09 April, 2006

My brother would have been proud… NOT!

Jason, my firefighter brother, will just shudder and grit his teeth over this. Last week one of our troops was doing his business in the bath/latrine area when he thought he smelt smoke. Didn’t think much of it since it is often a ‘fragrance’ we smell coming from the burn pits near by. It got his attention when the smoke began pouring over the top of his stall. As he opened the door into a room thick with smoke he realized the water heater was on fire. He did what he needed to do and hit the fire alarm – and nothing happened. This will become a theme.

Plan B was of course to start shouting “Fire!” and soon the building began to rouse. One of my loadmasters sprung into action and grabbed a fire extinguisher to fight the growing blaze.

Quick side note: when we arrived here back in January I noticed that the Iraqi dorm had about twelve big extinguishers and out building none. Since at the time of my visit we were still at our first base and there were very few folks about it was a simple job for me to take six of them and bring them over to my building. I was quite smug about that. There’s Maj Irwin, looking out for the safety of his team, I deserve a medal. And I didn’t hesitate to mention this fact to everyone.

So the loadmaster sprints headlong into the smoky room, pulls the pin, aims the hose and squeezes the trigger. And as you’d expect – nothing happens. A few tries and then he abandons the tank in search of another.

Two maintenance troops arrive with their own tanks that I had taken earlier and they too began to curse my name. Yup, the tanks said full but the performance proved empty.

One of them had the bright idea of getting some use from this large paper weight. He decided to throw it at one of the overhead sprinkler expecting the little glass rod to break and get the water flowing. He missed and punched a good hole through the acoustic tile. The other troop thought it a good idea and followed suit. He connected and…

…wait for it…

Nothing happened.

A third team of maintainers arrived with their own bottles and these at least worked. A few gallant moments later the fire was out. My loadmaster showed at this point with the last extinguisher and much to his disappointment the fire was out and with it his chance for glory. He blames me.

I showed up at this point to see what was going on. At the time I was the ranking flyer and my colleague Maj Barna was the ranking support officer. All the big wigs were at a conference off base. While Barna was talking to the troopers I began to figure out we might have some wiring problems (witness the fact the electrical cord connecting the water heater was burned through and through). I also noticed there didn’t seem to be a ground wire in the now exposed center of the line. A few phone calls later I had (U.S.) Civil Engineering show up and start poking about the building.

Some highlights:

  • The wiring appears to be speaker wire, no grounds.
  • The fire alarm boxes are just decoration; there isn’t even an outlet box behind them.
  • The fire extinguishers were all charged but apparently about half have faulty valves.
  • The water lines connecting the sprinklers aren’t.
  • Some of the troops told us “oh yeah… we’ve been getting mild shocks from the shower.” The water heater was grounding through the water.

Iraqi Civil Engineers showed up with a new tank today. They assured us the problem was because the first tank was manufactured in Syria and the new one was made in Iraq. I’m so relieved. I am moving into a tent.


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