I put out a rally for prayers tonight on Facebook as we stood across the street watching smoke billow from our roof. To those who reached out, I thank you. I also apologize for the needless worry.
Within ten minutes of calling 911, five fire trucks along with numerous other emergency vehicles lined our street and no less than 25 firemen scurried about our lawn, into our house, and around the back with their equipment. Over the radios, we could hear the description being given from the firefighters stationed at the rear of our home stating the possibility of “multiple exit points” for the smoke.
The ladder truck got into position, fire hose was dragged through our front door, and several men entered the home wielding axes and beeping gadgets. This is when the reality hit that there was a fire and this is when I put out the Facebook plea, thinking we could use all the positive energy we could get.
I felt so utterly helpless on the curb. All I could do was watch and worry. With my wife safely tucked away in our van along with our children and pets, I stayed outside in the 3-degree night air bewilderingly warmed by an overwhelming deluge of fear and concern. As I stood there, dozens of Facebook notifications came rushing in as the result of my update. I gotta say, it meant so much to me and it provided a good degree of comfort. Anyone who thinks social media only cultivates vapid relationships is dead wrong. That or they just aren’t doing it right.
Moments later when the police officer asked me to speak with the Fire Chief, I expected the worst. Instead, I was delivered news that was as relieving to hear as it was embarrassing.
There was no fire. Not even smoke.
It was steam.
I felt like an idiot. I apologized profusely to the Fire Chief and then made my rounds to absolutely everyone who had made the emergency run to our home. The firefighters, the volunteers, the police officers. Everyone got a heartfelt thank you and an apology. Yet not one of them felt it necessary. They all said it was better to be safe than sorry, especially with children involved. They mentioned that until they went upstairs, the signs were all there for a smoldering attic fire. And every single one of them said they’d rather be watching a false alarm than fighting a real fire.
Still, I felt really dumb for having wasted so much time and energy. I just didn’t want to wait too long to determine if the fire was real and then potentially lose the home because I didn’t give them enough time to fight it. I regret the wasted trip but I don’t regret making the call.
Less than an hour prior to phoning 911 we had a power surge in our home that tripped our circuit breaker. Because our home is so old it’s deemed “historical,” we still have knob and tube wiring feeding some of the rooms. For those who don’t know, it’s the old stuff. The stuff homes used to use way before xBoxes, computers, and other gadgets beyond low-energy lamps.
The knob and tube wiring that remains in our home is located in our attic, so when Andrew returned home to say that he thought we had a fire going in the fireplace, I was confused. He had been dropped off by some friends and noticed what appeared to be smoke trailing upwards from our roof. I went outside to investigate and saw smoke billowing from right above the area where our remaining knob and tube wiring is located.
I walked around the house and thought I saw the smoke plume getting bigger and stronger. I ran into the house, charged upstairs, and told Heather to rally the kids while I double checked the attic. Heather and the kids put our fire escape plan into action and were out of the home within a minute or two. I was unable to open the attic’s access panel and so I rushed outside to check on the condition of the roof. And that’s when I smelled the unmistakable aroma of smoke. Turns out it was from a fireplace fire from down the street but I hadn’t smelled it prior so I instinctively reached for the phone.
With the kids in the car, I called 911 to report the smoke and suggested that it might be the result of our power surge. I figured the knob and tube wiring had somehow sparked and possibly ignited the insulation or the beams. They announced that help was on the way and I ran back into the house to retrieve my computer. And yes, the computer IS a part of our fire evacuation plan. My life is on it, as well as my business, and we’re going to need it if we’re ever going to have to rebound from a fire in the future.
Within minutes a police officer arrived at the home and met me in the driveway. She walked to the rear of the house and reported that it appeared as though smoke was exiting from two different locations in the roof. Earlier, I had only noticed one, so I felt this meant it was spreading and slowly building up strength before the imminent inferno.
Just then, we saw Heather break rank from our fire escape plan and charge into the house to try and find our other cat. Cats, while beloved members of the family, are not a part of our critical fire evacuation plan, nor should they be. With doors open, they’ll escape. No sense risking yourself to try and find one that’s excruciatingly skittish. The officer went in to get her out of the home, at which time she exited with the cat wrapped in her arms.
Everyone has responsibilities when it comes to fire evacuation. Kamryn is to follow Heather, who grabs our emergency box, important folders, and the dogs. Michael is to grab the phone and exit with Heather and Kamryn. Andrew, our eldest, is supposed to get out of the house immediately to help keep the other two children safe and calm. Nowhere in the plan does it state that he’s to return to his room and retrieve his electric guitar, yet he felt it necessary to ad lib that part. Rest assured, we’ll be revising the plan to eliminate loopholes in the future.
We were ushered to the other side of the street to make way for the incoming fire engines and within minutes our street was lined with flashing lights and passionate firemen. Ladders were lifted from the trucks and the hose was being ordered into the home. When you combine the sights and sounds of the fire department with the earlier power surge, knowing the very location of the smoke is above your remaining knob & tube wiring, it’s easy to piece together the evidence. Fortunately for us, it all turned out to be circumstantial.
Apparently, our boiler is supposed to vent to the outside using some sort of blower. If that fails, such as during extreme cold, the steam will exit from our chimney. This is a fact I wasn’t aware of. Because our chimney is pretty low and because it’s nestled between two different pitches in our roof, the wind creates an almost turbulent effect up there. As the steam exited, it would swirl, thus giving the appearance of both billowing and multiple exit points.
With it being almost 0 degrees, the steam was far more visible and appeared far more powerful than usual. I had never seen it exit through our chimney before so the visual was surreal to me. had I known it was exiting the chimney, I never would have called, but you can’t see it from the ground. The fact that myself, my wife, the police officer, and a fireman all interpreted it as a sign of trouble makes me feel a bit better. But still, I was embarrassed by the needless rush to our aid and the calls for prayers from friends and family.
As the firemen put away their gear and wound up their hose, I felt I should pitch in. I offered to help wrap hose but they declined. It was then that I made sure every person there got a personal thank you and apology. I can’t help but feel stupid that I called over steam, but Jennifer from MomSpotted said something that stuck with me:
“Don’t feel silly. In that moment your fear was real. I’m so glad that it turned out with the best possible outcome. Count your blessings.” She’s right. At that moment, the fear was very real. All the activity, the lights, the sirens, the radio calls, the hoses, the axes…I was only hoping they could save our home.
Once the shock and panic faded following the “all clear” I realized two things. One, we were very blessed. And two, I was never going to hear the end of it. I knew a few clowns on Facebook would bring up the irony that we own a fire engine, and even though I expected it, the comments still made me laugh out loud.
Soon after the ordeal was over, I noticed that my neighbor had to walk home wielding his bowling balls after being blocked from accessing the street. I expected his retaliatory call but it still made me laugh when he soon called to ask if he should call 911 since his wife was cooking on the stove and creating a lot of steam.
All predictable, and all welcomed with open arms.
Tonight, everyone is asleep except me. While it turned out to be nothing, the whole situation made us realize how blessed we are. Many of you don’t know me beyond the digital world yet you expressed concern, sent along your best wishes, and reached out to see if we needed anything. Our neighbors offered their warm homes while we waited out the scene and our totally awesome friends drove over to get our children and take them back to their house where they had prepared beds for each of them.
It was this outpouring of support from our fire department, friends, and social networks that give us the comfort to know that we’ll have an abundance of caring souls should tragedy ever strike for real. I hope that day never comes, but tonight demonstrated that there will be no shortage of arms ready to reach out to us should it happen.
And for that, I thank you all.
Now. Without further adieu. Lay it on me. Because I’d sure as hell be doing the same thing to you!