I work as a Paramedic in a rural County in Missouri. I have lived in a home that was off-grid for over eleven years, and have lived remotely for about seventeen years. I have worked as a Big-game Hunting Guide in Colorado, a white-water rafting guide, a river tour guide for one to twenty-one day trips in the Big Bend Region, and quite a bit more than that. My service in the military was as a military policeman, and I am a Soldier’s Medal recipient. I was an electrician right out of high school (vocational program). We built nearly all of our furniture with a chainsaw mill. Needless to say; I have been there, and done that, and wore out the tee shirt. I am very qualified to both do and teach.
All of this was before the fire!
In January of 2003, I was working on the ambulance (we work twenty-four hour shifts), when I heard my address come over the air! My wife and two sons were at home sleeping, and the call described an explosion and fire! Many of my fellow professionals were aware that I was on the radio, and were being overly cautious about what they said. At the moment that I heard the call, I was in the back of the ambulance ready to deliver a psychiatric patient to a hospital over an hour from my home. Needless to say, I was in a hurry to get done and get back into my own area! As the patient was handed over, my partner and I got back on the road. It was the longest run with lights and sirens that I have made in many years! In the mean-time I had been in contact with my wife by cell-phone; Only to be informed that she was injured and believed our boys to be dead!
After the longest trip of my life, I arrived at the home of my nearest neighbor, nearly ¾ mile from our house to find my wife with her hair seared straight back, in shock, and suffering from other injuries. She has trouble remembering all of the details, but to her best knowledge; She awoke to the sound of smoke alarms and the smell of smoke. She could not locate our three year old because of the smoke in the room, and our thirteen year old was asleep upstairs in his room. As she grabbed one of the many high-end fire extinguishers in our house, she yelled at the top of her lungs for either of the boys. Both suffered from asthma, so it is probable that they were already gone. The fire had come through the floor by then, and she could not get back into our room to search for the baby. The phone lines were burnt and the phone was dead. We had a deck ¾ of the way around the house, so she took the handset from the phone around the deck and tried to break the double-pane windows to get into the baby. As she got through the first pane, the heat build-up in the house caused enough pressure to blow the other pane outward; showering her with glass, singeing her hair, and blowing her off of a six foot tall deck backwards onto a rocky front yard. Her next move; the only one that she had left, was to run barefoot through the woods wearing only a long tee shirt crying for help from one of our few(I like it that way) neighbors. Eventually, emergency services personnel arrived and did all that they could, and then some. A local medical helicopter crew landed in a near impossible area “just in case”. I finally arrived, and though I have both seen and been through much, I could hardly handle it! The cause of the fire was never established… What was established was that none of the electrical or solar was proven at fault. Arson could not be ruled out, but the only evidence was circumstantial. I may never know… Maybe that is just God’s way to protect me?
But there is a reason for this missive: I am good at what “we” do, and this happened to me! I do not wish for it to happen to someone else. We are on our second amateur radio licenses… If it was available as safety equipment we had it. Everything worked… And it still wasn’t enough! Our house was well designed to carry heat through out in the Winter, and to keep the house cool in the Summer, but that very design allowed the fire to spread faster! We had many emergency plans! Our fire plan was good as long as we were awake. But kids cannot be awakened as easily as adults, and their lungs are far more susceptible to smoke than ours. I need for those in our community to be aware of what we went through, so nobody else has to feel this pain.
I still teach survival and survival medicine. My next class is in
September, but I have a different perspective than many instructors in
that I have lost once! I never want that to happen again; to me or
anyone else. The many things that led to this failure are something
that I have tried to improve. I’ll try to attach a picture of the house
that burnt, so you’ll understand that we really had done a good job with
our dream cabin. But the next one will be concrete! As your site so
correctly points out; there will be people who want what we have, and
will stop at nothing to get it. Be prepared to defend it from anything,
especially fire! Even the best fire extinguishers are not enough. You
will have to start with your method of construction!
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