It is not always the size of the fire, but rather quite often the location of the fire that dictates just how serious the perception of the event tends to be in the eye of the beholder. A perfect illustration of the aforementioned principle occurred on Wednesday, May 3rd, shortly before 12:30 PM when a single story, concrete block structure was reported to be fully involved. Although the property in question (a former convenience store now vacated and scheduled for demolition by new ownership) merely represented a 'typical' maximum full structure fire, the resulting emergency response garnered much media interest. With the property located at 2702 Edison Avenue, directly underneath I-10 near the Stockton Street ramps, the fire was certainly affixed to an area of significant prominence resulting in a massive presence of both print and electronic media. Routinely bringing the fire under control in less than ten minutes, firefighters had only to contend with the small scare of a possible roof collapse during interior combat initiatives and were pulled out by command upon the first sighting of the slowly sagging roof. With the partial roof and corresponding wall collapse of the building's south-western corner behind them, firefighters could take stock of the damages, currently estimated at $30,000. No injuries were reported, with investigation into the probable cause of the blaze still ongoing. All in all a standard fire 'event' that only garnered interest due to the proximity of the fire to a major traffic artery and, thankfully, did not result in any motor vehicle accidents due to limited visibility from the near-by smoke or distracted 'rubber-neckers' seeking a better view of firefighting activities.
A far more pernicious incident occurred shortly after 6 AM on Monday, May 8 at 7915 103rd Street; specifically a mobile home located at the Magnolia Circle trailer park. Firefighters responding to a report of a structure fire at the aforementioned address discovered only light smoke visible from the outside of the dwelling, with a much more horrifying visual found in the side yard of the property: there, on the damp early morning ground, a woman was frantically trying to revive two young children. While part of Engine 31's crew entered into the structure to extinguish any potential fire threat, the rest of the crew immediately began patient assessment of the young boy, age 7, and his sister, age 5. Unfortunately, any and all resuscitation attempts proved to be too late and the young children were pronounced dead at the scene. Patient assessment continued for the adult female, with the distraught 36 year old mother transported to Baptist by Rescue 22 for symptons consistent with smoke inhalation. Soon a most astonishing fact materialized indicating that the trailer itself, specifically the interior, was virtually unscathed with merely a few signs of slight smoke damage evident in only small, isolated areas of the home. The children's bedroom on the other hand, located in the far back portion of the trailer, was totally covered in soot and ash but without any significant heat or fire damage. For that matter, Engine 31 reported that upon entering the trailer only a slight amount of smoke was noticed wafting through the air from the children's bedroom. In other words, merely a 'W-2' assignment to a mobile home fire, with that type of manufactured structure barely impacted but nonetheless resulting in an incredibly tragic outcome with the loss of two young lives. What had happened? As the investigation began to unfold, it was soon discovered that a pool of molten plastic, unidentifiable, lay on the floor of the children's room near an electrical outlet. This product represented the only possible cause and point of origin of the fire as the rest of the bedroom, again, had only soot and ash evidence strewn throughout. Taking the commentary from Engine 31 into account, it appeared that this slow burning, smoldering heat source had eventually self-extinguished, but not before giving off enough thick and acrid smoke to fill the room from top to bottom, engulfing the helpless children as they lay asleep. Furthermore, the investigation also revealed that despite being equipped with three smoke detectors, not even one of the trailer's hard wired life safety devices was connected or contained a back-up battery. Although the device that caused the fire was soon identified and made public by local media as a result of commentary from family members familiar with the inventory of the children's room, State Investigators deemed the mound of molten plastic left behind as far too amorphous to justify or corroborate any statement made in regard to the true nature of the product. Samples were forwarded to the appropriate state labratory to see if the culprit of this tragedy could actually receive a positive identification.
Sunday, May 21st, proved yet another date that would claim a fire fatality. Firefighters arrived at the scene of a single story, concrete block appartment fire, located at 3658 Stanley Street, and discovered in the bedroom of the unit a 53 year old man suffering from severe smoke inhalation and slight second degree burns to the torso and hands. Despite immediate transfer to Shands by Rescue 20, all help came too late and the victim was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after arriving there. The events leading up to the tragic outcome were described to investigators at the scene by the victim's roommate. Apparently the disabled victim, a heavy smoker, was led into the bedroom by the roommate at approximately 1:30 PM, placed onto the bed, and that is when and where he was last seen alive, lighting a cigarette and preparing to enjoy the product while the roommate left the apartment to sit outside in the bright May sunshine with neighbors. Nearly 30 minutes later, one of the aforementioned neighbors asked permission to enter into the apartment to return a borrowed bottle of ketchup. It was only then, when opening the door to the apartment and encountering intense heat and a vast amount of smoke, that anyone in the entire apartment complex had any idea that a fire was occurring in the home. The roommate, along with several neighbors, attempted to enter into the unit but were driven back by the heat and smoke. Persistent, they next gathered several fire extinguishers and ran to the back of the apartment, now also joined by the victim's daughter who was present at the time, and broke the window to the bedroom. The daughter, actively participating in this phase of the attempted rescue, sustained minor cuts and lacerations to her hands and forearms from the glass fragments along the window pane. To their collective dismay, the would-be rescuers could see the victim laying on the floor, motionless, with heavy smoke and some flame visible in the room and primarily emanating from the mattress. Although one of the fire extinguishers malfunctioned, the other rescue devices worked well enough to reduce the smoke and virtually eliminate all flame activity, a fact that was later verified by the first arriving engine company. The aforementioned group, Engine 12, encountered some difficulty when attempting to force open the door to the bedroom; this would soon prove to be the result of the weight of the victim's motionless body against the door. With the cause of the fire and corresponding tragedy quickly attributed to careless smoking by investigators at the scene, the next phase soon turned to the subject of prevention. It was here that investigators made the typical discovery that is almost always present and a significant factor in a tragedy of this magnitude: a non-working smoke detector. Even though the apartment unit had a smoke detector attached to the wall, the battery inside the device hadn't been changed in quite some time and was therefore not capable of supplying the life-saving device with the energy needed for it to perform. Of course, in other words, the battery was 'dead.' Another reminder for everyone to check smoke detector batteries twice a year, such as during the switch between daylight savings time. Maybe that, in itself, should be called 'life-saving' time.