Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Surviving a house fire and grateful for firefighters

Roscoe, our hero
Note: I've been up all night so this is a bit rushed but a personal account of a rather unpleasant experience.

Our little Jack Russell wouldn't stop barking this morning around 1 am. He hears people walk by sometimes and we had gone to bed late so we didn't pay too much attention to it.  I can't hear so well these days anyway but my wife thought she heard some sort of crackling noise and opened the hallway door to the living and dining room.

"There's a fire, there's a fire" she screamed.

I assumed she meant down the street so I got up and walked to the hallway door but as I peered in to the dining room I saw that the side of the house was ablaze along with the three huge shrubs that border it.

For a fleeting moment it entered my head to rush out the back and get a hold of the garden hose or the extinguisher that was in the laundry room but I could see that the blaze was advancing rapidly; this was serious. 

What met us as we walked in to the living room
The dogs were beginning to panic and headed toward the back in to the den.  But the back door was locked and even if we left it would be difficult to get out in to the street.  We called the dogs but they wouldn't come; they just stood at the back door.  The glass was beginning to melt or break out and the smoke was making it more difficult to breath so we rushed back and grabbed the dogs and headed for the door.  My wife called 911 as we headed out.

The flames were reaching over the roof by now and as I looked at it I felt sure that our home was going to burn to the ground.  But the fire department arrived and managed to subdue the fire, it didn't burn the house to the ground but our home is unliveable at this point and we have yet to figure out exactly what we have lost.

This is the third time in my life I have had personal connections to firefighters in the course of their work.  Once was when a tanker truck turned over and I was on the trouble truck working the midnight shift for my employer, the East Bay Municipal Utility District.  The firefighters were dousing this ticking time bomb with foam and flame retardant.  Before I left they were sending for a welder to cut in to the thing it was hard to believe but there are welders that can do that apparently.

I worked alongside them during the Oakland fire that destroyed some 4000 homes back in the early nineties, fireighters died during that catastrophe. I worked alongside them on other occasions when vehicles hit fire hydrants or during emergencies.  Imagine where we would be if such a service was left to market forces.  It is fashionable to attack firefighters and blame them for the economic crisis.  Right wing toadies often make remarks about them sitting around all day doing nothing etc. etc. These same people bootlick the likes of Rush Limbaugh and wasters like Donald Trump.  But firefighters provide a great public service and when they go out they more often than not risk their lives for our safety.  As we ran out they came to run in.

After they subdued the fire they walked us through our burnt out home, showed us what had been done and advised us on what we should be doing in the immediate term to set things in to motion.  They didn't ask us what our price range  was or what options we had, which plan would we like. They made sure they didn't leave until we had somewhere to go and felt totally comfortable with it.  They would stay with us if need be. I never dreamed we would be vitims of a house fire; it's a bit overwhelming.

When I was still active in my Union, I wrote two letters that the membership passed to the firefighter locals in NYC whose members responded to the attacks on the twin towers; we also sent a donation.  Next time you here these toadies attack firefighters, come to their defence; they are dedicated workers that provide a crucial public service; like the USPS, they are very efficient if you don't judge efficiency by how much profit the coupon clipeprs make.

I am grateful to the San Leandro fire department for their help last night. A friend from London who sent me an e mail pointed out that firefighters over there are facing the same attacks under the guise of austerity in hard times and the need for "shared sacrifice". An attack on public sector workers like the attacks on all workers is an atack on our communities and our well being. They bailed out bankers at our expense we don't need to cut services.

My neighbors also came out and stood with us as we watched this unpleasant event and, like the firefighters, you don't know how good neighbors really are until something like this happens.  The collective human spirit is a hard thing to supress.

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