Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Doing What Any Good Samaritan Would Have Done

We were driving along in a rural part of my home county last night when up ahead we spotted some smoke coming from the vicinity of a homestead. It was an extremely windy day and we thought it odd that someone was burning something on a day like today so as we drove past we both looked over our shoulders to see what was burning. My wife vocally expressed what I had seen, the garage was on fire and we needed to stop and go back. I got turned around as fast as I could and sped up the curved driveway, abandoning my car out of harms way and went sprinting up to the house. I banged on the door and looked inside the house but nobody seemed to be home. Finally as I was just checking to see if the door was unlocked, an old man came stumbling out from the back room still groggy with sleep. I opened the door, stepped inside, and told him that his garage was on fire and that he needed to call the fire department. As my wife stayed behind with him, I ran back outside to his garage to see what I could do.

The garage was a detached garage situated between his house on one side ten feet away and a large Morton building on the other side two feet away. Unfortunately for the man, the garage was up wind of the house and already in the space of a couple minutes, the flames had gone from just being visible in the window to twenty feet in the air out of a charred hole in the roof. It was a three-car garage with the far west stall (on the upwind side) converted into what I soon found out was a woodshop and from the back of this stall is where the flames were. All of this, I mentally accessed as I ran into the one open garage door to rescue the car I saw there. I hopped inside.... no keys. There was another one in the next stall. Also, no keys. I ran back outside and yelled down to the house over the howling wind and sound of roaring flames for my wife to find the old man's car keys. I went back inside the garage to open the garage doors so that I could back his vehicles out but quickly saw that they were automatic and I couldn't find the opener. My wife came running back with the keys and I got into the car in the already open stall first, which at 6'2" was like doing a contortion act and got it backed out into the lawn. I ran back and got the van after locating the opener under one of his sun visors and then the new pickup parked in front of the third stall.

The old man came back outside of the house obviously in a great deal of shock and I asked him if there was anything of value inside that he needed to get out first and he said no so I ran back into the garage and opened the door to the third stall only to find the entire thing engulfed in flames and thick black smoke. I slammed the door shut again and concentrated on getting anything I could out of the remaining two stalls before they went up in smoke. Another man showed up and together, he and the old man got a garden hose strung up and began squirting at the flames but in the howling winds, they were just doing as much good as a squirt gun would have. But in that situation, there was nothing to do but keep at it and hope the fire department gets there before the fire gets to the house.

More good samaritans started showing up as I muscled an air conditioner and a deep freezer out of the garage. Soon people were following my lead and within ten minutes, we had the entire garage contents moved out to the safety of the lawn. Just as I was getting the last of the twenty boxes of Christmas decorations that I had saved for last, the fire department showed up. Flames were starting to shoot across in the rafters above me and the door that I had checked to the third stall just ten minutes ago was now a deep charcoal color with flames licking out from around the edges.

The fire department, with their multiple hoses putting out many gallons of water a second, took about fifteen minutes to get the fire under control but were able to save half of the garage and the house. The large Morton building on the upwind side with a large motor home inside sustained some damage but was largely intact. The old man and his wife (who had been out mushroom hunting and came limping back as fast as she could when she heard the sirens) were both in a deep state of shock. The man had just gotten discharged from the hospital and had gotten home just fifteen minutes before I happened to drive by. I felt sorry for both of them and wanted to help but they had friends at their side now and me being a stranger had done all that I could.

This is the first time in my life that I have been the first responder to the scene of an accident and I didn't know the logistics of any reports, insurance claims, etc. that might need to be filled out but all the firemen were busy tearing apart walls to find any hidden embers and by that time, more than fifty bystanders were milling around. So I wrote my name, number and a message stating what time I had driven by and spotted the flames and gave it to the old man, telling him to give me a call if he needed any statements from me. He thanked me for my help and I told him that it was nothing (and it was). It is simply what any good samaritan in my shoes would have done.

As I drove away, in my still unmuffled car, I felt sorry for the old man who had to deal with this in a time when he was still weak from the hospital but I was happy I was able to save all his vehicles and with the help of other good samaritans, his possessions in two of the three stalls. With the quick response of the volunteer fire department in a very rural area, they were able to save his house, his large building and most of his garage. I shudder to think what might have happened had I not driven by when I did, with a sleeping, old, sick man less than ten feet from a burning inferno and a wife out mushroom hunting. The man upstairs was looking after all of us yesterday and for that I am thankful.

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