Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Worst Shift Of My Career Part #3 - The Winds Truly Blow

Fourth Installment in a series of five. This installment does not involve small children being murdered or burnt to death, but involves a whiny captain - fire investigator who was not dealing with the days events very well.

I heard the call go out as we were finishing up the investigation on the burned-up little kids. Units in the second battalion were sent to an apartment complex, where an apartment was reported to be on fire. Someone had a radio tuned to the command channel and I heard the first in unit report heavy smoke and fire visible from a two-story apartment building.

"That one's yours", the lead investigator told me. "I'm not available and Chuckie's going to the hospital for follow-up. You're on your own".

I still had to finish up at the car fire, I decided to take my time and do it right. Maybe I would get lucky and a company officer at the apartment fire would figure it out and determine it to be accidental.

I monitored the apartment incident, and heard a request for a couple of extra engines, the IC was concerned about extension. The winds were still howling, the IC was being prudent. If the fire got into the attic, a large portion of the building could easily be lost. As we learned from my last post, these winds have a habit of turning small incidents into large ones.

After a short while, I heard the apartment incident declared under control. The crews must have done a great job in confining the majority of damage to the apartment of origin. I heard the request for an investigator as I was loading things up into the unit. I acknowledged the request, and headed toward the scene. I knew where I was headed, my in-laws lived across the street from the complex. Although not a "project" complex, it wasn't a luxury complex either. This was the second significant fire in the complex within a year.

I arrived on scene and found a few units remaining on scene. Most of the units had been released, as there was a shortage of available units and the winds were still causing a high call volume. I contacted the IC and quickly determined that no one had a clue where the fire started and that no one had been in the involved apartment when the first-in unit arrived.

The apartment had flashed over fairly early in the event, several rooms were burned out. This, combined with the above information meant that this was likely not going to be easy.

Investigating fire scenes are not unlike most other investigations. It is a game of being thorough and one of documentation. Both components are required, one is pretty much useless without the other. You need to do XYZ, but if you do not document your actions, don't bother. It can be tedious, though interesting. Although we liked to work in pairs, budgetary constraints often prevented this from happening. Doing the field work alone adds to the time, doing the documentation alone adds to the tedium.

On this evening, with a shortage of available units, I cut the suppression units loose and chose to go it alone.  Photos, sketches and notes - starting from the outside of the scene and working to the center. Interviews and more notes. Eliminating electrical, natural gas and mice with matches. More photos, more notes and digging. Digging and sifting. 

Darkness and a semi-hazardous work environment added to my melancholic state of mind, a rapidly dropping air temperature added to my physical discomfort.

Examination of the fire scene revealed burn patterns that indicated the fire started in the living room, on or near the remains of a coffee table and the south end of a sofa. Reportedly, no one had been in the unit for at least 24 hours as the tenants had moved out the day before. I didn't determine the actual event that caused the fire, but did eliminate the most likely accidental causes. After three hours, I still didn't have an answer and wouldn't have one until some follow up investigation was completed. Follow-up which would never occur,  as the overtime budget was depleted. 

In other words, another frustrating event in a totally screwed day.

Again, there is no tragedy in this installment, just me whining. I must say that on most days, none of this stuff would have really bugged me, we all have bad days. For some reason, on this particular day, the sequence and type of incidents formed the perfect storm and jacked me up.  I know people that have had several days like this, I was lucky only to have this one. I'm glad I won't have another like this again.

To be continued....

Thanks for reading,


  1. I predict you had more than one beer in mind when you got off shift. That is one ugly day.

  2. Lisa - Yes I did and yes it was.

    Thanks for the comment.