Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Insignificant Catastrophe

We see the smoke as we leave the station. Engine 24 and ourselves have been dispatched to a reported van fire on the highway. We arrive on scene just as the right front tire blows. The van is fully involved with the engine compartment burning as well as the contents of the van at the rear.

"E24, E18 - when you get on scene, spot behind our engine and stand-by, you are probably going to be released in a minute or two."

My engineer spots the engine behind the van at a 45 degree angle. The medic and the firefighter pull an attack line and go to work. The other tire blows as they begin to put water on the fire. I tell them to watch for the front bumper and for lift struts. I do this on every car fire after having one of my guys clobbered by a bumper cylinder. They knock the fire down in short order. I cut the other engine loose and begin getting information from the driver.

The driver speaks little english but we use her daughter as an interpreter. She tells us that she was driving down the highway and noticed the van was running hot. A few minutes later she smells smoke and pulls over. As she and her 15 yr old daughter leave the van, she notices flames coming from under the hood.

I am curious as to why the van was so well involved. It is the middle of the day, a busy highway with great cell phone coverage and within 3 miles of my station.

I can't tell exactly what caused the fire, the damage to the engine compartment is severe. I can tell you that the fire started near the front of the engine on the right hand side and that it spread into the passenger compartment through the firewall right at the heater box.

We begin overhaul in the passenger compartment. Is is filled with bundles of used clothing all damaged by fire on the surface. They are all sooted up and are wet with a water and class A foam mixture. We remove the bundles, soaking them as we break them open on the shoulder of the highway. We also find some steel pipes and some blue plastic tarps that were under the clothes.

I look up and see that the driver of the van is sobbing as we remove the bundles and break them open. Something about our driver's response caused my sensitivity light to come on and I realized that this woman and her daughter kept the wolves from their door by selling used clothing at a local swap-meet.

She is still weeping when I speak to her about the van. She tells me that she paid $1500 dollars for it a month ago. She has all of her merchandise in the van and was only able to grab her purse when she got out.

She asks me if there is anything that can be saved from the van. I tell her that I don't think so, the clothes are either burned, covered in smoke or soot or are soaked in class a foam. The van is a total loss.

It is during this conversation that I realize that this woman not only lost her van, she lost her job as well. She told me that she had about $3500 worth of clothing in the van, all of it now ruined.

The State trooper arrives and requests a tow. By now the hose line is picked up and we leave the woman and her daughter with the trooper.

By our standards, it was an insignificant fire. To the van driver, it was a catastrophe. I just hope she can recover.

Thanks for reading,

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