Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lessons Learned: by guest-Dad Taylor

All day Sunday Blaine kept saying things like, "Dad, thank you for saving the whole family." Yes, my husband is a super-hero these days. Here, you find out why.

On Saturday night, we stayed the night at my parents' house. They only live ten minutes from our house so we generally don't sleep there, but we had a meeting at church that we were both supposed to attend early Sunday morning and neither of us wanted to miss it so we slept at my parents' house so we could let the boys sleep in the morning. At 12:45 a noise woke me up that I assumed was one our boys out of bed. I got up and walked into the hall to put the kid back in bed and was confused to see the window on the opposite end of the house lit up in orange. I ran to the window and looked out to see bright orange flames climbing up the side of the house. The sound that had woken me up was the crackling of burning wood. To spare you the trauma of anticipating the possible terrible outcomes, I will tell you now that everyone made it out safely and even the house itself avoided serious damage. But we learned some things about fire prevention and the importance of preparing for emergencies and I asked Anne and Emily if I could write about our experience in hopes that you might avoid an exciting night like we had.
The next 10 minutes were an adrenaline-fueled rush with little conscious thought and mostly automatic reaction. I woke my parents up and told my mom to call 911 (I think my exact words were "There's a fire. Fire on your house. Call . . . use the phone"). My wife and I grabbed the boys and we ran outside where I left the boys with my mom and Anne, then my dad and I grabbed the hose to start battling the flames. He kept the hose tangle-free while I ran the nozzle to the fire (in my pajamas, OK, fine, underwear--sorry, no picture) and started spraying the now frighteningly large fire. It was big enough that I wasn't entirely sure that the water from the garden hose would be sufficient to put it out but not so big that it seemed futile. I'm not sure how long it took, but after what seemed like five minutes or so, I was able to extinguish all the flames. As I was hosing down the last flickers, the police came flying up the street, followed by the two fire trucks and my mom brought me some pants. Gratefully, the firemen didn't even need to take out their hoses. The firemen (including Engineer Burns--no joke, that's his last name) came up to inspect my work. They used their fancy thermometer gun to find any hot spots so we could be sure that nothing would reignite. They ripped off some charred boards and I sprayed a little more water on everything. Upon a close inspection of the home, the firefighters determined that after another 1-2 minutes, the flames would have really started tearing into the house and caused major damage, very fast.

The firemen left and we all went back inside the smokey, but amazingly unscathed house and marveled at the outcome. Only the outside panes of the upstairs window broke so the house didn't get much smoke inside (which is why the smoke alarms didn't wake us) We sat in the living room, only a few feet from the wall that had been engulfed in flames and played the what-if game; thinking of all the paths that could have led to a more devastating outcome. What if we hadn't spent the night? What if I hadn't heard the flames? What if I had taken time to put on pants before running outside (that never even occurred to me--who thinks of pants when your house is on fire)? What if the hose hadn't been attached, or couldn't reach the flames? I thank God that we were there that night, and that I woke up and got up without any hesitation. Looking back, it's strange that I immediately jumped out of bed the instant the sound woke me up. I often hear one of kids awake at night and then my wife and I spend a minute trying to convince the other to go deal with it before one of us reluctantly drags his/her weary carcass up to check on them. That night, every second was precious. No person was in immediate danger, but two more minutes could have destroyed half of the house.

The fire had started by the spontaneous combustion of some stain-soaked rags that had been thrown in the garbage after my parents finished their deck that day. The flames in the garbage quickly ignited the wooden ledge above and from there, the flames started climbing the wall. The picture doesn't quite do justice to the damage, especially because much of the charred wood was torn off the night of the fire.

Lesson #1:
Spontaneous combustion of rags soaked with wood stain requires NO heat. Everyone has heard of spontaneous combustion, but most people assume that some sort of heat, such as the sun, a nearby furnace, or an electrical wire is necessary to start the fire. In reality, the oxidation of the oil in the stain produces heat and when left in a pile, the retained heat can build up to the point of ignition. Crazy, huh? So how do you properly dispose of stain-soaked rags? Put them in a metal can filled with water and covered with a tight-fitting lid (such as the can the stain came in) and take it to a hazardous waste collection facility or save it until your trash collection company has a hazardous waste collection day (most have one once or twice a year). Just to be sure that's clear--our fire started in the middle of a 38 degree night, inside a plastic garbage can, not near any heat source or electricity.

Lesson #2:
This fire reminded us of the importance of preparing our family and our home for a fire. We've checked our smoke detectors and discussed how we would get out of our home quickly if we needed to. We realized that the only other way out of our upstairs bedrooms is a 16 foot jump so we plan on buying fold-up ladders for each room. Spend an evening discussing fire safety with your family. How do you get out of your home if a door is blocked, where do you meet, how to call 911, etc.

I feel empowered by this experience. In a dangerous situation, I protected my family and my parents' home. I now know one way to prevent a fire from starting and I feel like my family is more prepared to deal with a fire if one happens at our house. We can't prevent all disasters, but we can certainly prepare ourselves to deal with them to improve our chances of a less-than-disastrous outcome.


Alicia said...

Wow. Great job, Taylor. Now we have one more reason to think you are awesome! I often think about fires and if we are prepared for one (which after reading this I realize we are not). Is it funny that after thinking about a fire I ALWAYS think about how I'll have to go outside in my underwear? Thanks for sharing that experience and lessons!

sumthinghappened said...

I learned a lot by reading your post. Thank you. Glad every thing turned out okay in the end.

The Parkers said...

Wow, thank you so much for sharing this with us. We just moved into a 3rd floor condo and have not even thought about a fire escape plan living this high up. We will need to get us some window ladders as well I think! Also, I ALWAYS sleep in pajama pants for this very reason LOL, seriously I do because I'm always afraid I will end up outside in front of all my neighbors practically naked ;). So glad to hear though that everyone is OK and that it turned out the way it did. Nice work Taylor!

Elsa said...

An amazing story that could have turned out in tragedy ... so glad everyone made it out and the house didn't have more damage!
you should consider being a writer ..

Emily said...

good job super-hero tay! i am so glad everyone is safe. thanks for sharing, i will be thinking of ways to protect my family for sure this week.

Bloom said...

My 2 cents:

Taylor is so matter-of-fact. If I had written this post it would have been far more dramatic. Like the part about first seeing the fire. It was enormous. Definitely the most terrifying moment of my entire life.

Once I was out of the house with my 2 sleepy boys, I needed a warm place to sit with them, so I opened the door to my m-i-l's camry that was parked in the driveway. At that moment I was grateful that 1)she wasn't parked in the garage and 2) she never locks her car. I sat there and watched Taylor fight the fire doubting that a garden hose could put it out. But one thing I can tell you-I wasn't worried for Taylor at all. I trust his instincts. I knew he would be safe. I turned my head from the fire and focused on my boys--I was in full maternal instinct mode now. I kept reassuring them that everything was fine and to go back to sleep. Thankfully, they never felt the stress or fear or gravity of the situation. But they sure thought the fire trucks were cool.

We were all so full of adrenaline that we were shaking. I literally did not sleep the rest of the night. My body was shaking, my guts were twisting (my body's reaction to my nerves), my mind was racing. I kept asking Taylor, "Are we sure there aren't any more rags anymore? Did you double check? Are we sure?!"

Like Taylor said, as we played the 'what if' game, we were amazed at how all the little ducks were in a row that night. It could have been SO.MUCH.WORSE. Before we all went back to bed around 3 a.m. we all got on our knees and thanked God for the favorable outcome.

Just a couple of days later, I almost cannot believe it all happened.

Linds said...

You're my hero just for getting up when you thought it was one of your boys! I'm so glad your family was safe. Time for me to rethink the whole sleeping without pjs.

Sally said...

Wow! How scary, and how very lucky you woke up quickly. Although I'm sure it was much more than luck.

Natalie said...

So glad you are all ok. Fire is my absolute worst nightmare, so scary.

Barb @ getupandplay said...

I have tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms. Really powerful story, thanks for sharing. You have energized me to triple check the fire alarms and practice how we'd get out of the house.

shaunie said...

Thanks for the heads-up on wood-stain soaked rags. My family does a lot of wood staining, and I never knew they could spontaneously combust!

Heather said...

Wow. Glad everyone was ok and there was no further damage! That is really scary. I was once told to keep a pair of old tennis shoes under the bed in case of a fire or earthquake - broken glass, etc.

Anyway, thanks for the info, who knew!? Makes me want to go out and get those ladders!

Marlo said...

Wow, I'm glad you saved the day Taylor.

Jason and Rachel said...

Being that my dad is one of Medford's Battalion Fire Chiefs, I can attest that there is an Engineer Burns, I have met him. :) But growing up in a Firefighter's home, we had fire drills. I would recommend this for every family. Run through your family meeting spot, what would happen if the door handle is hot, and how you need to stay low and exit. As we got older, we also practiced what would happen if we could not get to mommy and daddy. I am so thankful for the training and the practice so that I can then help to teach my kids and prepare my home as well!