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A structure fire, a rolled over tractor trailer, and Second Signal begins to take off

By Andrew Pollack on 12/08/2006 at 09:55 AM EST

Sorry for the silence - it has been really busy with the fire stuff this week. On Tuesday evening, just as I was getting ready to take Ari and Coryn to their soccer practice a call came in for a reported structure fire here in Cumberland. The call was on the west side which means Engine 1 (my crew) isn't on the initial response, but when they come in as a structure fire they usually escalate pretty quickly. I looked at Barb who decided that she could miss the Girl Scout meeting she'd planned to go to and then I headed out the door.

Just a few seconds after I arrived at the station, the call was escalated to the "All Hands" -- which is when Engine 1 is added to the call to go to the West Station to stand by. Out of town units are added to the scene including a tanker shuttle and engines to staff our Central Station. By the time we had Engine 1 halfway to the West Station the first units on scene had reported a 3 story wood structure fully involved with flames 30 feet in the air. As the chief was arriving he called for the second alarm and we diverted directly to the scene as additional out of town units were added to the incident for coverage, manpower, and water.

A 3 story structure is roughly 30 feet tall. With reported flames 30 feet above that you've got quite a fire. From a couple of miles out, in the night sky we could see a surreal yellow glow like an almost vertical column with heavy black smoke in the middle. The smoke and light continued straight up so that it looked like something out of the "Lord of the Rings". I've been told it was visible from 15 miles away.

Keep in mind it was well below freezing, after dark, and there was no municipal water supply. Though the barn, garage, and wood shop were fully involved, the family home was not involved -- but was only 15 feet away. The garage overhang was something like 4 feet from the porch steps. The decision from command was to work to save the house. There would be no stopping the initial structure.

On arrival, we were assigned to pass our water to our Engine 2 -- a tank truck and our primary water supply engine while sending available man power to the scene. Engine 2 was parked just passed the driveway and almost a thousand feet of 5" supply line led up the gravel driveway through the woods to the structure. I send two guys up to the scene and stayed with one other person and the truck as we backed up the drive way and hooked in to Engine 2. With our pump we delivered our thousand gallons in a few seconds. Meanwhile Engine 3 had pulled past and hooked the "dry hydrant" (a standpipe to a pond) and pulled a draft. They began supplying Engine 2 while we used a 2 and a half inch line back from Engine 2 to take that water back on as well so that we'd have a full tank if it were later needed.

Some hours later, we used the deck gun on Engine 1 to put foam into the roof space of the garage which had been fully loaded up with cut lumber. By the end of the evening the fire was down enough to be mostly in basement of that structure. Engine 1 was left on scene -- staffed by rotating shifts of people -- to watch the fire burn off the remaining fuel oil and other load rather than produce an environmental problem for people with wells near by. The next morning, we came back and put another six thousand gallons of water on the pile to put it the rest of the way out.

Although the three story barn and wood shop are gone, the house just a few feet away is not only still standing, it is completely undamaged. There isn't even a smudge on the painted porch that was only a few feet from the overhang of the other structure. Nobody was hurt, and the family slept in their home that night.

You can listen to the call at Second Signal.

Speaking of Second Signal -- check out the new web site at http://www.secondsignal.com. Little by little we're going public with it and talking to departments. Functionality is being made pretty, and we'll be accepting customers. It's been a long road to get here. I'm told it's now common practice those Cumberland firefighters who work in Portland and South Portland on the full time crews to put our fires on the speaker phone in the stations. The most common responses I get from people hearing it work for the first time all involve scatological references.

The most common are "Holy Shit!", "No shit?", "You've gotta be shitting me!", and "You're shitting me." I'm not sure what's up with that but I'll be I've heard one of these four phrases from something like 80% of the firefighters who see Second Signal in action for the first time.

Oh, and this morning brought 4 inches of "mostly cloudy". We weren't expecting snow so when the fire radio went off before 6am for a tractor trailer with a load of 6" by 6" by 8' lumber, the snow was a bit of surprise. Fortunately there were no major injuries today. There were just a bunch of cars off the road and in various states of purchase on their sides and roofs. Welcome to winter.


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