Fire Breaks Out in Southern Maryland – What Mini-Tragedies Can Teach Our Kids

by Nindo Mom on March 2, 2011

This evening–on March 2, 2011–as I was driving my fourth grader home from Math Team practice, we saw flames off to one side of the road. They were about 50 feet in front of us when I first noticed them. I kept glancing at them to see if they were in some kind of enclosure.

(People in these neighborhoods frequently burn leaves or branches in barrels instead of bagging them up and sending them off to recycling. Part of the reason may be that our recycling folks only come around twice a month, and many people don’t want brush sitting around their yards for that long.)

Since it was about 6 p.m. and getting dark, it was difficult to make things out clearly, at first–but as we passed the flames, it became obvious that they were completely uncontained–and eating away at a small wooded area on the side of the road.

There were actually 2 distinct patches of brush that were on fire–each the same size and on opposite sides of an entrance to a small business off the side of the road. The patches of flames were about 20 feet apart, separated by asphalt–and this struck me as very strange. How could 2 fires–which had seemingly started at the same time, judging on their size and relatively close proximity–have started so far apart from one another when the area between them was non-flamable?

Unlike the odd weather of a few days earlier, which had sported 58-mph wind gusts, today had been a rather still day–meaning the fire probably hadn’t spread by wind. The only other possibilities that came to mind were that either it was intentional, or someone in a moving vehicle had tossed something burning out their window and the item had bounced along under the momentum of the moving car, lighting fires as it went.

For a moment, I was uncertain what to do. We had just passed the second batch of flames when I made my decision: I pulled over into the parking lot of a veterinarian’s office to call 911. Except that I actually let my fourth grader dial the number.

Why did I leave the important call up to a young person? I was still looking for a safe place to pull over and my son had his phone with him in the back seat, so he could place the call faster. And, it quickly occurred to me was that this would give him the experience of what it was like to place a call to 911–before a more life-threatening event occurred. (For example–a robber breaks into the house, someone is hit by a car, someone falls and is injured, etc.)

By the time I pulled over, my son was already handing me his phone over the seat. “I just dialed,” he said. So I was the person to actually speak to the 911 operator. It was a quick call: maybe 30 seconds long. I gave them a very specific location, and they said that’s all they needed and thanked me.

Since I had already pulled off the road and was in a safe location, I decided to capture the event on my cell phone camcorder. I was curious to see how long it would take the fire department to show up, as I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about that kind of thing.

Police started arriving on the scene almost immediately after my call–so quickly that I suspect they may have been nearby and seen the flames themselves. As the minutes passed, more police cars showed up and parked some distance away from the flames. Then, even as the patches of fire were spreading, the patch farther away from me started to go out and thick smoke filled the air: it turned out someone had sprayed something on that part of the fire.

More minutes passed, and I saw a pair of men approach on foot–one of them in what appeared to be a policeman’s uniform–the second patch of fire. One of them sprayed something on the fire, and a good portion of it went out. It appeared that material being sprayed must have run out before the job was finished, though. Finally, at about 9 minutes after I got off the phone with 911, a fire truck (of sorts) showed up. It was unlike any I had seen before, being so small that it could pass for a very large pickup truck with a hose mounted in the back. A brief squirt of whatever was in the hose, and the fire was kaput.

Considering the fire occurred during rush hour traffic, I don’t think the fire department wasted any time responding; 9 minutes seems like a pretty reasonable amount of time.Which is good, because small businesses lined both sides of that street and a fire could have done a lot of damage.

Mini-Tragedies Can Teach Kids to Deal with More Deadly Dangers – Before They Happen

I’m always looking for opportunities to teach my son useful life skills–and this event was a great one. Even a small fire was enough to give him a feel for what it’s like to have to act quickly without panicking. (And truthfully, he didn’t show the slightest inclination to panicking, which surprised me.)

After the fire was out, my son and I talked about 911 and when the number should be used. We also talked about the fire and how it might have started. We also talked about the roles of the policemen and the firemen during the emergency. And finally, we talked about our own responsibility, as members of the community, to take action when we see something that’s wrong.

You can see my Rumor Touch cell phone video of the Fire in Southern Maryland – story on on YouTube.

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