“Feels like a fire down below…”

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled litany of borderline-morbid neurological news for something completely different.

Frank and I were returning from coffee yesterday afternoon, and he was dropping me off at the side entrance to Cisco Building 20, when I noticed something unusual in the enclosed area housing the dumpsters. Through the narrow gap beneath the locked steel gates, bright orange flames danced, licking the air.

“Hey, do you see that?” I asked, pointing. Indeed he did. He slowed the car, and we took enough of a look to verify that, yes indeed, something was on fire in there.

By the time he’d parked the car, it was clear that more was burning than just the bits of cardboard we’d spotted earlier. The flames had spread to the contents of at least one of the dumpsters.

Since there didn’t seem to be an immediate threat of the fire spreading, we decided to call Cisco Security rather than 911. Not having their number in my phone at the time — I certainly do now — I headed to the building’s lobby to call in the alert, then headed back to the side entrance.

The first Security truck arrived promptly, but its occupant didn’t really seem to have much more idea of what to do than we did. “Yep, it’s on fire all right” seemed to be the extent of the immediate response.

This was approximately the point where Frank and I decided be a bit more… hands-on, and headed into the building to grab a fire extinguisher or two. I will cheerfully confess to a certain amount of glee at the prospect, as I had never had a chance to use an actual fire extinguisher against an actual fire before.

Standing on the concrete base of lamppost and bracing ourselves against the enclosure wall, we took turns aiming for the base of the flames and spewing gouts of powdery white extinguishing compound at it. This put out the visible flames, but we could tell that hot spots remained beneath the ashes.

At this point a second Security truck appeared, and its occupant actually unlocked the gates. We had a better shot at the flames now, but had completely discharged our extinguisher. After checking in his truck for another, the second Security guard came up empty, so Frank and I went back into the building for seconds. We handed one of our finds to the guard, who was apparently unfamiliar with the whole “pull pin to enable trigger” concept. A few more blasts of noxious white powder — nearly as suffocating to humans as to the combustive process — and some poking of the embers, and things seemed to be under control. (In the process we noticed that there was in fact a fire extinguisher attached to the inside of the enclosure. Security Guard #2 wasn’t any more aware of it than we had been.)

I had to leave to pick my father up from the airport at this point, so I missed whatever epilogue might have unfolded. While on my way to Terminal 1, though, I made the mistake of licking my lips. Ugh. There was enough powdery residue on my skin to convey a hint of bitterness, unwholesome and deeply synthetic. (That stuff’s probably carcinogenic. Hahahahaha. Carcinogenic! Ahahahahahaha! Ahem.)

This story has two morals. First and most importantly: when something’s on fire, call 911. Do not screw around with half measures. Do not assume that the employees of your private security firm have the training, equipment, or expertise to handle the problem effectively.

The second, less crucial moral has to do with the guy on the third-floor balcony who was jabbering away on his cell phone — and not, from the sound of it, to the fire department — while the contents of the dumpster were blazing merrily away a few dozen yards away from him. I feel a certain measure of satisfaction in the fact that he must have been engulfed in clouds of the asphyxiating powder our amateur efforts at fire suppression unleashed, and I hope it ruined his day. But he served to illustrate an important point: don’t be a self-absorbed little twit if you can help it.

Here endeth the lesson.

2 thoughts on ““Feels like a fire down below…”

  1. Two things.

    First, it’s interesting how people just have no idea what to do when you put them in an unfamiliar situation. This may or may not have anything to do with how the apparent douchebag on the phone acted. But in general, if they’re alone, they’ll do the right thing — put out the fire if possible. But if there’s even one other person around, they’ll look for social proof.

    And second, it’s in bad taste to make cancer jokes. Yes, even for you. Jerk.

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