Firefighters kept busy over Thanksgiving weekend

Friday, December 5, 2014

By Karen Hall


Volunteer firefighters were kept busy over the holiday, responding to two serious fires.

The call to the first one came about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26. It was an empty house on Ostella Road, opposite the Five Points Fire Hall.

"It was fully engulfed when we got there," said Phil Dyer, chief of the nearby South Marshall Volunteer Fire Department.

In the end there were six departments at the scene in addition to Five Points: Cornersville, South Marshall, Belfast, Berlin, Farmington, and Mooresville.

The Emergency Medical Service and Marshall County Sheriff's Department were also there, and so was Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Calahan.

"We had five (fire) chiefs on the scene," said Calahan. "I was very impressed how well people worked together. It was one of the smoothest-handled structure fires I've seen. Everybody pulling together to make sure all are safe -- that's our No. 1 priority."

"You would have thought it was a county unit that trained together," added Adam Orr of Farmington, a second-generation firefighter.

The house had no electricity or gas connected to it, so the cause of the fire which destroyed it is still under investigation.

The second call to a fire over the Thanksgiving weekend came about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30, after everyone had been to church and eaten dinner, as Five Points Chief John Reese put it.

This time the fire was at a property on Delina Road. The wind was high that afternoon, and some ashes from an outdoor wood-burning furnace set the grass on fire. The flames consumed a small outbuilding and eventually burned about 30 acres of grass and woods.

The house near where the fire started is at the top of a steep hill, and the fire spread downhill from there onto two other properties, into terrain which was inaccessible by truck.

Once again, the EMA responded, along with Five Points, South Marshall, Cornersville, Belfast, Farmington, and Mooresville. In all there were 33 people and 12 fire apparatus on the scene, said Calahan.

"We used 7,500 gallons of water, mostly in five-gallon Indian packs," he said. "In 30 years, off and on, it's some of the ruggedest terrain I've had to fight a fire on."

In addition to the water carried in back packs, the firefighters used rakes, shovels, flappers and chainsaws to put out the flames.

"It was very unusual," said Dyer. "It was a taste of what people who fight wild-land grass fires out West go through. We had to fight it off two separate roads. I was proud of the number of brush units that showed up and went into the woods."

"All the departments worked really well together," said Calahan.

Dyer was the incident commander, but said, "Because it was woods and wild land, I had a lot of other chiefs there who took it on themselves to direct (the fight) from their point of view. In the hills and valleys, you have to rely on good folks to keep everyone safe."

After about three hours Sunday afternoon, they thought the fire was out, but it rekindled and firefighters were back on the scene at 8 p.m. for another three hours.

Then, no matter how tired they were, fire fighters had to re-fuel their trucks, re-fill their water tanks, and put all their gear and equipment back in place, ready to go again at a moment's notice.

"I was just so proud of all the departments and how they worked together," said Calahan.

"It was phenomenal," agreed Dyer.

"We need more firefighters and community support," he added. "My heart breaks for any department that's getting low of people."

"Volunteerism is down nationwide," said Calahan.

Volunteer fire departments get some money from the county, and sometimes receive grants to buy equipment, but most of their money comes from fundraisers.

How can you help? If you'd like to be a firefighter, join your local department. Women are welcome, too. If you don't know your local fire department, call the EMA at (931) 359-5810. And support their fundraisers. If you see a fundraiser advertised in the paper -- go to it! As you can see from this story, it's not just your local firefighters who respond when there's a fire on your property.