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#184784 - 10/10/09 02:14 AM Intro and story
UpstateTom Offline

Registered: 10/05/09
Posts: 165
Loc: Rens. County, NY
Intro - I've been reading this site for a long time, most recently looking for information to help support the volunteer emergency communications work I do. Over the years, ETS has been a great source of information to me. I figured it was about time I tried to give something back.

Background - Compared to most here, I have a pretty boring job. I've been working in computer networking and computer security related things for about 20 years, and I'm in my mid 40's. I'm not quite a hard core geek as I have decent people skills, even if they did take a long time to develop. I'm a world class expert at sleeping late and losing things that I just had a second ago. In all other areas I'm just learning.

Story - This really isn't a survival story, as I wasn't in much danger. It's more of a what can happen/level of preparedness type of thing.

On December 9, 2005, approx 3am, I'm awakened from a sound sleep by a fireman or neighbor pounding on my apartment door yelling "fire! the house is on fire!" Right away I realized that this was probably not going to be a good day. That really was my first thought. Looking around, there's no smoke. No noise from the smoke detectors. The guy yells that the fire is on the other side now.

I'm in a 100+ year old farm house, out in the country in upstate NY. Post and beam construction, two stories, with various rooms and walls added on over the years. The house has been divided up into 4 apartments, one of which is the owner's. I'm on the first floor, west side of the house. My apartment has four exit doors, main door to the west, one door to the north, two at the south east corner, and many windows.

The exit to the west is visually clear, the guy at the door is gone. I live alone, no pets, so no one to worry about but myself right now. I sit up and look around again. Elapsed time? Looking back, probably two seconds, maybe less. Time is moving slowly now, but there is no sense of panic. I don't notice any increase in my heart rate or breathing, but I do now, thinking about it. Strange. Outdoor temp is probably around 30.

By the bed, I grab and pull on pants, socks, t-shirt, boots without even a thought. I stand up and look around again - no smoke. I don't remember if I noticed the flashing lights outside. I put on a flannel shirt and my coat, both of which are in reach. I haven't moved more than 2 feet, and I'm 10 feet from the door. I remember my next thoughts. "Is this real? Do I take something?"

More curious than sensible, with a clear exit behind me and no sight or smell of smoke, I walk down the hall to the east. The hall ends in a T, and to the left, smoke. Light, whispy smoke. It's real. To the right is my normal bedroom, not sure why I decided to sleep in the front room that night. I take two steps to the right, into the bedroom and grab one small container. I step back to the hallway, take a last look into the smoke and sigh. Time to go. I walk back down the hall, grab my keys by the door, and leave.

Break - As I write this I realize I'm probably writing it as much for myself as I am the group, although that really wasn't my intention. I've told the story several times before, and I'm sure it's slightly more interesting than reading the directions on the back of an oatmeal box, but I'm going to write part 2 tomorrow anyway, because that's the part that may provide some insight to anyone that may face a similar situation themselves.

#184788 - 10/10/09 02:30 AM Re: Intro and story [Re: UpstateTom]
MDinana Offline

Registered: 03/08/07
Posts: 2186
Loc: Bluegrass
We've been given a few lectures on sleep in my intern class. You're describing pretty classic "sleep inertia" in this - up and moving, but the brain is still fuzzy. It happens.

But, at least you got up. If someone started banging on my door, my dog would go nuts and I'd probably spaz until I noticed the lights outside. I'm sure the 911 operator could confirm if it was a real event, if I didn't see lights.

Welcome, and I look forward to the rest.

#184789 - 10/10/09 02:36 AM Re: Intro and story [Re: MDinana]
scafool Offline

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 1534
Loc: Muskoka
Welcome Upstate Tom.
I am waiting for chapter 2.
You have my attention.
I will hold my questions until then.
May set off to explore without any sense of direction or how to return.

#184796 - 10/10/09 03:00 AM Re: Intro and story [Re: UpstateTom]
Nicodemus Offline

Registered: 10/30/05
Posts: 1341
Loc: Virginia, US
Welcome aboard. Glad you made it out.
"Learn survival skills when your life doesn't depend on it."

#184844 - 10/10/09 08:21 PM Re: Intro and story [Re: Nicodemus]
UpstateTom Offline

Registered: 10/05/09
Posts: 165
Loc: Rens. County, NY
Thanks, you guys are kind. A little long, but here is part 2.

I walk out the door to the landing, take a couple of steps down, and walk to my car. I open the trunk and place the small blue container inside. When I was inside, I didn't even consider rescuing "things", but at the same time realized I could take one item without slowing my exit. In the blue container, about 12"x8"x8", was all of my negatives and some prints. No art really, just memories. I'm not a sentimental person, or wasn't then anyway, but that's what occurred to me at the time. Nothing else seemed important. Why were they all in one container? To protect them from dust. I once lived in a house where the furnace went nuts, and filled the air with soot. A lucky accident.

It's a bit chilly out, 30 is probably about right, and it's snowing a bit but I'm warm. I consider moving the car further from the house, but figure I have time for that later. (I did.) I walk toward the back of the house, to the group of firemen looking at the scene. Three departments on scene.

Lots of people here talk about EDC. What did I have with me? As long as I can remember I've always kept everything from the day before in my pants, so that if I got up in a hurry I would have it. This also helps with my being a late sleeper, and being excellent at losing things. Each morning I simply transfer everything from old pants to new, and double check that I have everything. So to finally answer the question: front L pocket - cash, spare car and house key; front R pocket - Gerber LST, handkerchief, Arc LS flashlight, ball point pen; back L pocket - wallet w/ ID's and credit cards; back R pocket - blank paper and work ID; clipped to R pocket - work Blackberry. In my coat I had a pair of polypro glove liners. All things I normally carry, nothing special.

I'm standing beside a Deputy Sheriff and one of the fire chiefs, talking with the deputy. I don't remember what we talked about, probably the 'you live here? anybody else?' type of thing, but I seem to remember it drifting to small talk. He asked if I needed anything, or something to that effect, and I noticed he seemed cold. He hadn't taken a heavy coat or hat from his car, so he headed back to his car to warm up.

At this time they don't know exactly where the fire is, except that it's in the walls somewhere. I take out the Blackberry, and send an email message to my boss that I'll probably be late today and explain why. It's still dark out. This was a strange feeling - I'm comfortable, warm, and safe, I have email, and my place is on fire. Part of my reality was not in my control, but a large part of it was. At one point one of the firemen asks me to describe the layout of my apartment, so they could more safely enter from that side. These guys were great, and it was nice to be able to help them a little.

The fire itself was difficult to find. The landlord's wood stove was plumbed into an existing chimney, which had been incorrectly patched, probably decades prior. The defect allowed for the buildup of creosote, and also provided an escape for the resulting chimney fire into the structure of the house. The chimney had been cleaned that summer, but not inspected. The firemen located the fire with the help of handheld thermal imaging. It had been smoldering for a long time, one of the 12" or so beams was charred much of the way through. My feeling is that if they had randomly opened up walls before finding the fire, the place would've gone up like a Christmas tree. As it was, they saved the house, but there was a lot of smoke damage, water damage to the most of the 1st floor, and some structural damage, including one of the rooms in my apartment.

After the fire was out, I was allowed in to grab anything I really needed. It was steamy and a little smokey inside, dreary, and wet. I took my notebook computer and bag. I don't remember if I took the rifles/handguns that morning or the next day. In the car I had a change of clothes in a bag, just always kept a set there. I drove to a nearby hotel and checked in, explained the situation and that I wasn't quite sure how long I might be staying, and went to bed. I asked for, and got, a room on the first floor. After a couple of hours sleep, I called work where they put me on speaker phone. It was nice to have that support. Then I had a waffle, and called my insurance company. I called work again and asked if they could find me a spare Blackberry charger. I left mine at the apartment.

I ended up living out of a suitcase for several months, and then buying a house. Went through cleanup and storage of what was salvageable from the apartment, which was most of what I had but not all. Some things I still haven't unpacked or sorted.

Points I took from all of this: 1) In the desert, from reading here and elsewhere, I understand the 10 most critical items are all water...and I believe it. In this part of NY, in the winter, it's a good warm pair of boots, dry socks, a warm waterproof/windproof coat w/ hat, money, and good friends. Not necessarily in that order. 2) The time you have to respond to something may be measured in seconds, and there's a good chance it won't happen in daylight or when you're awake. A survival kit isn't just for camping. 3) Having a change of clothes in the car was handy. Having a full kit in the car including money and spare ID would've been better, although in this case I didn't need it. What if something happened and I had to go through a decon trailer? 4) Smoke damage is huge. If you haven't been through it you'll have trouble imagining it. 5) Being warm and comfortable in time of crisis is great. 6) Accidental preparation still counts. Unfulfilled plans to prepare don't. 7) Having an off site set of important documents and images/photos would be a good thing.

Questions/comments welcome, even if it's "what were you thinking when you did xxx??"

#184851 - 10/10/09 10:09 PM Re: Intro and story [Re: ]
scafool Offline

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 1534
Loc: Muskoka
That is quite the story and your summing paragraph catches it all pretty well.

100% waterproof and warm.
Keeping it 98.6

Yes, accidental preparation still counts, but having some planned kit is excellent, even if it just just a few useful pieces of it.
May set off to explore without any sense of direction or how to return.

#184859 - 10/10/09 11:45 PM Re: Intro and story [Re: UpstateTom]
Blast Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 3561
Loc: Spring, Texas
Welcome and thanks for delurking! I think your telling of your experience did give back a lot of useful reminders to us all, especially the need for Bugout Bag and in particular the need of a bugout bag that'll make your stay at a hotel or friend's house more comfortable. I doubt in a situation like yours Les Stroud would head off into the woods rather than a Holiday Inn.

So to sum it up, when making my main family bugout bag I asked myself "What would Bear Grylls take?" laugh laugh laugh

Blogging the Borderlands
Wild Edibles Blog
I miss OBG.

#184883 - 10/11/09 03:14 AM Re: Intro and story [Re: ]
UpstateTom Offline

Registered: 10/05/09
Posts: 165
Loc: Rens. County, NY
Thanks for the warm welcome! I was overdue in checking in.

As I get older I aim for boring, except for food, hobbies, and friends. The most dangerous thing I do these days is drive to work.

I grew up in the country, well before cell phones, and it was always expected of anyone sensible to have enough to be able to comfortably walk to the nearest house, which could be a couple of miles, or in really bad weather sleep comfortably in the car. I still plan for that, even though I always have a cell phone and at least one ham radio in the car.

This site helps me take that base set and build on it. I wouldn't know where to begin to list what I've learned, and it never ends. Tomorrow I'll be adding aspirin to my EDC.

The change of clothes in the car wasn't for a fire, just also something I've always done. It's handy if I'm stuck somewhere overnight, but also handy if somehow I wind up getting soaking wet. Also in the car that morning: 2m 50w ham radio, flashlights, blanket, reflective triangles, snow brush, towel, jumper cables, leatherman, small air compressor, maps. No fire kit, FAK, cord, or compass.

One of the things I've learned here is how much difference there can be in how the local climate will affect your situation, if things turn bad. I know the outdoors here well enough to know what I should pay attention to, but had no clue about the realities of the southwestern US. Upstate and north country NY has no shortage of water, easy to find and close. If I ever drive to Arizona, I swear I'm going to rent and drive a wildland fire tender.

Bear Grylls? I get the feeling if his writers were telling my story, I'd have put the fire out myself, by making hoses out of catfish skins sewn together.

#184909 - 10/11/09 04:29 PM Re: Intro and story [Re: UpstateTom]
2005RedTJ Offline

Registered: 01/07/09
Posts: 475
Loc: Birmingham, Alabama
Welcome and thanks for posting. I went through a similar situation with a home fire when I was about 10 years old. We lost pretty much everything we owned.

I now keep my SHTF bag either next to the front door or in whatever vehicle I traveled in last. I don't yet have everything I would like to have in it, but I'm getting very close. I put my bag together for the purpose of being prepared for any situation, no matter what.

I've only used it thus far for little day-to-day stuff, but have been equipping it with the items I feel I would most need for an extended time (3+ days comfortably, 7 days less comfortably) without being able to go home or even resupply.

We've had several threads lately about fire and reaction time. There's a lot of useful info, most of which you've already experienced first-hand.

I'm a fire alarm system designer/installer/service technician, so I spend a lot of my time studying how fire works, what it does, how it moves, etc... I just took my test for NICET Fire Protection Engineering - Fire Alarm Systems (Levels II and III) yesterday. A lot of studying on how smoke moves, basic combustion principles, detection methods of flaming and smoldering fires, etc...

#185024 - 10/12/09 03:09 PM Re: Intro and story [Re: 2005RedTJ]
comms Offline

Registered: 07/23/08
Posts: 1502
Loc: Mesa, AZ
Firm believer in a BOB you can grab on the way out.

Also, each member of my family has a full set of season appropriate clothes sitting next to the bed, in case they have to do something fast, not just leave the house, but in case the dog runs off or heaven forbid an intruder. Nothing wastes time like looking for your shoes half awake.

Don't just survive. Thrive.

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