GVKS Field House Fire - 1/13/02
By: Tom Barton
I've been "retired" from volunteer fire fighting since around 1990, I had
16 years of service before that, with countless hours of drills and real
fire experience. Guess it's like the old saying - once you learn to ride a
bike, you never forget. And so it was when the cabin caught fire.
On Sunday morning, most of the cavers still at the field house geared up and went to Memorial Day for a look around. Clare and I were the last to leave the cave, and by the time that we got back to the field house everyone had either left, or were just leaving. Rick Orban was packing his stuff and ready to load our van.
We decided to linger around for a while and let the fire in the stove burn out. I set about heating up some lunch in the kitchen, Clare went to pack, and Rick went out to try to make some order out of the van. Clare came down with an armload of sleeping gear and remarked about the amount of smoke from the lingering fire in the stove that seemed to be blowing back inside upstairs.
I dropped what I was doing and ran up to the second floor, already expecting to see what I found.... The wall of the left hand bedroom was on fire, at the floor level. I rushed down stairs, and by that time the fire was pouring out of the wall above the stove pipe connection.
I ran out, grabbed Rick and a pry bar from the van, and instructed him to start opening up the wall, and to try to get some water into the walls. I then drove to the neighbor's house, first house down the hill on the left. I pulled up in the drive a bit fast, and the owner who was on the back porch sensed something was wrong. I had him call the fire department, and I returned to the cabin. By this time, things were really looking bad. Smoke was pouring out of the second floor from both sides of the chimney. Rick and Clare were filling gallon juice jugs from the large water tank out back - there's a 1' round top that you can get a coffee can or a jug in to dip out water. Too small for digging
buckets. I grabbed another crow bar and a water container and joined the effort. Rick and I opened up what we could of the wall on the second floor and started a water relay effort to dump gallon jugs into the wall. Many trips were made to the water tank to refill jugs, with the three of us, Rick O., Clare, and me, running back and forth like crazy. Smoke on the second floor was heavy enough that we needed to retreat to the other room's window for almost every breath. At this point I decided to ventilate the second floor, and used my crow bar to remove several windows (sorry... but we needed the air).
Even though we were not able to control the fire with the limited buckets of water, I think the effort slowed the fire enough to prevent heavier damage while we awaited the fire department.
Much to my surprise, the fire department allowed me to work with them, and I pretty much coordinated the interior attack, especially upstairs. There was a young fireman that was standing outside with a booster line - that I drug into the cabin and upstairs, who did a great job of knocking down the flames; first by the stove downstairs, then upstairs in the bed room, and finally climbing on a chair - putting water into the attic, saving the roof.
Most of the fire was put out by firemen from the Circleville VFD, with assistance from Seneca Rocks VFD.
After the fire was out and the firemen had gone, we hung around to talk to the owner and see what we could do to straighten things out. He told me that the FD had called the electric company to come and look at the power. I was pretty sure that the power company would want to cut the power since there were shorted circuits on the second floor. I convinced him that I could call Rick Lambert to come and isolate the power, and that might satisfy the power company. He seemed to think that was a good idea, so we went off the the River Mart and called Rick, who agreed to come right over.
While we awaited Rick L., the three of us cleaned out the 1st and 2nd floor of all the fire debris, depositing it outside, and sweeping up the standing water the best that we could. The guy from the power company arrived, looked things over, and agreed that since the owner needed the water pumps, it would be OK to leave the power on if Rick disconnected the interior circuits. Rick finally arrived and did just that, with the owner's helper and pump mechanic looking on.
Finally late in the afternoon, after what can only be described as a "very exciting" weekend in Germany Valley, the three of us bid farewell to the poor field house, and began the trek back to N.Y.