Smoke detector saves lives in Powellhurst-Gilbert blaze

Without a doubt, the fire that tore through one unit of this four-plex could have done far more harm – had the smoke alarms not been working that night …

Firefighters report seeing flames “blowing out the back door” of this wood-frame, three-story unit when they arrived. *Dick Harris photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
There was a bit of panic in the voice of a caller when the 9-1-1 Center operator took a call about a fire on SE 119th Avenue, just north of SE Harold Street, on March 7.

“There’s a fire! Stuff is blowing up!” are the words that were recorded at 9:05 p.m.

Three minutes later, Portland Fire & Rescue Engine 29’s Captain Mike Glenn was on-scene, sizing up the situation. He grabbed his radio and reported, “There is a working fire on the back side of a wood frame three- story four-plex.”

From both the front and rear of the unit, firefighters attack the fire in a unit that appeared to be unoccupied.

According to Battalion Chief C3 Chris Babcock, the crew of Engine 29 pulled the fire hose hooked up to their rig, and began their attack on the fire as Engine 7’s crew provided back-up. “We had heavy fire showing on the back of the building when we arrived.”

The smoke detectors in the building were still shrieking as we arrived on-scene; smoke was pouring from the second unit from the end. Hoses snaked from SE Harold Street to the engines that responded to the fire.

Babcock told us the fire was knocked down by 9:15 – at which time they’d completed a primary search of the structure for people; a secondary search was completed six minutes later.

Prompt response by all Portland Fire & Rescue units kept a potentially disastrous fire relatively small; no one was injured in the fire.

“In a wood structure like this, the fire could have been much worse if we hadn’t been promptly called,” Babcock said.

The fire remains under investigation, according to PF&R spokesman Lt. Allen Oswalt. “The smoke detector alerted the occupants next door who called in the fire. Again, working smoke detectors saved lives, and property.”

* Special thanks to Dick Harris, photographer for Portland Fire & Rescue, for taking the EXN camera behind fire lines to snap the rear-of-building action photo us!

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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