Fire Prevention Is Important

For me, it’s always been personal

Fighting a barn fire in Holmes County, Ohio.

Fire Prevention Week, the first week of October, always had a special place in my heart. Belonging to the local volunteer fire department likely had a lot to do with that.

I remember, though, that that affinity began long before my firefighting days. I grew up three blocks from a fire station. When the siren sounded for the volunteers to respond, I was out our front door and at the end of our sidewalk, watching to see which way the trucks would go.

Students paid attention to when firefighters came to school for presentations in the post-World War II days before the internet, cell phones, pagers, boomboxes, and color television. We appreciated the coloring books and leaflets they gave us on what to do in case of a fire in our homes.

In response, I designed an exit plan for every room in our house. Fortunately, we never had to use it.

Ironically, the fire department mounted the fire siren on the roof of our elementary school. In the sixth grade, it was right over our classroom. When the siren rang, teaching and learning both stopped until the loud wailing subsided.

With that background, it’s no wonder I became a volunteer myself for 27 years in Holmes County, Ohio. When Fire Prevention Week rolled around, I combined my educator and firefighter knowledge with the students.

A fully involved barn fire in Holmes County, Ohio.

Other local firefighters came to the schools to share information and handouts, drawing me back to my youth. I asked my students to draw up an emergency exit plan the way I had done when I was their age.

Imagine my surprise when the house of one of my students caught fire during the night. Everyone got out exactly as Russell had planned, and the fire department extinguished the fire without extensive damage. I was proud of that young man.

I also remember a time during fire prevention week when I got another rude awakening. Wanting to surprise the students and me, the fire chief and a few firefighters held an unannounced fire drill at school.

When the fire alarm sounded, students began exiting, following their practiced routes until they couldn’t. Firefighters had blocked some of the exits, telling the students and staff that they had to use another door because a “pretend” fire blocked the way.

I remember it so well because I happened to be in the faculty lounge bathroom at the time. I got deservedly ribbed at the next fire meeting.

After I became a principal, firefighters enhanced their fire prevention lessons considerably. They brought a fire truck to school, and the students got to inspect it and even wear the firefighter’s turnout gear.

That approach greatly pleased the students. Besides the pamphlets, coloring books, and sitting in a fire truck, distributing candy to the kids didn’t hurt either.

Unfortunately, I responded to fires at the homes of some of those students, too. Besides helping douse the flames, I hoped that some of the education presented also helped minimize damage and injuries.

Of course, that wasn’t always the case. Barns, homes, shops, and outbuildings burned due to various causes. Some injuries occurred, too, along with one death that I can remember.

Perhaps that is the reason again to reemphasize the importance of fire prevention. Have a plan of evacuation with alternate routes and a prearranged reporting location outside the home. Change the batteries in smoke detectors at least twice a year and have the sensors adequately placed on all levels of your home.

I know personally that fire prevention helps to save lives, even if you’re in the bathroom.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A fire in the neighborhood

barnfirebybrucestambaugh
This was the first picture that I took of the barn fire shortly before 10:30 p.m. on August 12, 2013

By Bruce Stambaugh

We had just turned out the lights for the night in anticipation of a really good night’s sleep when we heard the sirens. With the windows open on this warm and wonderful August evening, the sirens grew louder as they quickly approached.

I headed to the dining room to look north out the windows. Above the stand of giant field corn an eerie dancing orange glow lit up the night sky. We had a big fire somewhere in the neighborhood.

I got dressed as quickly as I could, grabbed my cameras and headed to the garage. In the meantime, my wife had ventured out into the front yard. She reported back that it was either our friend’s excavating business or the neighbor’s barn that was burning.

Once the parade of responding fire vehicles passed by, I pulled my car onto the road and quickly saw that indeed it was our neighbor’s barn. It was fully involved in flames. Only the sheet metal roof remained, held up by the century old timber frame, dark against the constantly changing fiery kaleidoscope that was quickly consuming its host.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With the barn that far gone, the firefighters executed their only logical option. They concentrated their hoses on protecting the other exposures situated around the old bank barn. Soon long streams of water played back and forth dousing the rooftops, cooling them from the ferocious temperatures generated by the destructive flames.

My first instinct was to see what I could do to help directly at the scene. Knowing I’d only be in the way, I instead pulled into my excavator friend’s parking lot, focused my cameras and started snapping.

I wasn’t alone. Scores of others joined me. Tractors, vans, cars, pickups and bicycles filled the parking lot. Most spectators, like me, were lined along the wire fence that separated a farm field from the parking lot a football field from the blaze.

I photographed the various stages of the fire. Just 11 minutes after I had taken the first picture, the roof succumbed to the inferno. Embers of burning debris cascaded high into the dark sky, carried aloft by a steady south wind.

With the barn completely collapsed, I walked down the road to console the owners and to talk with firefighters that I knew. I was amazed at both their numbers and their efficiency.

Normally, rural areas are hurting for volunteer firefighters. This night, so many men and women in turn out gear or auxiliary smocks had responded to the alarm that they had to take turns spraying water or offering food and drink. The response for this emergency was tremendous. It was an impressive display of community service.

In addition, a gallery of onlookers congregated close to the old farmhouse. Most were family, friends and neighbors who had come to see if they could help in any way. Many had arrived before the first fire engine.

burninghaybybrucestambaugh
In less than an hour, the bank barn was reduced to burning hay inside of charred basement walls.

I took a few more photographs and spoke with the owners. Everyone was fine. No animals had been harmed, and most of the equipment had been removed from the barn just that day. The only losses were the barn, its storehouse of hay, and personal cultivated memories. Amish church insurance would compensate for the material losses of the accidental fire. The origin of the fire was either from wet hay or sparks from an unattended burn pile several feet west of the barn.

I was sad for my neighbors, but heartened by the many people who came to help. A crisis can test the mettle of a community. This August night, its people showed their stuff.

smolderingruinsbybrucestambaugh
The clean up began the next day amid the ruins of the smoldering barn.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013