My alarm had already gone off three times by 1AM. "Smokey odor," was elevated to "smoke showing," and finally "structure fire in progress." When my station, almost ten miles from the scene, was called to action I knew it was gonna be a long night.
Staggering through the fog of sleep I rolled out of bed, into a pair of gym shorts, and down the stairs like a tumbleweed made of noodles. The first dose of adrenaline squirted into my bloodstream as I felt the familiar texture of my gear bag, and I was full fucking noise by the time I was driving to the fire station to meet whoever else was roused by their beepers.
A tanker was just leaving the station as I squealed up, blasting the sleepy hamlet with strobes and LEDs. Rather than wait around for another unit to leave I just dropped a gear and started following it to the scene.
If there's ever a time it's Okay To Speed, it's probably on empty backroads roads en route to work a fire. Unfortunately even if the cops give you a pass, speed enforcement 'round my neighborhood is done by deer... who will happily hop in your way to pop airbags no matter what your hurry might be.
The truck I was following blazed into night; I hung back a little to preserve some night vision.
When we made the final turn, a quiet country road was gridlocked with response rigs. Red paint and LEDs were gleaming under hyperwhite work lights, and I felt another trickle of adrenaline. No false alarm this night.
With my car squirreled far from the action, I went through the gear-donning drill I'd practiced a hundred times and looked for the white helmet that would indicate someone in charge.
When I found the incident commander, he was staring pensively at a house that looked like a small airplane had tried to sneak in through a second story window.
The department's flagship ladder truck was squatting on outriggers; holding down the entire two-lane driveway with its massive aerial nozzle pointed at the house like it a cop would have drawn down on a just-captured notorious felon.
Angry red flames had just conceded to billows of steam, which poured off the building and was condensing on eye protectors all over the scene. The victorious nozzle that had just been pounding the fire with water at a rate of over 200 gallons-per-minute dripped a few last beads onto the ground as its operator crossed his arms and took a deep breath of relief.
Everywhere else, the tension had receded. Firefighters were buzzing all over the scene; pinging the structure with infrared cameras and tearing the building's siding open to expose and stamp out any residual heat that dared remain. I was put to work moving equipment around with a few colleagues.
The residents had set up fake zombie heads and arms in their yard, meant to look like they were popping out of the dirt. I'll tell you what; lugging life saving equipment over them in the dark made them look a lot more unsettling than they do on the shelf at Party City.
So, what exactly had put these regular people in danger and mobilized more than a dozen pieces of equipment carrying thirty emergency personnel?
"Some kind of halloween decoration we think. Overheated and caught the curtains or rug... some of those cheap lights and wires get awful hot," I was told.
Your takeaway? Maybe be conservative with the glowy-light ghosts this year and for godsake, don't leave them running unattended.
The fight had been won; but what had been Generic House #24 in Anytown, USA a few hours earlier was reduced to a pile of melted siding with some livable rooms attached.
The department mounted up to go home without cleaning the rubble we'd left on the driveway, when we'd torn through the wall to access and knock down the blaze. It's not because we're lazy, it's company policy for two reasons: "Cleanup duty" is considered too non-essential to have firefighting equipment tied up on (what if we get another call while we're shoveling shit?) Besides that, the site is meant to be left intact as much as is safe for investigators and insurance adjusters to examine.
Kids and hard-partying "kids" aren't the only folks who need to be encouraged to have a safe Halloween. Be careful with what you plug in and leave on, people.
Image via Sean/Flickr, not related to the actual incident.