Residents of Governorâ€™s Island and firefighters from more than three departments recently gathered at the Denver Fire Department to hear and participate in a discussion of what went right and wrong during a major housefire Christmas Day on Governorâ€™s Island.
According to DFD battalion chief Dion Burleson, critiques are held after major events such as serious and/or fatal vehicular accidents, drownings, or events that require a multi-agency response.
Residents were proactive in both questions and responses to issues brought up during the critique, which lasted more than two hours and featured playback of the initial 911 call on the event as well as more than 15 minutes of radio traffic relating to the fire, while DFD firefighter Jeff VonCannon stressed the importance of focusing on the positive and discussing ideas for improving firefighters already valuable service to residents.
However residents questioned why did only the DFD ladder truck have water coming out of its hose, even though two ladder trucks (the other from the East Lincoln Fire Department) were on the scene. Steve Gilbert, Lincoln County Public Works director, responded, saying the water system for Lincoln County and the entire state isnâ€™t designed for fire protection.
â€œItâ€™s a system that was designed for drinking water,â€ says Gilbert.
Residents also learned firefighters had a difficult time getting engines and equipment into the island because of the width of the roads, plus the fact there wasnâ€™t any boat access in which an engine could pull water directly from Lake Norman.
That prompted a lengthy discussion about water pressure, with several residents relating how their water had to be cut off in order for firefighters to get enough pressure to fight the blaze of the more than 5,000-square-foot residence.
â€œWe werenâ€™t getting really any pressure at all,â€ said VonCannon in his attempt to explain why the fire department found it necessary to have to cut off water to residences.
A misconception that all hydrants can be used on the island simultaneously was clarified with an explanation ensued about fire hydrants. Although all hydrants are yellow, how much pressure a hydrant contains is found in the color coding on the top of the hydrants. Those on Governorâ€™s Island are on the lower end of pressure minimums. There, hydrants can pump either (from top to bottom) 500 – 999 gallons per minute, or 499 gallons or less.
It was also learned that water pulled from one hydrant causes other hydrants unusable, due to the pressure going to the hydrant being used. According to VonCannon, since Governorâ€™s Island is a dead-end, hydrants canâ€™t be fed in two different directions.
The progression of the fire and the quick weakening of the ceiling also played a part in firefighterâ€™s decisions to focus on stopping forward progression of the fire to nearby houses.
â€œSo what I hear you saying is that saving this house was a lost cause from the start,â€ said incoming Governorâ€™s Island neighborhood association president Russ Klein. His statement was met with an affirmative from VonCannon, who added that even with maximum water pressure at 2,000 gallons per minute, the roof on the home still would have collapsed.
Once being made aware of the challenges faced in fighting fires, a number of people offered up ideas how to address the situation.
One solution thrown out by several residents is to give the fire department access to their individual boat ramps. Another, proposed by firefighters in attendance, involves the creation of a dry hydrant which could pump water from Lake Norman. Yet another proposal is purchasing of a fire boat by the Denver Fire Department.
Of the latter, VonCannon said that the department applied for a grant five years ago for the more than $200,000 boat that could pump water directly from the lake.
â€œItâ€™s not a high-priority funded item by the state,â€ said VonCannon.
Another possibility, burying two 20,000 gallon cisterns on Governorâ€™s Island drew the most discussion regarding solutions. According to a report issued regarding the water issue, the cisterns prove to be most cost effective, at more than $99,000.
â€œYou guys have the equipment needed to fight fires,â€ said one resident who didnâ€™t wish to be identified. â€œWe need to get the water to you.â€
After the meeting, Klein said he was pleased with the critique.
â€œAs a neighborhood, weâ€™re going to discuss options for a possible solution,â€ said Klein.
Battalion chief Burleson said the bottom line for firefighters is to save life then protect property.
â€œWe do the best with what we have,â€ said Burleson. â€œWe realize that while people have some things that canâ€™t be replaced, property in general can be replaced. Human life cannot.â€
by Jon Mayhew