Local fire fighters reflect on a tragedy

Published 4:28 pm Thursday, June 21, 2007

One of the greatest fire department losses in the United States has Picayune’s fire department mourning part of their nationwide brotherhood.

Numerous news reports state that nine firefighters lost their lives in a furniture store fire in Charleston, S.C., possibly when its roof collapsed. Every day firefighters risk their lives for other people’s lives and property and a loss in any United States fire department causes reflection.

“Our heart goes out to them,” said Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown. “They ultimately gave up everything they had trying to do their job.”

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News reports state a flashover could have occurred creating a dangerous situation for those fire fighters who lost their lives. A flashover occurs when a fire heats combustible materials, releasing the gasses inside, said Picayune Fire Department Training Officer Barry Lee. Once the fire heats the gases to ignition level, everything in the area can burst into flames, he said.

However, the Picayune Fire Department is not attempting to speculate what actually happened in the fire, Lee said.

There was also the fact the fire occurred in a warehouse, stocked with furniture. Furniture carries a high fuel load, Lee said.

Brown said it would be like a local warehouse-style store catching fire. There would be no lights, and combined with the smoke, visibility would be nearly zero.

Firefighters are trained to handle fires by ventilating the burning structure so gases and heat do not build up. In instances with warehouses, they are usually constructed with skylights to allow the building to ventilate. However, no matter how much firefighters train and prepare, fire situations can present unseen or unmanageable circumstances, Brown said.

A similar situation could have occurred when Picayune’s Christian Life Assembly of God caught fire last October.

Brown said at times there were six firefighters inside the building and a similar accident could have befallen Picayune’s firefighters.

“It makes us wake up because it could happen … tomorrow or today,” Brown said.

There is an unspoken bond between firefighters across the nation. A death in one department causes all of the nation’s fire departments to mourn as well, Lee said.

“It always brings us back to the realization how quickly it can happen,” Lee said. “When a brother goes down, whether you met them or not, it still affects the brotherhood.”