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From the full version of Sunnyside's Lousy Book.

Buning Down the House

If this were to be a part of a movie script -- at this time it would be describing a scene of a tall young man in his late twenties or early thirties breaking into an impound yard. He’d find a car he was looking for and steal it. Cut to: Inside a police station; an investigator is informed that the suspected thief has stolen the car again.


It was the second time in November when the early mornings were cold enough to make me think of lighting a couple five gallon propane heaters to take off the chill in my makeshift shop as I was getting my van ready for the pressure washing I had to perform on a house that day.
       I lit one heater on the ground in the middle of the shop and pulled another heater just like it out to the edge of the van's rear cargo area. I made sure that my airless next to it wasn’t going to get hot and the driver’s side back door which had the airless lines wrapped around a couple of inverted hose hangers, was open far enough to stay away from the heat.
       (This is where I made my mistake, because I’d normally use a bungee cord stretched from the right rear fender-well to the hole in the bottom of the door for the latch to the secondary door to hold it open. But at the time, the torque within the airless lines appeared to be holding it open and I wasn’t outdoors in the natural elements where wind could force it closed.)
       The problem started when I loaded heavy pressure-washer hoses through the side door of the van. The weight of myself and the hoses rocked the van causing the back door to swing closed. Just as this happened, my pager began to vibrate and it distracted me from what I was going on. Either stepping out of the van rocked the rear passenger side closed or I might have bumped it as I walked past the rear end of the van on my way inside the house where my phone was in my dining room.
       I tell yah, having the airless line with paint thinner inside while under pressure, set against the propane heater, isn't exactly the kind of thing you want to have happen.
       I went into the house to return the call to the girl who was supposed to be there about twenty minutes earlier. The reason she gave me for not making it to work that morning sounded like just another one of those stories I’ve heard before. She said it had something to do with her son, but I was guessing it was more like a boyfriend problem.
       (Later on that day I spoke to her grandmother only to find out that the story I was told, didn’t jive because the grandmother told me she had her grandson in the morning hours.)
       While on the phone listening to the girl’s lies; I heard some crackling noise that sounded like my pet rabbit chewing on some-thing. When I got off the phone less than five minutes later, I walked out to find that my van’s rear doors were near closed and there were flames coming out of the gap at the top of the doors.
       I thought to myself: “Boy you sure screwed up Sattler. You dumb ass, that's your five thousand dollar airless and your work truck going up in flames. That's your job and your paycheck you are burning.”
       I made a dash for the garden hose and as I walked past the side door on the van I noticed the flames leaping inside the van through blackened window in the sliding door. It resembled the blackened glass found on fireplaces with glass doors. I also noticed nylon ropes I had routed through pulleys to make a blue tarp into a make-shift roll-up garage door were melted and hanging from the ceiling. This made me realize the van was extremely hot. The fear of an explosion entered my mind. As I ran around the front of the garage heading towards the hose located on the opposite side of a storage shed built into the wall of the make-shift garage and on the back corner of my house; I saw my neighbors sitting on the steps of their back porch. Since they usually kept their cordless phone handy whenever they sat outside, I yelled out to them, “Hay, it's a good time to call 911!"
       Reina said, "What's a matter?"
       “My van is on fire.”
       I looked back at the garage door opening to see why she had to ask. There was only a stream of smoke about 6 to 12 inches thick rolling out from the top of the garage door.

From watching movies, I feared that the van might blow up and I figured in the worst case scenario the house could catch fire, so just in case I went around to the front of the house, kicked in the door and made sure my bass guitar was out of the house. At the time I was felling quite embarrassed, but I had to say to myself -- this kind of things, do happen and it just happened to me. Hindsight tells me I should have grabbed my surfboard and looked for Baxter too, but at the time I figured that the fire department would just pull up the ally and be able to douse my van with their big hose and that would be the end of it.
       Even though the fire department was less than a mile down the road and just one street over, it seemed like it took at least fifteen to twenty minutes before they showed up. When they arrived, they stopped the fire engine in the middle of the street in front of the house and I walked out to greet them. A man and woman walked up to me to find out what the situation was and I told them the fire was around the back and to be careful because there was propane bottles and paint thinner.
       What gets me is that I'm almost sure I suggested using the ally to drive the truck around back. At the time I figured they knew what they were doing, but I still can't understand why they didn't just drive down to the hydrant at the corner and let their main hose roll out as they'd drive around back with the use of the ally.

I couldn't help but notice the fire crew on the truck appeared to be made up mostly of minorities. It didn't take long before I recalled the conversation I had with a volunteer fireman I'd hired a month or two earlier. He said the station crew in parkland really liked him and they where even training him to drive the truck, but he knew his competition for the job as a paid full-time fireman was Affirmative Action.
       I asked "What do you mean?" because at the time I didn't even realize the consequences of the particular law or even cared that it existed. Then he explained that no matter how good he was at being a fireman; his competition for a paid full time job position was people that would get hired through the Affirmative Action Program. He said, “The fire department will most likely hire a minority because of Affirmative Action. Lakewood has the best fire department around is because they don't have to honor the Affirmative Action laws."

While observing the crew that was dispatched to my place, I noticed there was an older Hispanic man, a white woman, a black man, a short black woman and I think there might have been one other white male besides the driver, but I’m not sure.
       As they setup, I couldn't understand why they would want to hand carried the large main hose around the rear end of the truck and past the front of it. Then all the way down to the corner where the hydrant was three houses down.
       While they were struggling with the main hose, I walked around back to see how they were doing with the hose they had strung out along the south side of my house from the fire truck. I discovered they weren't even putting water on my van. The fire-hose was only pulled out far enough to reach the side of make-shift garage. Since the make shift-garage had a wall with a shed and lean-to built into the south side, the van wasn't even in their sight. The water they were spraying onto the roof was just running off the opposite side and wasn't doing anything to help extinguish the fire that was growing underneath it. There wasn't much I could do about the situation because the weight of the water in the hose laid out from the tanker truck made it too heavy to pull out further once it was charged and it was already connected to the truck.
       At this point in time there was another back-up crew in front of the house getting ready with another fire-hose. They asked if anyone was in the house. I said, “One dead rabbit.”
       I wanted to take matters into my own hands and say, Give me that hose, before you charge it. I'll take it through my house and save my tool room.
       Looking into my house through my front door I could tell the fire was being sucked into my tool room because the smoke was running about six above the floor. I told them, "Before you charge that hose, take it though my house and save my tool room. It's the second door on the left just as you enter the kitchen.”
       “We can't without another guy with an oxygen tank as a back-up,” one said.
       I asked, "Don't you have another guy with an air tank?"
       "Yeah, but he's around back helping with the hose."
       I thought it was silly that they had another guy with an oxygen bottle helping another with a fire-hose in my back with watering down a roof.
       I thought of fighting over the hose to go inside myself by just ducking under the smoke, but I was sure they weren't about to let me do such a thing. So I ran to the rear of the house and told the guy wearing an oxygen bottle I'd take over for him. I said, "Go up front to help the other guy with air go through my house and save my tool room."

It was obvious gal helping with the hose was too small to hold the hose under control by herself because it pushed her around and she was having a hard time directing it. I noticed my house was on fire by then so I thought; “Gee let’s put some water the siding of my house and in the back window of the bathroom. How inconsiderate can they be? I don't think they give a dam if I lose my house. Putting water on the roof of the garage isn't going to put out the flames on my house or in my van at all.”
       I felt embarrassed when I glanced over and saw my neighbor video tapping my predicament. By then the fire made its way to the lean-to area where five gallon cans of coal tar epoxy and paint thinners were stored. The lids were popping loose and heavy black smoke began bellowing out. When and coal tar began to splatter through the air. I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing here? I'm not dressed for these conditions. This isn't my job. I'm not paid to do this shit.”
       Dressed in civilian clothes it was too hot for me and I decided to leave the area, but when I let go of the hose, the force from the water pressure spun the small lady out of control. She took off weaving all over the place as if the hose was a snake with her in its mouth, shaking her about as if she was its next meal. The fire-hose was taking her for a ride of her life, and it showed by the look in her face. She looked so pathetic, I found myself stuck there trying to help her because there was no way in hell that she would have been able to operate the hose by herself.
       I could see it in her eyes that she was terrified by just being there. No doubt she was having second thoughts about being a firefighter. I had to wonder what in hell it was that made her want to be a firefighter. Was it the four days on and three days off work week? Was it the paycheck which goes up to around $75,000.00 per year? Or did she want to be a hero seen on the evening televisions news broadcast? Whatever the reason was… it was the wrong reason because it was my home and livelihood at stake. I can honestly tell you that she was more frightened of the fire than I was.
       Not only does the job require a person twice her size, but she shouldn't have been there in the first place because when the water pressure dropped off, she just set the nozzle down on the ground. I thought what next? I made a dash for the front of the house to find out what was going wrong, but in a few steps I recalled a news report about an incident where a fireman was killed because a fire-hose nozzle’s valve had been left open and when the line was charged, the hose’s force with the heavy brass nozzle took off on its own and knocked a fireman in the head; killing the guy. Being about ten steps away, I felt in fear of the hose being recharged and leaping about. So I turned around and went back to check and make sure she'd turned it off. I asked her if she had turned it off; she just shrugged her shoulders as if she didn't know. She picked the nozzle up and moved the control handle back and forth as if she couldn't remember which way was off. I looked at her and said, “Boy they sure trained you well.” She just looked back at me with confusion as if she realized she had no business being there in the first place.
       Though I think I got the nozzle turned off properly just being in the situation gave me feeling of a person on a field of land minds. I turned towards the front of the house again to find out what went wrong and no doubt she was terrified because she was right on my heals as I jetted towards the front of the house.
       As we rounded the front corner of the house the situation was quite was embarrassing. The people in the street were laughing at the crew. I found the two men warring oxygen bottles standing on my front porch, just standing over the second hose with a group of other firefighters standing around them. I looked at the water spout lying on the concrete porch with a small puddle of water in front of the nozzle and wonder if it was turned off. At that point I didn’t care because there were plenty of them to block it and you can bet I kept a distance.

I think it’s safe to say that you have to be "crazy" to want to jump into a fire, but you have to be "really crazy" to jump into a fire with someone who can't carry you out.

Shortly thereafter a third fire-truck pulled up the alley and pulled out a hose just as the first truck should have. I found out from a neighbor at a later time that another neighbor named Joe Price had helped a backup crew in the alley hold a fire hose while they put water on my van.
       Once they seemed to have a handle on the fire, they went into the house as they blew smoke out of the house with a fan; a fireman came out of the house with Baxter in his grip by the skin on the back of neck of the lifeless rabbit. Apparently, Baxter got scared and hopped back into the kitchen. A fireman offered to give Baxter a dose of oxygen to see if it would revive him. I covered his face with the oxygen and Baxter slowly came back to life.
       The next thing I remember is that they had me go into the house let them through a locked door that lead upstairs so they could check the storage room, attic and crawl spaces. Instead of doing what they should have done upstairs, they spent most of their time down in my tool room messing around with my tools and equipment. They pulled my equipment out of the tool room and said they were doing so for the investigation of how the fire started. It was obvious the fire started just as I said it did, but I had the feeling they were just nosing around my personal belongings and using the investigation for a reason to do. I felt they were invading my privacy just to admire the equipment that I had lost to the fire.
       The equipment I lost consisted of a welder I hadn’t even had a chance to use yet. Two pressure washers, four airless spray outfits, a five horse, sixty gallon Ingersoll Rand air compressor, a roll-around tool cabinet, auto-body tools, conventional pressure pot and spray guns.
       While crews were preparing to pull out, I was approached by one of the older firemen from a backup crew. I think he said he was the Captain. He said, "Sorry we didn't get the fire out sooner. It's never soon enough when it's your house is on fire.”
       I said, “You guys trashed my house for no reason.”
       He said, “We had problems getting the hydrant to work. Would you like us to board up the windows on your house?” I didn't want to find out if I'd receive a bill for it and I really didn’t want them around what was left of my possessions any-more than they had to be. Since there was some salvageable chip board around back, I figured I'd manage to do it myself so I said, “No thanks. I'll do it myself. YOUR FIRE DEPARTMENT IS A BUNCH OF FUCK-UPS!”
       I'm pretty sure the little fire lady let the captain know how she screwed up with the valve on the fire-hose because the back-up fire trucks rolled their hoses up quickly and got out of there in a hurry. I think it is a good possibility that she saw the neighbors with a video camera as well as I did. As I was standing across the street watching them scramble to put things back on their trucks, I was sure the fire department knew they had screwed up on the fire. The back-up crews were the first to leave the scene leaving the first truck to arrive behind. The driver of the first truck to show up, and last to leave; walked up to me and said, "Sorry about the fire.”
       I asked, "Do you guys even know what the hell you’re doing?"
       With a confused look on his face he said, "We're about ready to pull out."
       "What do you do for a living?"
       "I'm a fireman.”
       “You mean you fight fires for a living?”
       He said, "Yeah.”
       “You mean -- you’re paid to put out fires?” "Yeah."
       With a chuckle, I said, "Then what the hell are you going home for? It looks like a fire to me!” Then I pointed out the massive stream of smoke coming out of my house as if there was a chimney missing and a fairly good sized fire blazing in a fireplace.
       He looked at me with a startled look on his face and shuffled his feet in a panic. I laughed at him and said, "Let the damn thing burn. You guys trashed my house anyway. What do you want to do -- leave me with a big mess? The house is a big piece of junk thanks to you fuck-heads.”
       They had messed around with my tools and equipment just under the ceiling of the original back porch where the fire was still burning. Apparently they didn't perform the services they are suppose to be trained for and because of it, I ended up with a burnt out house with a hole in the roof.
       By the way, the second fire was worse than the first one. I guess I let them upstairs just to let them go through more of my possessions. I couldn't see the reason for them to open a box I had a couple halide light bulbs stored in. For the box to be open and the bulbs to be unwrapped and exposed; only leads me to believe that their investigation was about more than just the fire. I think it’s safe to say that they were looking for dirt.

The next chapter of Sunnyside's Lousy Book is:

The Hasmat D

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