning to quarters.

We now walk over to the family members and he tells them to follow him into the basement area to discuss how the fire was started. After many questions and not getting the answers he wanted to hear, he tells the father, “I think someone was smoking down here and the fire cause is careless use of smokers materials”. I then ask the family if they would need any help looking over the rest of the house and that the power is still on in the entire house. They leave to see how much smoke damage there is in the house and I send LeoS and a Police Officer to assist them in their search for the family jewels.

D/C 2-1-3 then tells he to move everything that is in the basement out into the back yard and make 2 piles. The items with flame damage in the middle of the yard and all of the un-burnt items to be placed along the sidewalls of the detached garage.

I order HoeHead to remove the hay bales first as they take up more floor space than any other item and to place them closest to the back of the centerline of the back yard, and to bring in a garbage can and a shovel from the engine. I take a quick look at my watch and see that it is now 11:15 pm. D/C 2-1-3 asks”Are you in a hurry to go someplace?” “ No sir, just watching the time line for my report.”

For the next 3 hours we are under the direct supervision of D/C 2-1-3 as 3 members of the engine crew clean out the entire basement area and build 2 separate piles of items in the back yard, taking great care to keep a safe distance between the two. I have Earl standby the burnt pile and from time to time spray some water on the items if he sees any smoke.

In the process of removing items, it is clear that the cause of the fire was the gas fired hot water heater had come in contact with some of the newspaper confetti and that the fire was spread across the basement floor area and had not touched the exterior walls and only burnt some of the paper off the drywall on two interior walls.

One more check and water application to the burnt pile, D/C tells me to pick up, turn the house back over to the homeowner and return to quarters. But do not discuss the fire cause with the family, as he will have the Fire Prevention Bureau Captain do the fire investigation. I tell him the Fire Chief ordered me to conduct the investigation report and his reply is “Well I believe I know better.”

I take the new portable radio from the inside pocket of my fire coat and radio dispatch “ Engine 203 is now 10-8 and returning to quarters Dispatch.” To my surprise I get a 10-4 returning to quarters reply from them. I am some distance from the office and now know that the radio works in this area. D/C 2-1-3 asks, “Where did you get that radio?” I reply “I bought it, Sir from Manny Silver (the radio service person for the Fire Department) for $750.00.” His reply  “Stop using it and I am telling the Chief.”  I reply “Yes Sir, but he already has given his permission for me to have it and I have the proper licenses to operate it on this frequency Per FCC rules.”  I am treated to one more blank look on his face.

All the way back to quarters I am laughing on the inside knowing that this night is going to be another chapter in the history books of events that change how I fight fires.

It is well past 3am and I am surprised to see that both of my fellow officers are still up and waiting to talk to me about what happened on the scene and why the D/C was so upset with me. I tell them I got wet hose to wash and hang and they tell me the squad and truck crews are already doing the work. My crew sits down at the kitchen table to some coffee and toast, we 3 officers go into our office and shut the door.

The Lt. Rick and Lt. Dickie ask “WELL?” “What happened up there on Terminal?”

My reply was everything went like clockwork until the brass showed up and then everything went to hell in a hurry. The Chief said we did a good job and that is all I really care about at this point, however something tells me this event is not over by a long shot, I smell trouble in the wind.

I ask what happened at dispatch that my request for additional equipment was held up and I was told that D/C 2-1-3 called Dispatch and told Old Julius to radio me and ask for more information. Julius put him on hold and took 2 telephone calls from citizens about the fire before calling me on the radio and then dispatching the units. However both Truck # 3 (209) and Squad/ Engine # 3 (214) responded as soon as they heard my call for additional equipment and that D/C 2-1-3 told them we would all be on the carpet in the morning for not following his direct orders.

Wow, a rookie Lieutenant and 2 Senior Fire Officers on the carpet for doing a Good Job. That must be some kind of record in the department’s 100-year history. Well since it will be daylight soon I need to get my reports done and ready for my court marshal.

I called the dispatch center, but since the shift changed at 11PM, Old George could only tell me that the D/C had been to the center and requested a hold on all of the alarm tapes for this event and ordered the Station # 1 officers to write reports on what happened at Dispatch from 10 minutes before the alarm was received and the change of shift. He also tells me that the Fire Chief had called and talked to him around midnight and told him that the crews did a great job in stopping the fire and even saving the family dog. It will look good in the Local newspaper next Wednesday.

After completing all of my paperwork for the fire it was time to get ready for the Shift Change at 0800 hrs.

Around 6:00am I have finished all my paperwork and just refilled my coffee cup for about the 10th time since I returned from the 9520 Terminal Ave fire, when the phone rings. As I answer the phone I can hear in the background that Old George is talking to the dispatcher at the Police station.  I hear him say “Have the beat car check on 9520 Terminal for a rubbish fire in the back yard”. He picks up the phone and says, “Did you hear that information?” I say” Got It and I will take it as a Special Duty from the previous fire.” I open the bunk room door and yell “Eng # 3 has an investigation.” I walk to the rig and soon Giff comes out to move the ambulance and my crew is in place and we respond without lights and siren.

As we turn the corner at Terminal and Church Street and head north I can see a lot of smoke and even flames. I turn on the emergency lights and wind out the “Q” siren and Earl shifts gears and it is pedal to the metal.

Next I hear Old George on the radio asking if we are on the scene and I tell him “We are ½ a block away.” He says “GOOD I have gotten several more calls on it.”

“Eng #3 is 10-23. We have several alley garages on fire and there are exposures on 2 sides of the fire.”

“Dispatch—– By order of Eng #3 (203) strike a Box Alarm for Box 308 Terminal and Emerson for this fire and notify 2-1-1 to respond.”

Since we know where the hydrant is and that it will about 5 minutes before we have any additional units, it will be our job to try and hold the fire in check and protect exposures.

We drop our deck gun and pull off the left bed with the 1-1/2 line and place it on the parkway. We pull off the right bed and drop all 3 shoulder loads in the street. As LeoS and myself hold the hose lines  Earl pulls to the hydrant and HoeHead starts making the connection. LeoS and I run the half block to the engine disconnect the hose lines and take them to the right side pump connections. Then it is back to the tailboard and we each grab a bundle of 2-1/2 hose and pull it back to the deck gun location.  LeoS stays to make the connection to the gun, while I run back to the engine and disconnect the left bed and pull it around to the left side on the engine and hand it to Earl, then it is back to the tailboard, break the other hose line and drag it around to the left side and hand it to Earl to connect to the pumper. By this time the hydrant is open, two lines are connected to the pump. I tell HoeHead to go around to the right side of the engine and connect the lines to the discharge ports and then come to the fire.

I yell at Earl to hold the water until I call for it. Back at the deck gun position. LeoS has moved it between the garage and 1st house south of the cross alley so we can protect the first two houses with a water curtain. On the portable radio I tell Earl send the water on the first two lines into the deck gun. HoeHead runs over to the gun as the water begins to spurt on the flames which have now spread to a fourth garage.  I tell him, LeoS will work the gun and to come with me.

I pick up the 1-1/2 hose line and drag it into the rear yard of the previous fire building and place it on the ground and then tell HoeHead to help me drag the 2-1/2 line through the same yard and toss the shoulder loads over the fence into the next yard. I jump over the wood fence and straighten out the hose in the yard. Take my spanner belt and strap the hose line to a tree in the yard.

I tell Hoehead to take the 1-1/2 hose line and attack the 1st garage, which is behind 9520 Terminal. I radio Earl to charge both lines and we now have 3 fire streams on the fire and the other fire companies are still not on the scene.

I call dispatch and say “Eng#3 (203) is 10-7 with 4 lines on the fire.

I can hear sirens coming from the South, East and West of our location, so I know the troops are on the way.

I am having a hard time controlling the 2-1/2” line by myself,  but I have managed to cut off the fire spread to the west. For the most part we have the fire contained to 4 garages and a couple of fences. The deck gun stream is protecting the south side exposures, I have the north side exposures and HoeHead is working a line to try and darken down the volume of fire in the first 2 garages. As he advances west in the alley moving the hose stream back and forth hitting the garages on both sides of the alley we start to gain on the fire.

Historical Note: This is the first time that the responding units are given the assignments by someone other than the D/C on Duty.

On the radio I order Squad #3 and Truck #3 to respond to the same location as the first fire and to have Truck #1 (218) and Eng # 1(201) respond from the south to the 9400 Block of Terminal and Eng # 2 (202) and Truck # 2 (205) respond to Golf and Terminal and stand by for orders.

D/C 2-1-3 radios and asks me to tell him where to Go. I ask him to repeat his message as I am having trouble hearing him over other radio traffic from responding mutual fire units.

The next message has my heart beating so fast I think I am going to drop over dead. “2-1-1 to 2-1-3 you can return to quarters, I will handle this call with D/C 2-1-2” There is no reply from 2-1-3 and so the Fire Chief repeats his message and there is a long pause and then  “2-1-3 is returning to Station # 1.

Then the message I have been waiting for. “2-1-1 to 203A give me a progress report.”

“2-1-1 we have all exposures covered and we have one line working on extinguishing the fire. We are making progress, but we need some help to the south and west of the fire. I have companies routed to those locations with the third companies holding north of the fire. I suggest that D/C 2-1-2 go to that location until you arrive on the scene to take command.”

“10-4—-203A I am about 3 blocks away.”  “2-1-2 you report to Golf and Terminal and stand by with Eng #2 and Truck # 2 for orders.”

Squad Engine # 3 is first on the scene followed by Truck # 3 with the Chief about 2 minute behind them.

The squad puts their standpipe bundle on Eng # 3’s wye line, splits their crew and continues west in the alley extinguishing the fire on both side of the alley.

Truck # 3’s crew shuts down the 2-1/2” line, removes it from the tree and advances it around to the west side and starts to extinguish the 4 garages  that are burning.

The next several minute seem to fly by when I see The Fire Chief behind me. I tell him “Chief—-It is all yours.” “That is OK Lieutenant you handle it and if you have trouble I will take over.”  I ask “Sir,Do you think that is such a good IDEA?” His reply, “Just do what you have been doing”.

I tell the BOSS. The plan as I see it is to change the locations for the Mutual Aid Companies.

Have E Truck# 21 cover station #2 with MG # 319 and N Eng # 401 and 2-1-3 cover Station# 1 as we have Eng #2 and Truck #2 with 2-1-2 to cover this district and go city wide if we need them. To hold up on a shift recall as it is less than 2 hours to shift change and there will be on duty personnel arriving at the stations and if we need then they can sign in as determined by 2-1-3 as he is the current Duty Chief.

His reply is” OK. I will handle that for you.” He calls Dispatch and orders the changes to the mutual aid plan.                                                                                                                                                                                        Historical Note: This is the first time that changes are made to the mutual aid box card plan on file at Dispatch. The one card fits all is changed in the next few months following a total review of the events of the 9520 Terminal Fire. The 30 cards are replaced with 1 card with 3 options.

I make one trip around the fire ground and tell the officers just to knock down the flames and then to shut down and see what we will need to overhaul. To just extinguish the structure and the contents without moving anything until I get a chance to look for Cause and Origin.  Also I tell them that by order of 2-1-1    I am in charge of the incident.

In the back yard, I meet the family from 9520 Terminal with the Fire Chief to get some information on what took place after I had returned to quarters from the first alarm. Basically they had left the scene shortly after I departed, they had locked the doors and drove to a friend’s house to spend the night, until they could contact their insurance agent and only returned when one of the neighbors called them to tell them that their house was on fire again. They arrived back on the scene after we were already on the scene and applying water to the garages.

I examined the two piles of items we had placed in the rear yard and it was apparent that a rekindle had occurred in the burnt pile and somehow spread to the un-burnt pile, heat from the fire broke the garage window and allowed the fire to spread to the interior and then to the garage to the west and then other 2 garages across the alley. In my mind this could have been avoided if we had only removed the burnt items to the back yard, leaving the un-burnt personal items in the basement and not placing extra fuel for the fire. Apparently a glowing ember in the pile was fanned by the wind and caused a rekindle which spread to the other alley garages. The Fire Chief agrees with my finding and tells me complete all of the required reports including the Cause & Origin Investigation.

30 minutes later we have the fire down to a couple of hot sports. I Strike out the BOX and have all Mutual Aid Companies Return to their own towns. Have the 2nd and 3rd follow companies return to their own station and release Truck#3 and Squad/Engine #1 pick up all of the hose lines except one 1-1/2” line for wash down and return them to quarters to switch crews and have the oncoming crews report to the scene so that all of the member from the off going shift can be relieved.

As soon as Truck # 3 and Squad/Engine # 3 arrive back on the scene with fresh crews, the 1-1/2 line is connected to the Squad so that the tank water can be used for the final overhaul. Eng. # 3 is disconnected from the hydrant and I and my crew returns to quarters to end our 24 hour shift.

I meet with the On Coming Engine Crew to insure an orderly transfer. They will repack the hose and return to the fire scene to relieve the Squad so they can return to quarters to provide station coverage and follow Ambulance # 1 on all Sick Person Calls. Truck #3 and Eng.#3 will complete operations at the fire scene under the direction of D/C 2-1-2.

After a long hard shift, I climb into the shower and try to review the operations of the two fires on Terminal Ave and what my next actions will be and a timeline to accomplish them. Exiting the shower room I go to my locker and put on a clean uniform. The Squad Officer tells me that the Chief called and that D/C 2-1-3 called and wants to talk to me before I talk to the Fire Chief just to be sure we are all on the same page.

First things first, I call the BOSS. He tells me to come to Headquarters as soon as possible and to bring all my notes for a meeting with Staff Members. I call D/C 2-1-3 and tell him I have been ordered to Headquarters for a Staff Meeting and I will talk to him after the meeting. Before he can replied I say good bye, put on a dress shirt, tie, than on with my uniform jacket and dress hat, grab my briefcase and south I go for Fire Station #1 and the BIG meeting at Headquarters. Rookie Lieutenant called on the carpet by the Brass to explain his actions on the fire ground and may be facing charges for not following the rules.

As I walk through the kitchen area of Station # 1 I get a round of applause from the boys at the coffee table and wonder what they know that I don’t. Station #1 seems to know everything that is going on before anyone at the other station get the news. It is not always the correct information, but it is known as the `straight skinny’.

I am greeted by the Boss’s secretary in the waiting area just outside the Chief’s office as she says “I hear your guys had a busy time last night near my house.”  “Yes Mam, but since there were no injuries I think it was OK from a safety stand point, no duty injury reports  are always a good thing.” She tells me the BOSS is on the phone with the Mayor about the fire and will be with me as soon as possible. I ask her if I should wait in the conference room and she say no the rest of the staff is in there and HE wants to talk to you first, ALONE.

About 5 minutes later the Chief came out and said “Mike come into my office so we can chat.” Closing the door he asks if I would like some coffee while we talk. I answer that I am too nervous about the meeting and what is to be discussed. He tells me he received two phone calls this morning, one from the village manager and one from the Mayor. That I am to be in the Mayor’s office at 10:00am and then following that meeting to go to the village manager’s office to answer some questions he needs answered.

I answer all of the Chief’s questions which we had discussed the night before and then come the real hard questions.

“Do you know what happened at Dispatch before and during the call was received?”   “No” I answer.

“Did you have any contact with D/C 2-1-3 during your entire work day?”  “Yes” I answer. He was at the first call while you were there and he directed operations after you left the scene for about 3 hours. We were following his order to remove all of the items from the basement during that time frame.”  This morning I returned his phone call and told him I was coming to headquarters at your direction and that I would meet with him following that meeting.”

“Did you have any contact with either of the other two Deputy Chief’s during you entire shift?” No, Sir I did not talk with or have contact with D/C 2-1-2 or D/C 2-1-4 for the entire length of my shift.

OK then I guess we can go into the staff meeting, if any questions are ask, I hope you will take a deep breath before you answer, especially  if  it is from D/C 2-1-3 about the 2 fires on Terminal last night and early this morning. If you do not understand the question ask for it to be restated. “Do you understand my instructions” I answer” Yes, Sir I understand.”

As I enter the conference room there are just two open chairs in the room, both are near the head of the table which does not have a chair. The Chief takes the one to the right side of the table and motions me to the one at the left side. We are now facing each other and I have to turn my head to look at the others.

All 3 Deputy Chiefs, the 3 Shift Captains, The Fire Prevention Captain, the Training Officer, The Chief Alarm Board Operator and Sue the Department Secretary are all seated and silent as I take my seat.

The Chief begins the meeting by stating that there was a small fire on Terminal Ave around 10 pm and a REKINDLE around 6 am that caused many thousands of dollars in Fire Damage that should never have happened, and gentlemen “ I want Answers.”

Since Lieutenant Adams seems to have been a major player in both alarms. I have asked him to attend this staff meeting and to relate the events as he witnessed them.  “Lieutenant  your ON.”

I am next to speechless as I was never told I was the floor show for my own hanging. To try and get some common ground I try to pull my thoughts together with the starting point just before we received the first fire call. I ask the Chief Alarm board Operator to tell the group how the call was received, how it was handled and then what information was passed on to the fire companies. I have no idea what occurred in the center at the time of the first call to Dispatch. While Nev is talking I start to draw the fire scene on the chalkboard as the entire 2 city block area and then the building at 9520 Terminal.

The alarm was received on the 2121 fire number with the home owner stating that there was some rubbish burning somewhere and he could smell it is his house. The operator asked for the address and was told 9520 Terminal. At this point Old Julius gave out the alarm as rubbish in the rear of 9520 Terminal and only Eng. # 3 responded as per S.O.P.’s.  While Eng. #3 was in-route the alarm board received two more calls for the odor of smoke in the area and one was a call back from the home owner at 9520 Terminal. This information was never relied to Eng. # 3.

When Eng. # 3 arrived on the scene they went 10-23 and asked for a full still for a dwelling fire.  At this point D/C 2-1-3 call the operator and asked Why the engine was ordering a full still alarm and at this point Old Julius told him about the 2 other calls. Julius put him on hold so that he could dispatch the fire companies, when he came back to the D/C’s call, he was screamed at by the D/C, so he hung up the phone and started filling in the alarm card. Julius also stated that Truck # 3 and Squad# 3 responded while he was giving out the alarm and that Eng. # 1 did not respond until they were dispatched. I write the alarm times on the board as Nev reads them. This was the start of the time line for this fire. I ask for the time stamp for all the arrival times of the follow companies and the time stamp for any other information that Old Julius recorded, like the 10-7 time for Eng. # 3 and any progress reports. I add them to the previous listed times and events so we now know not only who did what, but when it actually happened. I also note the time 10pm with a circle around it and the wording—WATER ON THE FIRE.

I ask Sue she had taken down any notes and she answers “No.” I ask her to just take some notes because I have not had time to complete all my reports of the two fires and I do not want to forget any information that will be exchanged during the discussion.

The Boss nods in her direction, but I can see she is not happy with my request.

Over the next 15 minutes I covered the operations of the first fire and then ask if there are any questions. There are no questions.

I cover the second fire in about 10 minutes and again ask for questions. There are no questions.

The fire scenes for both alarms are now drawn on the chalk board, the timeline listing all events is complete and it is time to ask one last time “Are there any questions?”

The Fire Chief asks “Are you sure of the Cause and Origin of both fires?” “I reply “Yes Sir. I have a complete set of photos taken by the Evidence Tech from the Police Department and statements from all company officers on the scene and hand written reports from all members of Engine # 3’s crew.” “ I also have the statements from all the persons of the fire buildings and from all of the residents of all of the houses in the 9500 block of Terminal, the 5230 block of Foster and a passing motorist that had made one the  first calls for smoke in the area around 9:50 pm.”

“Based on all of this evidence I find the first fire to be Accidental from combustibles to close to a hot water heater and the second fire to be an Unintentional Rekindle of the fire debris pile.”

“I recommend that the firefighters assigned to Engine # 3 for these two alarms have a letter of commendation placed in their personal files. I will submit the request on my next duty day.”

I make my closing statement. “Are there any closing questions?”

“Since there are no more questions Chief, I need to be in the Mayor’s Office shortly. May I be excused?”

The Chief thanks me for my report and tells me to call in at 4pm this afternoon.

I exit the conference room and head for the rear stairway where I find two shift officers waiting for me to tell them what happened, but I need to book it to make the meeting in the Mayor’s Office so I tell them I am late, but I will stop back before I head home.

As I walk into the Mayor’s Outer Office I am greeted by his wife and son. Little Al has to go back to school as he was just leaving as I arrived. She tells me that her husband will be free in a few minutes and to sit down so she can talk to me. She asks about my family and I tell her we are doing fine. She asks how I like going back to school and how are my college grades. I tell her, I am not at the top of the class, but I am not at the bottom either.

Big Al comes out and gives me a very hard hand shake and says to go on in and have a seat. His wife follows me into the office as Big Al closes the door. He says I heard we had a couple of fires last night and that you and you crew were the stars of the show. I just tell him it was no big deal, just doing what you do best, put wet stuff on the red stuff.

I wait for the reason for my presence at the top of the pile and he says.” I bet you wondering why I wanted to see you.” I tell him “Yes Sir, I was kind of thinking along those lines.”  He then tells me, “Anggie wants to talk to you about painting the outside of our house yet this fall and a couple of the neighbors would like to have so wall covering hung before the holidays.”  OK I will have to take a look to see what needs to be down and it will depend on the weather. Give me the contact info for your friends and I will contact them. I ask why he called me to his office to discuss this, that I am afraid this could be a conflict of interest. He says I am not on the clock and he does not view this as my doing any favors for his family. He then said come with me.

We walk over to the Village Managers office and I am informed he too wants some construction work done at his house, that the Fire Chief told him I do concrete work.

I was worried about my job and I now I have picked up several more jobs for my off duty days.

I think that some time REKINDLES are good things.

1 Comment »

  1. You, my man, are one hell of a writer. A doggie going tinkle on a hydrant and he gets smoked. Good Stuff!

    Comment by Curt Rude — January 29, 2014 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

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