Tuesday, February 16, 2010

That Smell

"Attention Engine 222, respond to 741 Sullenberger Drive with a cross of Gann Street for a suspicious odor". We piled on the rig, and headed out to Sullenberger. On the repeat, dispatch further advised us that the RP smelled an unknown chemical smell and that the odor was present throughout his property.

There were three of us on Engine 222. Two of us were a little jumpy about suspicious odor calls, a few months earlier, we had been involved with a major incident that had started out as a "suspicious odor" call. That ordeal had lasted several days and had been expanded to two different locations. The litigation lasted several years. We won BTW, we usually do.

Sullenberger is the last street on a tract of homes that backs up to an orange grove. Once part of the county's greenbelt, the area once had thousands of acres of citrus groves. Now, homes have displaced many of the trees, replacing the greenbelt with concrete, stucco and turfgrass. The remaining groves were often used as a dumping ground. Construction waste, drug-lab remains, even bodies ended up in the groves. Some of these items produced odors.

Rotting carcass smells are the worst. You never know whether the stench is a dead dog or other animal, or whether a person has been dumped off to fester in the groves.

We knew what this smell was as soon as we pulled onto the street. The unmistakable odor drifted onto the cab, despite the closed windows. Although the substance is an irritant, it usually doesn't present any health issues unless direct contact is made with mucous membranes. Though strong, the odor wasn't bad enough to indicate that the source of the smell was on the RPs property. It was likely coming from the grove behind the RPs house.

The firefighter and I walked up to the door, rang the bell and waited for the RP to answer.

"Hi, we're from the fire department, did you call?" I asked as the homeowner opened the door.

"Yes I did" was the reply. " We've been smelling this smell all evening. It's making my wife nauseous".

"The smell that we're smelling right now?" My question was an obvious one, there was no doubt that the smell was the one he was talking about. But then, the source of the smell was quite obvious as well. "You don't know what that smell is? I asked further.

I had to be careful now, I didn't want to insult this guy.

"No I don't" was the homeowner's reply. "What is it".

I responded to his question with a question. "Are you from around here" I asked, again already knowing the answer.

"No, we just moved here from the beach. We moved in last Saturday."

Ah, that explains a lot I thought as I informed the RP that the orange groves provided an excellent habitat for skunks.

Welcome to the land of the dirt people my friend. All of the skunks in Newport Beach must have emigrated up here before you did. I'm just guessing that they won't be calling to complain about your smell.


  1. Do you get to charge him for that run?

  2. ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. THE worst smell ever, (except burnt skin). It just sticks with ya for hours afterwards.

  3. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    I loved this! For the orange grove story as well as the skunk story. It seems like it should be in Raymond Chandler somewhere, except all his skunks were drunk.

    Ha Ha!
    Ann T.

  4. Capt Schmoe:

    I'm with peedee. One time a skunk sprayed outside my home near an open window. Stunk for days.

    The Observer

  5. Mrs. B - Skunks are free - for now anyways.