I hate that saying “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” because we all know it to be false. Don’t believe me? Light a candle. No smoke. Now blow it out. Poof…smoke. Where there’s smoke there are byproducts of combustion.
Now where did they put that darned combustion?
11 PM and things are winding down at the firehouse when the radio teases us the way they love to do, “Standby for the box” the voice calmly states as if settling on a choice of new carpet.
Most times the alarms hit somewhere else and we get to listen to the response, but when that tease is followed by the automatics firing on and the bells ringing, we get moving. And fast.
“Engine 99, Engine 66, Engine 88, Truck 4, Truck 21, Battalion 5, Battalion 12, Rescue 3, Division 4 and Medic 99 respond to 123 Maple for a reported smoke in a building, alarm sounding. Repeating…”
She went on but I was already heading for the engine, turnout pants buckling as I went, weaving in and out of the paths of the firemen descending the poles.
There are folks outside of the 4 story type 3 with similar buildings on each exposure-attached and we see nothing showing. Alarm bells are ringing and folks tell us of smoke on the third floor.
Grabbing the can and a tool I’m right behind the officer as we make entry to the lobby to an old alarm panel that simply has a light flashing next to “trouble.” Trouble indeed, no zone, no detector, we’ll have to do the walk.
The walk, as we call it, is the systematic check of all doors by opening them to check for fire conditions. If they can not be opened we gently break the seal at the top of the door feeling for heat and looking for smoke.
As we continue our walk there is indeed a scent of burning paper on the third floor, but no visible sign of smoke. the truck has made the roof and done a 360 of the building, (yes we do that part of the sizeup from the roof) and are now searching top down.
Minutes pass as we investigate the source of the smell of smoke. None of the units have fireplaces, the garbage chute is clear, the grills are clean and cool, but darn it if we can’t find the source.
After making another walk through each unit I was resigned to take the apartment hose pack back downstairs when the firefighter emerged from the hallway and said, “Come take a look at this, will ya?”
Inside one of the kitchens he has a headlamp I admired at FDIC pointed towards the ceiling and said, “Do you see smoke up there or am I crazy?”
“Command Engine 99, we have smoke in unit 4.” was my traffic and we set out to discover the source. As more bodies came into the tiny unit and the even tinier kitchen, all in full gear, I stuck my head out the kitchen windows and looked outside. I could smell the burning paper, but where was it?
As I turned to leave the spot near the window behind a table, my axe handle rubbed against a large paper bag and the bottom fell right out of it. The burnt bottom. And all the trash in it was burnt. We dug through looking for a match or a cigarette or some other source but found nothing but trash.
Where there was smoke, there had been an early stage of combustion. but had it not been for the smoke detectors, the occupants likely would have gone to bed, not knowing they would be awoken by fire cutting off their only means of egress.
A 9v battery saves the day again.