Citizen Firefighter & Good Neighbor

Blog submission; firefighting story!

By Eugene Caruso
Arcata, CA

I was reading in my apartment when I heard a smoke alarm from the kitchen area. I entered the kitchen to find out why the smoke alarm had sounded. I continued hearing the smoke alarm as I followed the noise and determined it was from another apartment.

I checked the neighbor’s door to determine if the door was hot and looked along the edges for smoke. I observed dark gray smoke bellowing from the edges of the door. I decided not to open the door or break it down instead using the door to secure a barrier to prevent the fire from spreading.
I immediately called 911. When it was clear my emergency call went through I returned into the other apartment and kicked in the door. I observed the room was filling with smoke and flames were on the back floor, wall and ceiling. I took a guess the resident (known only as Joe) of apartment 47A was not home. It was a lucky guess, he wasn’t home. I put my head through the door and stepped into the apartment enough to observe nobody was home but without stepping completely in to search the apartment for victims.

I think if I had walked into his apartment completely I had a 50 – 50 chance of escaping the fire without injury. The fire was burning hot and spreading rapidly. I ran out and alerted other residents by shouting Fire! Run! Evacuate! I physically banged on doors and windows. After I felt I had alerted enough people and as they were leaving I fought the fire with a bucket and water. I hadn’t remembered the exact location of the fire extinguisher, it was located near an area I don’t often walk by.
Within a few minutes some residents arrived with fire extinguishers and handed me an extinguisher and we fought the fire to put it out and to keep it contained in that apartment with hopes of preventing it from spreading. I think the buckets of water helped significantly until the fire extinguishers were located by other neighbors. When the extinguishers were emptied I resumed fighting the fire with a bucket until the sheriff arrived.
The sheriff deputy evacuated the apartment building and told me to leave after asking me if there were any people inside the apartment.
Before I left I observed the firefighters still had hoses on the ground and personnel were looking for a hydrant. I gave them my account of the incident and told them I didn’t see anybody from a partial look around and had not gone into the burning apartment completely to look. I was treated for a minor cut.
I believe I assisted the Arcata Volunteer Fire Department in fighting that fire and acted soundly to contain it and prevent it from spreading.

I would describe apartment 47a as eccentric, maybe cluttered. I observed the apartment interior on ocassion as filled with storage bins and shelves full of glass ware and tables full of pots and pans. It was not really messy but it was clear he used hobo like camping gear inside and kept everything on shelves and in bins.
I remember on one visit seeing a mattress and blankets on the floor without a bed frame and headboard. When the fire was burning that is the location where the greatest concentration of flames was located.
That night my view inside was partially obscured by the stacked bins and shelves of empty glass jars and other clutter. The mattress was low on the ground and the room was dark, with smoke and window blinds drawn. The fire and light from the kitchen provided the only means to see into that area. I heard no one and observed no one. It was silent except for the smoke alarm and the sound of bellowing flames. I believed I had to act right away to warn neighbors of the spreading apartment fire.
I only presumed Joe was not home at the time and it was a lucky guess. I really was concerned about escape time and to spend to much time in that burning apartment could have been a mistake. I thought the best move at that point was to warn my neighbors.