Archive for Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blaze destroys home in Baldwin City Tuesday

February 16, 2006

A mid-afternoon fire in the home of Bill and Jan Stotts at 818 Indiana Monday was trouble from its start with an unattended candle and didn't end until the $123,000 home was destroyed.

"It wasn't Friday the 13th," said Fire Chief Allen Craig, before being told of the date of the fire. "I didn't think about Monday the 13th."

It was a full moon, too.

Problems with responding to the fire first involved it being reported via 911 around 3:30 p.m. as a Lawrence fire. Fire fighters in Lawrence responded to Indiana Street there. There was no blaze. Craig was listening to the scanner traffic on his way back from work in Kansas City.

"It was first called out in Lawrence," he said. "Then he said this could be a Baldwin fire. My foot went on the gas pedal. Then they said heavy smoke and heavy flame. I hit the gas again."

At 3:53 p.m., the second radio call was made that it was a Baldwin fire. Seven minutes later, the first truck arrived along with four fire fighters. Two people in the home, Jan and her 20-year-old son, had already left.

"The wife and son were at home at the time," said Craig. "He's the one that told the mom. He said he thought they had a fire and smoke was coming down the stairway. I don't know if she called from the residence or elsewhere. She said her son said there was a candle burning upstairs."

Upon first arrival, heavy black smoke was pouring out of the upstairs room as firemen donned gear and readied their fire hoses. Flames soon were shooting out the window and the fire was spreading quickly.

"It was upstairs, definitely," he said.

That's when the next problem surfaced. As one group of firemen took the hose from the truck toward the house, another fireman went to hook onto a fire hydrant which was in the corner of the yard to supply the truck, which had 1,000 gallons of water in it already.

Fire fighters knocked the flames down with what they had, but it was soon discovered the hydrant, one of the oldest in the city, wasn't working. Water was spewing from the top and sides of it, but was not filling the hose to the truck.

"It blew up. Valve or whatever," Craig said of the hydrant. "It's an older hydrant. It's a Chapman, one of the older styles we have around town."

Not long after that, a fire truck from Palmyra Township arrived and a line was taken from it to another hydrant two blocks north. Another line was run to a hydrant about a block east. In the meantime, the water on both trucks had been exhausted. That's about the time Craig arrived on the scene and began frantically giving directions for the next moves.

"Our truck ran out of water and their truck ran out of water," he said.

That's when the flames reappeared out of the top floor and could be seen racing through the walls of the lower floor as well. Once the other lines were hooked up, fire fighters were again able to hose the house. And, the city's ladder truck with additional water capacity also arrived.

"I said 'I need the 5-inch (line) laid off the Quint,'" Craig said. "That's when I used the deck gun."

The deck gun from the original fire truck on the scene made all the difference. It sprayed a constant heavy dose of water onto the structure and quickly brought the fire under control.

Monday's blaze also pointed to the need of more volunteer firemen in Baldwin, especially during the daytime hours during the week. The Signal had a story in last week's issue about the need. Monday made that even clearer.

"Yep, day time," Craig said of the need for more volunteers. "I don't want to specify 8 to 5. We need anyone. If we would have had five applications last week, they'd of had to have been gophers Monday without training."

The fire department, for the most part, doesn't have a lot of action.

"Eighty-five percent of our calls are false alarms," he said.

Last year's statistics show that 40 percent of the calls are on the weekend, split evenly between Saturday and Sunday (20.43 percent each). Wednesday is the biggest week day with 17.20 percent, followed closely by Thursday with 13.97 percent. Oddly enough, both Monday and Friday account for only 8.60 percent of the fires each.

People interested in volunteering can pick up an application at City Hall. In last week's story, Craig said the department has enough fire fighters for evenings and weekends, but the weekdays are shorthanded.

City crews were already out Tuesday morning replacing the fire hydrant that malfunctioned at the fire scene. City Administrator Jeff Dingman said the hydrant was just old and said they are replaced when identified.

"There are several of those hydrants and the fire department is charged with testing them periodically," said Dingman. "This testing occurs as the volunteers have time to do it. I don't know when the last time that particular one was tested.

"The old hydrants don't have a 'pumper' nozzle and only have a 4-inch shoe to supply water," he said. "To compound the problem, the old hydrants are only attached to a 4-inch water main, which we have a lot of in the older part of town. This is where problems occur. The current standard is to install 8-inch mains and hydrants that have 'pumper' nozzles and 6-inch shoes. The fire department was quick to react and connect to hydrants on the other blocks which have already been upgraded and supply more water. This is work that public works crews have done in the past in order to upgrade the worst mains and associated hydrants.

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