Where there is smoke…

I had a night I will never forget. I was leaving my sisters apartment when I smelled smoke. I knew instantly that it was not fireworks, I knew from the odor that it was a structure fire. I started running around the apartment building until I found one with the living room on fire.

I yelled at a neighbor and she had called 911. I stepped back and gently pulled the door open, the couch, end table, and maybe what was a love seat were all engulfed. I yelled and screamed inside the apartment with no response. I tried to step in a bit to see better, but could not breath – not to mention it was hot. I looked along the floor where I could with my flash light and could not see much, maybe 6 feet or so. I only made it maybe 12″ into the apartment. I stepped out and yelled for my niece Ravan who was with me to make sure the upstairs tenants were outside.

I ran round to the other side of the apartment, the back bedroom windows were already discolored, I felt it with the back of my hand and they were warm. I considered breaking the window to see if anyone was in the bedroom, but feared that would allow more oxygen to the fire, and that would be bad.

I came back around the apartment, yelled some more inside with no response, and then I pounded on their neightboors apartment. No luck.

The smoke detectors in the apartment were sounding when I arrived, the neighbors detector started alarming shortly after I arrived.

I felt helpless. One of the neighbors who appeared during this said that they were home. I went back to the apartment to see if I could find a way in. I just could not. At the moment, I was working on adrenelan trying to improvise and help but simply could not. I could do NOTHING but wait for the professionals to show up.

Once the firemen arrived I showed them where the apartment was (it was not facing the street) and told them there may be 2 people inside. I watched as they made plans to enter. They quickly knocked down the flame in the entry way and with O2 masks went inside. They found a man directly inside the front door. I was probably 36″ from him just moments earlier but I had not seen him. In the rear of the apartment there was a woman, who they brought out and were able to ressesitate. She was taken to the hospital and was able to move her arms.

The EMT’s and firemen worked for at least 15 minutes on the man they pulled out first, when he left for the hospital, the ECG monitor on the cart were flat lined. He never showed any hope (as much as a bystander could tell), but they continued to pump him O2 and treat him as if he were viable.

2 small dogs were also removed from the residence. The on lookers tried to give the dog cpr to no avail.

Several things really bothered me following this.

1. The detectors were loud and working, yet, 2 adults were inside and did not react.

2. The large front door to the apartement was open. I only had to open the screen door to get in.

3. The fire was agressive in the entry way and scorched the entire living room, but it took very little time for the firemen to extinguish the flames, it must not have been deep.

4. Was there anything else I could have done? Could I had saved that man if I would have had an ABC fire extinguisher in my van? Did the 6 minutes or so I tried in vane to do nothing make the difference in his life?

5. How did this happen? It appeared the furniture was most of the fuel when arrived, but was it intentionally set?

I keep running though the event in my brain, looking for ways to deal with something like this better in the future. I do plan on getting a fire extinguisher for my van. Maybe I could have gotten to him earlier.

The officials at the scene appeared to be treating this as an arson. If that is the case, I hope he/she is caught and held accountable for these despicable actions. I also pray tonight for the family and friends of those involved in the fire. It would appear the wife survived and lost her husband and 2 pets. She will have a very long road to haul if that is indeed the case.

One thing that really bothered me was a shutterbug with a DSLR Camera was shooting non-stop once the firemen arrived. I could not even rally the desire to take a picture with my camera phone. As an amateur photographer myself, I was surprised how much it bothered me, especially when the man and women were carried out and CPR was being administered.

The Topeka Capital Journal was there was I was leaving. Here is their initial report: http://cjonline.com/news/2011-06-23/two-seriously-injured-blaze

For those who follow this blog, my camera is still at Nikon for repair and I have not resolved the issue with uploading images. I plan on a full kick-off when my camera returns from Nikon.


  1. Cory Zipperle

    It sounds like you had quite the day!

    Some thoughts on your questions:

    1. The detectors were loud and working, yet, 2 adults were inside and did not react.

    It is, perhaps, a bit early to say that they didn’t react. Just because they didn’t make it out alive doesn’t mean that they didn’t react – it just means that they didn’t react in time.

    4. Was there anything else I could have done? Could I had saved that man if I would have had an ABC fire extinguisher in my van? Did the 6 minutes or so I tried in vane to do nothing make the difference in his life?

    Unless a professional tells you differently, it appears as if you did the exact thing you were supposed to do – except for going into the burning room. In a fire, a few inches can mean life or death from the heat alone. Simply inhaling hot air can be enough to kill you.

    Even if you would have had a fire extinguisher, fire wasn’t really your problem – smoke was. Unless you have some kind of a device that can allow you to shoot into a room without knowing where the fire is burning, an extinguisher would have been worthless for you (though I suppose you could try using the device).

    I do believe that all fires are typically treated as a crime scene until something rules out the possibility. This also may depend on the locale. I know that the fires that I’ve been close to were all treated as crimes until something else was discovered.

    Either route: exciting! This will be with you for a very long time.

  2. Cory Zipperle


    ” …it just means that they didn’t react in time.” should say: “…it just means that they didn’t react in time or correctly.”

    One thought I just had, you would be surprised at the number of people who don’t evacuate a building when they are clearly in danger. I see it at least once a year at the clinic.


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