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Valley Firefighters Battle Home Fires

Fully Involved – Captain Sherman Gooch (above photo) makes a quick “initial attack” on a house fire last Thursday on Chestnut Street. The fire was one of a trio of blazes within the city limits over the past two weeks. – Photo by Jack Gurner

Firefighter Stewart Spence reacts to being hit by a board when a porch collapsed during a structure fire on Calhoun Street Monday. Spence was not injured.

Firefighters have dealt with a trio of structure fires within the city over the past two weeks. In the latest incident, an unoccupied house on Calhoun Street burned Monday afternoon. No injuries were reported from any of the blazes. – Photo by Jack Gurner

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – The old saying is that fires come in threes and in the past two weeks firefighters have had to deal with a trio of blazes within the city limits.

The first was in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Nov. 11, and destroyed a house on East Lee Street.

The most recent were last Thursday on Chestnut Street and then Monday on Calhoun Street.

The alarm for the fire at the Neeley residence at 605 Chestnut was turned in at 11:41 and the fire equipment arrived on the scene at 11:44, according to dispatch records.

Captain Sherman Gooch was the first firefighter to arrive and he had hoses off the truck and water on the fire within moments. Fire Chief Michael Defer described Gooch’s performance as a combination of experience and speed. “An experienced fireman can react without having to think about what he is doing,” Defer said.

Although fire crews are expected to have on full turnout gear when fighting a fire, sometimes an experienced firefighter will make a judgement call to get water on the fire immediately without taking the time necessary to don the coat and helmet.

In the case of the Chestnut Street fire, Captain Gooch made what is called the initial attack until other firefighters arrived. He then turned the hose over to them and went back to the truck for his turnout gear.

The reason firefighters never get too close to a fire without full protection was demonstrated Monday at the fire on Calhoun Street. Firefighter Stewart Spence was working in close to the fire when the roof of the porch collapsed and a board struck his helmet. He was unharmed and continued to battle the blaze.

Later, Chief Defer pointed out a mark on his own helmet where a brick fell during a fire earlier in his career. Just part of the job, according to firefighters.

At the Chestnut Street call, seven full-time and six volunteers arrived within minutes of the call. On Calhoun Street Monday, seven volunteers and six full-time were on the scene.

The house on Calhoun Street was already well involved when reported.

 All three fires are of undetermined origin, according to officials. The East Lee Street fire has been examined by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Fire Risk Increased

Recent colder weather has increased the risk of fire deaths all across Mississippi, according to Commissioner of Insurance and State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney.

“Too many Mississippi fire deaths and fires are caused by faulty heating equipment or people using ill-advised methods to stay warm and occur during the fall and winter months,” Chaney said.

Five of the 53 fire deaths investigated by the State Fire Marshal’s Office thus far this year occurred within 24-hours of each other this week. Although this total number is nearly 10 below the pace set by this same time last year, Mississippi still leads the nation in fire deaths per capita. Firefighting officials expect to see a spike in fire deaths in the state in the coming cold-weather months.

“The most important things for people to remember are to exercise good common sense in finding heat sources and to make sure the smoke alarms in their homes are functioning properly,” Chaney added.

The State Fire Marshal Division of the Mississippi Insurance Department recommends the following cold weather fire safety tips:

• All heating equipment should be UL® approved and cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional prior to being used each year.

•  Remember to keep clothes, drapes, people, and anything else combustible at least 3 feet away from all heating equipment, especially space heaters.

•  Inspect the space heater’s power cord for damage, fraying or heat. If the cord inspection reveals any of these issues, the heater should be replaced. Proper cleaning is essential and should be done regularly.

•  Never use space heaters while you sleep, when you are away from home, or in areas where children may be without adult supervision.

•  Use only traditional heating equipment. Never use a stove or oven to heat living spaces. Kerosene is a poor choice for heating as it will give off poisonous fumes.

•  Have chimney flues cleaned and inspected by qualified personnel.

•  Have a spark screen that is age appropriate for all individuals using any area to be heated by a fireplace.

•   Burn only approved materials in a fire place or wood burning stove.

Should a fire break out in the home, have an emergency evacuation plan for the family to follow and have a designated meeting place for all family members. Once everyone is outside the burning home, call 911 and do not re-enter the house under any circumstances.

Additionally, Chief Defer recommends that all homes and businesses have a proper fire extinguisher. Having an extinguisher readily available can keep a small fire from becoming a big one.

Extinguishers are available from local sources including Sartain Home and Auto and Valley Lumber.

Defer adds that even if a fire is put out, always call the fire department so that they can make sure there is no possibility of a rekindle.

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