The lightning was previewing what was to come. At least I hoped. A soaking, spring rain was needed badly and the forecast was looking hopeful. At 3 A.M. in the morning I stopped at a gas station to meet my partner for a mid-shift coffee break. Coffee is the fuel that my tank needs at that time of night. As I looked out the window I saw the first few drops of what promised to be a rain shower.
As the morning progressed on, the lightning did not disappoint. It had brought the much needed rain as well as an impressive light show across the blackened sky. The thirsty ground soaked up the water as the daylight began to break. This was the last shift of a six day stretch and I was looking forward to getting home and beginning a few days off.
At 6:43 A.M. I began leaving from my south end jurisdiction and pointed to the north. I was homeward bound barring a spin out or crash from the rain. My thoughts wandered to what projects I would work on in the coming days. That was short lived. My ears heard what my mind didn’t want it to hear. The piercing fire tones over our emergency channel…”Center (dispatch) to Shafer Fire, respond on a structure fire at…”
I quickly turned my squad car around and began heading to the home that was reported to be on fire. I was hoping it would be merely a stove fire as I flipped my lights and siren on. I was met with no such hope as I pulled into the cul-de-sac. Thick, white smoke was pouring out of the house mixed with large, orange flames. Many of the residents on the block were already standing in their yards, in the rain, watching a families life go up in smoke.
I tracked down the homeowner and made sure that no person or pet was still inside the house. She assured me there wasn’t through quivering lips and a trembling body. The only concern was that her van was still inside the garage. The local fire department, along with two neighboring town’s departments, responded within the next couple minutes. They pulled hoses, connected lines, threw on gear and quickly went to work.
The homeowner was clearly a wreck as she watched the horrific scene. I gently put my hand on her shoulder and told her that when I was 13 I sat and watched my entire house burn to the ground. I told her that it will be difficult to recover, but she will have the amazing outpouring of support from her family and friends. A firefighter came up to her with some rescued framed pictures of their family and she broke down in tears once again.
As the day shift signed on, I was relieved of traffic control and headed home an hour and a half late and quite ready to sleep. There was no grumbling in my attitude though. I was going home to my wife, son and house. I lived what she was about to go through and it is a difficult road. Almost everything is replaceable- except for life. Thankfully that was not the case on this morning.