Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

June 26, 2014

Never a dull fire scene: Local departments do lots of good work

— Last week I was working the evening shift when a call came over the police scanner. An attic fire had been reported at Wythe Avenue in Bluefield. After checking on the Internet and making sure I had the right street in mind, I headed out to see what was happening. A lot of times, you can’t tell how severe a fire or a crash really is until you get to the scene and see the situation for yourself. Everyone you need to interview is usually there, too, so it helps prevent an evening of phone tag.

I used to live along College Avenue, so I found the fire pretty quickly and found a place to park that was close by. Making sure I had everything I needed — digital camera, digital recorder, and old-fashioned pad and pen — I hurried to shoot some pictures. I try to get those out of the way first; if the situation changes suddenly, you might not have another chance to shoot pictures.

Then came the wait. I could see a firefighter in the house’s third-floor window, and others in full fire gear came out of the front door. They had been hauling their gear and a full breathing apparatus while working through intense heat, so they were exhausted. They sat on the lawn to cool off, drink water and pour some water over their heads.

One of them came over to assure me that I wasn’t being ignored, and I assured him that I had been to lots of these scenes and I understood that they had to take care of the business at hand first. The people I need to speak with are often the busy people who can’t immediately spare a moment.

Capt. S.A. McKenzie soon told me that the fire, along with smoke damage, had been contained to the third floor; the rest of the house could be inhabited. Better still, no injuries had been reported.

We talked and he pointed out that fire departments often succeed in stopping fires before they get out of hand, but these successes don’t always get in the media. The big fires that leave nothing but the foundations are usually the ones that get the most attention.

Fire departments across the region do a lot of good work that often doesn’t get much attention. They are the first on the scene when there’s a crash on the roadways, and they are present during floods, medical problems and other emergencies. Not all of their work gets into the media, but we try the best we can.

And I have to say that I’ve never been to a dull fire scene. Even the seemingly casual work of dousing a modest fire is interesting. I was wrapping up work after a long Monday that never seemed to end when the scanner suddenly announced a possible structure fire with explosion in Bramwell. We speculated among ourselves that the explosion could be anything from somebody being careless with gasoline to a meth lab exploding. The only thing to do was to head out and see what was happening firsthand.

I hurried to Bramwell and easily spotted the fire and was lucky enough to find a parking place nearby. Fortunately, the explosion was more of a “pop” of a household item in the fire. The old home was being demolished by burning. Firefighters from the Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department put out the fire to make sure it was done correctly, and they had taken time out of their evening to do it. Having to be ready at a moment’s notice isn’t always easy on the nerves.

It’s also easy to forget that fire fighting is expensive. A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Green Valley-Glenwood Volunteer Fire Department to do a story about a dog wash its members do for public relations and to raise more money for operations. Chief David Thompson pointed out how the price of equipment has gone up by thousands of dollars. Even the tradition fire helmet can cost hundreds of dollars. A long-lasting leather helmet — it can be refurbished more easily than a plastic helmet — can cost $700 or more. Fire trucks cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that’s before they are equipped with fire hoses and other equipment.

I have the reputation of being a bit of a fire bug. I don’t enjoy seeing people lose their homes or other property, but I do feel urgency when we hear about a fire. I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what firefighters feel. They’re relying on their experience and training to handle whatever they encounter once they get on the scene, so their thought processes are different from mine. I just record what happened. They have to actually do something to stop the fire and save lives and property.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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