So let me tell you about my night last night.
We had a fire in my building. Yes, everyone is fine and no – no damage to our place save a little smoke odor. But let this be a reminder folks – check your smoke detectors, have a fire exit plan, keep all your valuable papers, computer backups, etc.. in a fireproof box or in a safety deposit box. Until you have been through this – you don’t realize the importance of this. So here’s the full story:
6:30 PM – we had just finished dinner and I had just cleaned up the kitchen. Our downstairs neighbors knock on our door to ask if we are getting any water in our place from the ceiling. I tell them no – but I see a small amount of water on the floor in our utility room – a puddle coming out from under the washer. I know it’s not our hot water heater because it was replaced a mere three months ago. I go next door and I see water gushing down their walls, out of a hole in their ceiling. We go outside and see water gushing off the balcony of the unit upstairs. I figure their hot water heater burst. We walk back around the front, where the woman who lives in the downstairs unit is attempting to get the water company to turn off the water. Then – we see smoke – from the attic vent. Our building consists of 8 units – 4 downstairs, 4 upstairs, all corner units. So this is the unit on the opposite side of the building from us, upstairs. I run in the house and call 911 – operator tells us it’s been called in – fire dept. is on their way.
Brenda figures out where the woman upstairs works – we have talked to them on many occasions, an older couple – mid to late 50’s, kids grown, and they have always been nice to us. They are B and P. She tries to call her work, to get her cell phone # to call her. As she is on the phone trying to get that info, the fire trucks arrive. They usher us out of our house quickly. We snatch up Melissa and our important papers from our filing cabinet, and are out in a flash. Brenda tells the woman at B’s work that she needs to get a hold of her right away – her house is on fire, and hangs up.
Brenda sees J – a woman who lives across the street whom we see walking her dog all the time. Melissa loves her dog and she invites them in to get warm. I stand outside watching nervously. There are firewalls between all the units, but the fear is still incredible.
One firefighter kicks in the door with one kick. A number of them rush in. They break out the windows of the upstairs unit. Out of one sails a cat playground – of course – all carpet and cardboard, totally flammable. A firefighter emerges with a cat – her face is sooty but she’s squirming to get away, so she’s obviously ok. She’s handed off to a big burly police officer – who looks so thrilled to now have “cat duty”. At this point more fire engines pull up, and police cars. There are about 10 fire engines, and I can’t tell you how many people now congregating to watch. They pull an engine with a crane up – and firefighters get on the roof and hack away at the attic to increase ventilation, and check for fire up there. They throw more stuff out the windows. There’s not a lot of smoke coming out anymore. One of the EMS workers takes an oxygen tank over to the cat, and cups the oxygen around her face. I realize that our Tigger is out already, and he’s likely huddled behind some bush avoiding all the noise and activity. There are a sea of firefighters standing around. I guess better to have a lot in case the fire had spread. It seems like they’ve put it out in a small amount of time.
The rest of the night is pretty much just waiting around. Brenda and I take turns going outside to see what the story is. They have to go in and survey the place, figure out what caused the fire, then board it up. Thank the fire codes for fire walls. There is only water damage to the unit directly below the one with the fire. They check the units on the other side of the building and they are all fine, they let those folks back in. They do more surveying, check the unit next to it upstairs for damage – it is fine. They check us out – ours is fine too. They tell us we may smell the smoke odor for a week or so but that since no smoke ever actually entered our place it’s just a smell that will dissipate. They let us back in, but of course there are still all the fire trucks outside. It is still a buzz of activity. Melissa gets a bottle and we get her to bed – it’s now 9:15.
B and P come home. We invite them in. They stay outside for a while, then B and some of her friends – the people she works with whom we talked to initially – had come over. They all come in and we offer them our living room. B is devastated, but keeps apologizing to us for ruining our night, for disrupting us. We just comfort her and tell her it is not her fault.
We find out that it was the dishwasher – they had started it to run before they left – and something shorted out. Once the fire got hot enough, it burst a pipe – hence all the water. You’d think that the water would put out the fire – but it had already spread to the cabinets. The firemen all tell them their place is salvageable – it was contained to the kitchen/utility room area, and there is smoke damage and some water damage – but it is likely they will be back in the place in three to four weeks at earliest. They will need a new kitchen, and to have the place cleaned for the smoke damage, but most of their other possessions, though dirty from smoke – will likely be fine. Also – the fire department cut a whole in the floor – which I guess is to let all the water from their hoses go down in one place – so there are some major repairs to be done, but they were stressing how it will all be able to be fixed in the end. No structural damage.
They stick around a while as they complete their investigation. They come to get B and P to take them up to get out any valuables. They say that even though it looks bad – not to worry, it will all get fixed – there is no structural damage – it’s all cosmetic. They go upstairs, and then come back down a few minutes later. We talk with B’s friends some more, and then when they come back down – I offer P a drink. I tell him we have scotch if he wants something a little harder and he accepts. He and B were out to dinner – they go out every Wednesday to the same place. She heard her cell phone ring but she let it go. P told us he said “Nah – let’s enjoy ourselves.” We tell them if they need anything to call us. They wait for the fire and police to finish their respective reports, and then go. All the fire trucks pull out, and most of the police leave too. Eventually there is one police car and a contractor left. We hear a lot of banging as they board up the windows. Brenda goes out and walks down the street to call for Tigger. He comes bounding out of bushes on the other side of the building, happy as a clam to see her. I pick him up and bring him in – the front walk is covered in glass and other debris, and I don’t want him stepping in it.
We finally settle in, but we’re still wound up. We watch American Idol – which the TIVO dutifully recorded, in spite of everything. They never even shut off the power to the whole building. Just those two units affected. We finally decide to go to bed, but lay there watching some TV. I think I drifted off about 11:30. Brenda probably took longer. It amazed me how fast everything happened. It was only about 4 1/2 hours. We weren’t even out of the house that long – maybe from 7 to 9:15.
This morning I walk around the other side of the building to survey the damage. Mostly broken glass out there. A kitchen light fixture and a lot of drywall – probably from the ceiling of the downstairs place. There’s a plastic basket sitting on the lawn – the basket is fully intact – only the top of the contents – some cleaning products – are all melted off. Probably from under the sink. There’s some pots and pans too – all sooty and singed. There are a bunch of things on the balcony – but they never broke out the patio door. Just the corner and front windows. It IS all just “stuff” but I still can’t imagine having to deal with replacing it all. Everyone is OK, everyone is safe. It happened while everyone was awake, which is a good thing. I don’t want to think about how much worse it would have been had it happened in the middle of the night.
I realized that we don’t have any of the neighbors’ phone numbers, let alone cell phone numbers. We’re all so isolated in our own little lives, that we barely get to know anyone around us. Yet – in a condo development – we live so close together. But if something like this happens – you realize that it’s not just your friends you need – you need to know your neighbors – or at least have points of contact for them in an emergency. You just never know when you will need them.
Not only that – but the need for a disaster plan. People talk about this all the time, but how many of us actually, truly do it? Do we have our own fire drills? Do we keep our important papers offsite? And don’t forget your PC – how much is on there that you wouldn’t want to lose? Back it up, and take it with you. Of course the obvious thing – smoke detectors. Check ’em. Make sure they work.
And finally – we all have cell phones. Use them. Answer them. You never know when it might actually be important.
Everyone’s OK. But I wanted to throw out the reminder. It hit too close to home last night.