I arrived at the Madray Springs fire department on Thursday afternoon. Randy, one of the firefighters, came over and helped me hook up my camper to their electricity, with Chief Dent’s permission of course. Late Friday morning Chief Dent’s wife Lindsay came to the fire station with her sons Renley who is almost 6, and Murphy who is now almost 3 weeks old. He was born the day I left here a couple of weeks ago. After Murphy was fed and ready for his nap, Lindsay asked if I would like to hold him. I said I would love to. I was sitting on the sofa and I held Murphy and laid him against my chest and cuddled him for a couple of hours while he slept. He’s so cute, cuddly, and soft and has that nice baby smell. Friday night we had a cookout at the fire station, and just after we finished eating and cleaning up from dinner, there was a call for a car fire and the guys left so us gals sat around talking and having a nice visit.
Saturday afternoon, my long time friend Gary who I’ve known for about 45 years drove about 170 miles to come visit me here. We went into Jesup for the night and then Sunday morning we went to Darien which is an old historic town with Fort King George. From 1721 until 1736, Fort King George was the southern outpost of the British Empire in North America. After the fort was abandoned, General James Oglethorpe brought the Scottish Highlanders to the site in 1736. They named the settlement Darien, its the second oldest planned city in Georgia, it was settled in 1736. As we walked by the waterfront we saw the remains of original buildings. We drove some of the older streets and we saw this a historical church which had beautiful architecture. After we walked around town, we realized we were hungry and we found a nice local restaurant to eat in a few miles from the waterfront. After lunch, Gary took me back to the fire station and then started the 3 hour drive home. It was nice to see him again.
Sunday night, June 8th, while I was staying in the Madray Springs fire station there was a call for the firefighters at midnight and the guys returned at 1:30 a.m. Five firefighters from this station went on the call. I know for a fact that Kevin Altman who is also the Odum fire chief gets up at 4:00 a.m. for his regular job, and also Chad gets up at that time for his job. Here it is 1:30 a.m. when they get back from the call. Then they have to drive home, shower to get clean after their call, then hopefully they get some sleep before they have to get up a couple of hours later and then work at their regular job. Other firefighters get off work and then the call for service comes in and they probably didn’t even get any sleep because they just got home from their regular job.
It’s about noon on Monday, June 9th, I just got back from being at a structure fire this morning. Richard, one of the Odum firefighters, brought me back to the Madray Springs fire station since the fire was basically extinguished and the fire departments on scene had to do cleanup. Richard just got off work this morning, when he heard the call that trucks with water tanks were needed at a fire that Madray Springs was called to. So he brought his departments tanker truck and drove at least 10 miles to the fire. Since he was not needed at the scene any longer, and he needed to get some sleep, he took me back to the fire station.
When I got back to the fire station I decided to download the pictures I took onto my computer. As the photos were downloading, I thought that since I had my computer on, even though I don’t have Internet here, I would start writing the story about my experience watching the house fire being extinguished. I was standing by the fire trucks or in the grass behind the house, and yet, I still smell like smoke. My hair and clothes have a strong smoke smell, so I can just imagine how the firefighters smell. It’s not a bad smell, it’s like being at a campsite when the wind blew the smoke at me, just a bit stronger. I thought I would stay this way as I write part of the story I want to share with you about my couple of hours at the fire today. (June 12th, now that I am at a friends house and have Internet, I am able to write the final story and post it, and I created a new photo album with all of the structure fire photos.)
Monday morning, July 9th, about 9:45 a.m. I heard the fire truck engine start. Chief Ashley Dent had gotten home from his regular job as a firefighter a couple of hours earlier. When I heard the engine, I went into the fire station bay and Ashley told me they just got a call for a structure fire. He was waiting for Randy to show up so they could leave. Randy arrived about a minute later, jumped out of his truck, got into his gear and within a minute the truck left the station. I listened to the radio at the station and heard the dispatcher putting calls out to other departments saying water trucks are needed for the structure fire. A while later I saw a couple of fire trucks passing the station on the way to the fire.
Chief Ashley Dent gave me the pictures he took when he arrived first on the scene. By the time I got there the flames were mostly extinguished. The man you see in bare feet in the pictures is Chief Dent. He realized when he went to put on his fire boots at the station that someone had taken his socks out of his locker, so he had to put the boots on without socks. After a short time at the scene, he was getting blisters on his feet from wearing the boots without socks, so he took the boots off. Later on he said that he is going to keep extra sets of socks in his locker and elsewhere so it doesn’t happen again. We think that someone used the socks on a previous call and didn’t put them back yet.
The Odum tanker truck drove past and I waved since I know some of the firefighters in that department. A couple of minutes later that truck came back and pulled into the station and the driver who introduced himself as Richard asked if I would like to go to the fire. I said I would and he let me get my camera before we left.
We arrived on scene and the area was surrounded in smoke. It seemed that most of the flames were extinguished but there was still lots of smoke and the firefighters were coming in and out of the building. When it was safe, Richard took me around the back of the house so I could see where most of the damage was and where they were still hosing down walls. I took the picture on the top left below when I first arrived at the scene, before I got out of the fire truck. We could smell the smoke very strongly from inside the fire truck before we even opened the door.
When we came back to the front of the house someone yelled that there are flames starting again inside the house on the upstairs floor, and there were some just under the eve of metal roof. The firefighters geared up again and went into the house while firefighters on the outside were spraying streams of water on the visible flames on the outside under the edge of the roof. It was amazing watching the crews in action. They helped each other get into and out of the gear and gave them water to hydrate them. It felt like the outside temperature is at least 90 degrees, and yet, these firefighters put on all of their protective gear and air tanks, and then carried hoses into the fire. The gear and air tanks weigh about 70 pounds. That’s the weight they carry into the fire, in addition to their own body weight. They stay in the structure about 10 or 15 minutes then come out and let others go in.
The only shade I could find to stand in was against the side of the fire truck I arrived in, at the end of the row of trucks, I wanted to stay out of the way. I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sandals and I was sweaty, sticky, and smoky. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be in the heavy fire gear, boots, and other items they have to wear. When they weren’t in the fire, most of the firefighters took off their fire jackets.
When the firefighters come out of the structure, or even working on the outside of the structure, I could see how soaking wet their gear was and also so full of soot. As they took off their gear their faces showed the exhaustion and impact the weight of the gear and the heat has on them. I tried to capture this in photos so you can appreciate the sacrifice these men and women make to keep their communities safe. After they take a short break, they put on their wet, smoky, sooty gear and go back into the fire again. It really takes special people to be firefighters. If you look closely at the photos below you can see the wet gear, soot, and the exhaustion on the firefighters faces. The oxygen masks they wear make their mouths extremely dry and they are almost unable to talk until they get some water to drink. I was standing about 5 feet from these two firefighters for most of the fire, so I got to take good pictures of them gearing up and coming out of the fire taking off their gear. Remember, when they are called to go back into the fire, they have to put on this same wet, smelly, sooty gear.
There are no fire hydrants in this area so all of the water to extinguish the fire came from the fire and tanker trucks. When they get back to their stations they will refill the tanks, unless they were able to fill the tanks on the trucks from the tanker trucks at the scene. I also learned that during the fire, several of the fire trucks had their water tanks refilled from the tanker trucks while they were fighting the fire. It seems that there are valves, hoses, and devices that allows water to flow between the trucks to ensure there is a constant water flow where it’s needed.
Eight departments responded to this fire, some came from about 35 miles away. There were 10 to 12 trucks on scene, including 2 tanker trucks that held 5,000 gallons of water in each truck. There were also several other tanker trucks with water. I saw several men fighting the fire that had the words Inmate Firefighter on the back of the shirt. I asked about them and I was told that there are inmates that have been trained to fight fires and that they are called out when needed and they are happy to help the fire departments. I think that’s really great that they do that. Chief Dent gave me a photo, shown above, that he took from the top of a fire truck.
At the fire several men came up to me and introduced themselves and thanked me for what I did to help the departments get the necessary gear and equipment, Jesup Fire Chief Gene Lane was one of them. I’ve always known that these men and women work hard and sacrifice time with their families and friends, and many times leave their meals and homes to help others and fight fires. Seeing it up close today, and especially in this heat and with no hydrants handy, confirmed how important it is to make sure the firefighters have the gear and equipment necessary to protect them while they are protecting their communities and the surrounding areas. The departments that came from miles away to help their neighboring fire departments shows how close these departments are to each other. They watch out for each other and make sure they are safe.
Remember, in addition to the fire, there are chemicals from carpet, furniture, construction materials, cleaners, paint, and other materials in the house, garage, etc. Most of the time the firefighters don’t know what types of flammable and/or dangerous chemicals or gas might be in the house. They wear oxygen masks and protective gear, but remember they are in a dangerous situation every time they respond to a fire, any kind of fire, regardless of vehicle or structure. In a house, walls, floors, and roofs can collapse. These men and women continually train to keep their skills sharp and up-to-date, but the unknown and unexpected can always happen. I respect them and appreciate all they do to save lives and property in their community.
There was a man on a golf cart with two dogs. Someone told me that this house is one that the man’s grandfather lived in many years ago. I went and spoke with the man who is named Jim, and he gave me permission to take his picture. He said the house was about 94 years old, and that his grandfather Dr. Woodrow Yeomans who was a doctor, lived in it for many years before he died, and that when he was young man he lived in the house. I could see the sadness in his eyes while he watched as the firefighters sprayed water on the flames and knocked out windows so water could be sprayed. A few days after the fire, the Jesup newspaper came out and it had pictures of the fire on the front page with the headline Landmark home lost in Monday morning blaze.
When I returned to the station after the fire, I got a text message from Chief Altman saying he heard that I was at the fire. I told him I was and that I smelled like smoke. He wrote back that I’m a member of the department and I should smell like smoke like they do. It made me smile and feel like family once again. Later that afternoon, Chief Dent, Randy, and I were sitting at the station looking at pictures that they took and I took. We also discussed how many other departments came to the fire, it was 8 departments: Madray Springs, Jesup, Odum, Screven, O’Quinn, Wayne State, Anderson Drive, and Ludowici, who is in the neighboring county. I asked about how many gallons of water was used and we added up all of the tanker trucks and fire trucks and we estimated that about 20,000 gallons of water was used to put out the fire. Out of the 8 fire departments on scene, Jesup was the only paid fire department. They sent 3 firefighters with their truck. All of the other firefighters and departments are volunteer. Also, thankfully, the sheriff sent deputies to be stationed a short distance away from the fire because the fire was between two sharp curves in the road and it could have been dangerous without them there to stop traffic.
Chief Dent told me that I need to go back to Florida. He said they have had 2 structure fires this year and it happened to be both of the times when I was in town. He said he was only teasing me and that he didn’t really want me to leave. When I came through town a couple of weeks ago, I was in Ludowici for the night and Madray Springs had a structure fire. I wrote about it in a previous story. Then after I was in Madray Springs for a few days, they had this structure fire which was a large house and thankfully no one got hurt.
A few times during the day Chief Dent went by the house to see if there were any hot spots, there were still a few areas smoking and he wanted to be sure another fire didn’t break out. Later that day, a few towns away, a lumber yard was on fire. It was a really large fire burning very hot. Many departments were called to fight that fire. Patty, Gene, Kevin, and Kathy took me to dinner in Odum that night and when we left the restaurant we noticed a really colorful sunset. They said it was also probably from the smoke from the fire that was still burning.
Tuesday night, Chief Dent, Randy, Chad, and their families came to the station and we had another cookout for dinner. Lindsay asked me if I wanted to hold Murphy again. Of course, I said I would. Several times during my stays at the fire station Chief Dent’s son Renley and Randy’s son Remington were there. They loved to play with the toy fire trucks, and water hoses. They loved being wet and playing outside with the water.
Volunteer firefighters work so very hard, and they don’t get paid. I know that paid firefighters work very hard too, it’s the profession they chose and they get paid to do it. Many volunteer firefighters have other jobs, some are paid firefighters and others have jobs in fields other than firefighting. I feel that firefighting is in their blood, it’s their passion.
After getting to know the volunteer firefighters better from my time with them in both Georgia and South Carolina, I know how much it means to them to be a firefighter. I know from talking with other departments around the country that they feel the same.
When you see firefighters, please stop them and thank them for their service to their communities. I also stop soldiers and police officers and thank them as well. I know all of these men and women appreciate the fact that people care about them and what they do to make sure that all of us stay safe. If you can, talk with your local fire departments and ask if there is some way you can help them. Perhaps help with a fundraiser. Or, if you have a garage sale or bake sale, maybe donate the proceeds to the fire department and have a donation jar visible.
I bet most departments can use more fire hoses and nozzles. They usually come in 50 foot lengths. Look at all of the hoses used for this fire. Imagine how many feet of hose is needed to get from a fire truck into a house, and upstairs in the house if it has an upstairs. Or to get to into the backyard. After the fire, the hoses need to get rinsed off to get the chemicals and dirt off the hose to give it a longer life. While the hose is drying, more hose is needed for the truck in case it gets a call before the other hose can be loaded onto the truck again. I got to help load the hose back onto the truck when it was dry.
Almost all of the fire departments, especially the volunteer ones, rely on fundraisers to give them money to buy much needed gear and equipment. Perhaps find out what items the department needs, the costs vary for different items. Maybe you and some of your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even local businesses can share the cost and purchase an item they need. Remember, it might be needed one day to save your life or the life of someone you know, or one of your homes.
Words alone cannot express how much it touches my heart when a firefighter comes up to me and says thank you and gives me a big hug and says I’m wearing one of the sets of bunker gear you bought for our department. Or they show me a piece of equipment like stabilizing bars, and I hear the stories of when they used it and how it helped get people out of the vehicle safely, and also the firefighters were not injured rescuing the victims of the crash.
To read the stories of my recent visit to Ludowici, Odum, and Madray Springs Fire Departments in Georgia, and my recent visit to the New Prospect Fire Department in South Carolina, click here.
I left Madray Springs on Wednesday, June 11th, and arrived in Yulee, Florida, that afternoon. I will be here visiting Cindy for a few days then head south towards home. I may camp at some of my favorite places on the way back. It will depend on the weather and how I feel.