Fire on Sue Barnett

A tragic event took place in my neighborhood on Tuesday, June 8, 2004. It began with an explosion which distributed fire throughout the entire inside of an all-brick house just two blocks away from mine. Can you imagine the noise of sirens and motors as 13 fire trucks forged down the street? My heart kicked up its pounding as I approached the burning house. The windows exposed bright orange and red flames predominant in every room. It was evident that not one single item could be saved. Billows of smoke arose higher than the tree tops from attic vents and parts of the roof blown away. Soon, the flaming tongues of fire were dancing over the roof top.

Every week we see apartment buildings and houses on fire as we watch the news on television. But to BE there is much more emotional. You feel the loss as well as the helplessness. Sadness overtakes you as you think, "What if this was my house?" I praised God that no one was home. I was told five children live here.

I took 50 pictures that afternoon with my little Cannon Elph lZUS camera, about the size of a deck of cards. Newsmen from all three TV stations were present with fancy cameras on tripods; digital cameras on shoulders. Channel 2 threw up a telescopic pole 25 feet high with a thick red cord twirled around it, from the top of their news van. I was planning a picture story for my children's writing ministry. A helicopter hovered overhead like it was sitting on an invisible cloud. How does it do that? Seems like when it stopped in mid-air, it would fall!!

Small groups of neighbors came and left. There were never very many spectators around.

I stood on the lawn and driveway of the house next door to photograph the firemen in action. Sixty very brave men fought the fire. Hoses were reeled out from trucks parked on both sides of the street. I wondered how many feet of hose are furnished by each truck. Water was forced inside the house through windows and doors. One fireman climbed up on a ladder to hose water through a hole in the roof.

A fireman used a circular K-2 rescue saw to cut away the burglar bars on a floor-to-ceiling window. A group of men wearing hard hats and dressed in heavy brown "space suits" with some kind of cylinders like back packs entered the house through this window. Were the suits fire proof? I was filled with admiration for their bravery. The roof was on fire and parts of it had caved in. Do those cylinders contain fire fighting chemicals? Huge clouds of bright white smoke rolled upwards to become part of the sky.

The fire lasted three hours! It was 7:00 when it was over. Firemen crashed on a nearby lawn: some lying down; some sitting; resting from their labors. As I walked towards my car, a soft rain began to fall. One fire truck and its crew stayed in front of the home all night, just in case some smoldering ember might ignite again.

On Friday afternoon, June 11th, I began working on my children's picture story of the fire. I soon realized it wouldn't be much of a story without answers to a lot of questions. Those answers could only be found with a visit to nearby Fire Station No. 31. I drove to its location on Crosstimbers and Old Yale Street. There was no place to park in front and the back was fenced in. I drove on the driveway and stopped in front of a fire truck. It was sitting on "GO" with door open, ready to roll. Two firemen rushed beside me before I could get my door open. Holding up the photos, paper-clipped to pages, I explained: "I'm writing a children's picture story about the Sue Barnett Street house fire and need answers to some questions. Can you help me?"

"No, but someone inside can. You may park in back."

"You mean drive through that gate with signs NO TRESPASS; ENTRY FORBIDDEN?"

"Yes. Park anywhere."

After leaving my car, they escorted me to an office and introduced me to Mr. D. L. Schrader, who has been a fireman for 26 years. I sat at a work table and displayed my pictures in story order with Post-It notes filling in the text. The firemen were very impressed; enjoyed the pictures, and answered my questions.

Each fire truck carries l,200 feet of hose. After they return to the station, the firemen hand-clean the hose, scrubbing it snow white. The thick brown suits are fire resistant--not fire proof. Their boots are of leather. The cylinder they carry on their back contains AIR--the kind we all breathe. It is connected to the face masks to protect them from smoke inhalation. The air bottles last 15 minutes…certainly enough time to spend at once in those flaming infernos!

The white billows of smoke emitting from the roof top is really steam. The extreme heat turns the water into steam.

There are four shifts at this station: A, B, C & D. Firemen are on duty 24 hours a day in nine-day-shifts each month. They live at the station during this time.

After talking about the fire, we talked about God. Fireman Schrader is a devoted Christian. He teaches a Sunday school class of 6th grade boys and girls at the First Baptist Church in Bellville. It was wonderful to share our witnessing of our Lord. God is Awesome!

A call came over the speaker announcing that supper was ready. Fireman Schrader invited me to dine with them. I was honored! Fireman Gilbert cooked hamburger steaks with brown gravy, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, baked chicken with seasoned squash and salad--a scrumptious feast. We watched the 5:00 news on a wide screen TV while we ate. Everyone washed their own dishes. The kitchen and dining area was one big room. The men mopped the floor and had everything spick and span afterwards. I teased one of them as he mopped: "Does your wife know you do this?" He replied, "NO! And don't you tell her!"

I returned home, and continued working on my story. What about that hovering helicopter? I needed more information. I knew who could explain it to me: my nephew, Jerry Ward. He was in the Army Air Corps and flew an Apache helicopter in the war of Desert Storm. It was 9:30 p.m. I called him on his cell phone. He was certainly surprised, especially since he was on a trip, driving from Tyler to Killeen, Texas. I really enjoyed his helicopter explanation.

A helicopter flies like a bumble bee. It beats its wings (the whirling rotor blades) real fast in a circular motion to create LIFT. The pilots say the helicopter beats air into submission! The wing goes around 350-400 miles per hour while hovering (standing in one spot in the air). The rotor blades, while turning around in a circle, create a cushion of air (my invisible cloud!). The higher they hover, the more power it takes. Air gets thinner as the helicopter goes higher, and therefore, it takes more energy to keep it up. The little tail motor goes up and down (vertically) to keep the body from turning. The tail is anti-torque, which keeps the helicopter pointed in one direction. It takes 40% more power to hover than to fly. The whirling rotor blade must go 300-400 miles per hour while sitting still in the air. When flying, these wings go 600 miles per hour while going forward. Sound travels 640 miles per hour. If the helicopter went that fast, the blades would disintegrate. Jerry said, "It's a fun and an amazing machine!"

Life can be changed in moments. It is precious. As I stood there watching this fire, I thought of Job (the oldest book of the Bible--therefore, being an example for eons of time). Job also lost everything he had, including his 10 children. He said to his wife, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Through all his adversities, he remained faithful. "The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before" (Job 42:10).

Thousands of people lose all their material possessions through fire and flood every year. It either makes a person BETTER or BITTER. They turn to God in humbleness…or they turn away in ignorance that He gave them everything they lost; and He will help them get it all back again. People watch the sermon we live. We live materially or we live spiritually. Living spiritually in Jesus leads us to abundant life NOW and eternal life after death.

When you have faith in God, He will take care of you, no matter what happens. He made you. He loves you. He is in control of your life. Bad things may happen--but we become stronger because of them; and we become more dependent on God, our Heavenly Father. We must pray, "O.K., Lord. I have a BIG problem! Show me what I must do about it."

"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee…When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God…Thou wast precious in my sight…fear not, for I am with thee" (Isaiah 43: 1-5).

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