Cayce, SC (Paul Kirby) – Crews from the Lexington County Fire Service and its EMS division proved Monday evening that great training and an experienced management team does pay off. During a very short period, these professionals were dispatched to the same region of the county to what was thought to be two separate structure fires. The fact that one turned out to be an 8’x12’ shed that was in someone’s yard didn’t matter. When it was unclear what type of structure it was, the county teams were ready.
The first call was dispatched as a structure fire in the 400 block of Ravencroft Road in the Lloydwood Subdivision. This is an old, established neighborhood off Charleston Highway near the S.C. State Farmers Market. That call came into the County’s 911 center around 6:45 p.m.
Trucks came from across the region to assist. They carried well trained crews, specialized equipment, and precious water that’s needed to fight most types of fires. This means tanker trucks or other fire engines with water in large tanks built in. Each requires an operator that knows how to use these properly.
The senior firefighter of the first truck on scene reported they had heavy smoke pushing out of the Ravencroft home. It was burning inside but apparently hadn’t broken through the roof yet. That’s good because things hadn’t gotten so bad that a ladder truck could raise its nozzle above the home and dump thousands of gallons in before firefighters would enter. It’s bad because the color and amount of smoke meant it would be hard to find the exact spot where the home was burning; You simply can’t see through the thick smoke. It’s also bad because the burning house with an intact roof holds tremendous heat that is trying to find a way to get out! It’s hungry for more fuel so it can grow.
The first team of firefighters suited up, pulled a hose, and entered the house with a hose to fight the fire. They encountered heavy smoke, lots of heat, but struggled to locate the fire’s base, the place to apply the water to bring it under control.
While all this was going on, an orchestrated response was coming together that few would understand if not trained in the process. Both battalion chiefs were enroute. Each has a job on arrival. The duty chief was notified by radio. He began moving trucks into the region that had most of its equipment and manpower enroute or on scene at the Ravencroft fire.
Another designated fire officer was headed that way to act as a safety officer. This person’s job is to look at the fire from all angles, the big picture. He makes sure in the heat of battle, the chiefs directing the fire attack don’t get tunnel vision and miss something that could kill or injure firefighters. It looks like chaos but it’s not. They are all communicating via radio in a combined effort to extinguish the fire without anyone getting hurt.
One truck was looking for a good fire hydrant to use. Yes, there are some hydrants around Lloydwood. The usable ones are on Charleston Highway, too far away. These old neighborhoods can have a few hydrants, but will they provide enough water to sustain a flow firefighters can trust inside a burning structure?
When the older neighborhoods were built, fire hydrants owned by Cayce or the Joint Water and Sewer Commission, just weren’t that far out. The neighborhood’s developer would contract with companies like the old Carolina Water (Blue Granite) to put in a system that would supply the houses. Those were never designed to provide enough water to supply the thousands of gallons of water needed when a house is burning. The fire service trucks all have tanks onboard and now they were needed. Hauling water from a good hydrant isn’t the most efficient way to provide water, but it’s better than no water at all.
An EMS crew arrived outside. Often, their supervisor is also there. They check the firefighters coming off interior teams to make sure they’re healthy enough to go back in again. They're also right there if a tragedy were to occur.
Another truck pulls up and is directed to open the roof. They saw holes where the commander believes the fire is. This let’s heat and smoke out and makes the fire show itself. At Ravencroft, they cut two. They also set up a fan blowing in the home to force the fire to show up. It worked and the teams inside quickly knocked it out.
It was at about this time that dispatch began toning multiple stations again to another structure fire on Memorial Drive. Because the fire officer had moved equipment and manpower up during the Ravencroft fire, they were ready. Equipment went racing that way seeing smoke in the sky. Callers said they heard small explosions. Luckily, this was that backyard shed. That fire was put out by the first few trucks that arrived and the rest were able to go back to standby status.
Even Lexington County’s Fire Chief Mark Davis was out helping. He never took over; his team was doing it right. He simply offered to help wherever he was needed even if that meant gearing up and grabbing a hose.
The shed was out in about 15 minutes. The home on Ravencroft took about an hour before they were confident it was out. Trucks began to fill up their water tanks, pick up their hoses, and head back to their station. There, they’d get the equipment cleaned up, loaded, and ready to do this all over again if need be.
The Ravencroft fire heavily damaged the home but it’s probably repairable. The little shed is gone. That fire displaced a family of five. The American Red Cross was notified and will help them start getting their lives back together.
We all should feel better knowing that if we need help, even in this strange time we never saw coming, we do have the first responders out there. If you dial 911, someone will pick up the phone. For all who made that happen, from the freshest private out of the academy to the members of county council, thank you.