The familiar click of the speakers turning on let me know we were getting a call about a second before the tones went off. If you're used to working at my station you can hear that quiet click over all kinds of ambient noise. We were being dispatched for a residential fire alarm.
We roll on a lot of false alarms. Residential fire alarms are almost always the result of someone over cooking their dinner or a bag of popcorn. So many false alarms can lead to complacency, just like the villagers in the story of the boy that cried wolf. We were just like those villagers, unprepared to act when the time came.
We pulled up to the 3 unit apartment complex and found the courtyard between that building and the one next to it full of people, including a lot of kids. It was a weekend, it wasn't too cold, and it wasn't too late. Besides, the fire department was coming. Everyone likes to see a spectacle.
My captain and I were both "turned out" but neither of us had our bottles (SCBA) on. There was no smoke, This was another false alarm.
We headed over to the apartment and someone approached us. They said that they lived above the unit in question. They heard the smoke detector going off below them and smelled something like burning food. They had knocked on the door but no one answered.
It wouldn't be the first time that we've been to a house where someone left a pot on the stove. We knocked on the door again just to be sure. We also checked the windows. They were all closed and locked with the curtains drawn. The windows and the door were cool to the touch so there was little concern.
We determined that the renters and the manager had been called but there was no answer. With the indications we had that something wasn't right, my captain gave me the word. It was forcible entry time.
Let me just take a moment to say how much I love being a firefighter. It's fun. Especially at times like this.
I was already lined up with the front door. I did a forward kick that would have made my kids MMA instructor proud. When the door flew back I was greeted by a wall of smoke that extended from the ceiling to the ground.
My captain and I ran back to the rig to grab our SCBAs. We should have had them on already. Crap. I hate that feeling.
I grabbed the pack from my seat and threw it on while I walked back to the apartment. Now the crowd had moved back. No one wanted to get in our way. By the time I reached the door I was masked up. I stepped up to the doorway then disappeared into the smoke.
While the entire place was filled with smoke is wasn't thick and black. There was also no accompanying heat. The fire had snuffed itself out, suffocated....starved for precious oxygen. I made my way to the kitchen and found that there was indeed a pot on the stove with the burner going. The family had placed several baby bottles in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them and forgotten about it.
Once the water had boiled off the plastic started to burn. The knobs on the stove were melted and the paint on the wall was charred and blistered.
We opened the windows and doors and used a fan to remove the smoke. We moved the burnt items out of the house and then disconnected the stove and moved it to the center of the kitchen. With all that done we again checked to make sure the fire hadn't moved into the walls or the cabinets.
It could have been much worse. At least they had working smoke detectors.
And I learned a valuable lesson about complacency.