A Tale of Two Fires

Written by Jason Rhodes

When Overland Park (KS) Fire Department (OPFD) Engine 44 arrived on scene at The Lodge of Overland Park Apartments, firefighters reported “nothing showing from a two-story building.” Moments later, Lieutenant Andrew Grove entered ground-floor apartment #309 to find a small cooking fire that had already been extinguished. There was minor fire damage to the cabinets and light smoke in the unit. A nothing call, right?  

A photo of the first fire scene.

(1) This fire was extinguished by range top extinguishers. Photo by Lt. Andrew Grove.

Another view of the first fire.

(2) Another view of the fire scene. Photo by Lt. Andrew Grove.

 

 

Recognition

Lieutenant Grove knew immediately why this was not a raging apartment fire. A pan filled with extinguishment powder and the empty canister hanging from the range hood above was all the evidence he needed. This fire was stopped in its tracks by a range top fire extinguisher. Grove knew that the OPFD had been encouraging these devices, especially for apartment complexes, and that this was a success story. After Grove finished his incident report, he alerted Overland Park’s fire marshal, fire department public education specialist, and fire department media manager.

Connecting The Dots

When Overland Park Fire contacted the manager at The Lodge of Overland Park Apartments to discuss partnering on a public education campaign, the response was fantastic. The Lodge’s Leslie Scott knew that the tuna can-sized device had not only saved the unit and building, but possibly even lives.

It turns out Resources Residential, who manages the property, was way out in front on this effort. The company manages properties in 22 states and had taken the initiative to place range top fire extinguishers in all of their properties. Additionally, their risk management division was able to provide real statistics, which bear out what the OPFD had suspected. Across the company, Resource Residential had seen their average kitchen fire loss drop from $100,000 to $2,500 since installing the range top devices. They were also able to estimate the cost of purchasing the units for the entire Lodge of Overland Park complex at about $16,000.

Those numbers tell a story. For a $16,000 investment, the apartment complex saved roughly $84,000, not to mention the life safety component, which is priceless. This company is doing the right things for the right reasons. They’re investing in the safety of their residents and reaping a financial benefit, to boot!

The OPFD and Residential Resources partnered on media availability to tell this story. Both parties realized the value of sharing this message and encouraging others to learn this lesson. Below is a video from one of the media reports from the event.

The Other Side of The Story

One month later and one mile away, a cooking fire at another apartment complex didn’t end as well. Five minutes after being dispatched to a building fire at the Antioch Woods Apartments, Overland Park firefighters arrived to find fire from a second-story kitchen window. The fire had already made its way into the mansard roof and was running through the attic of the three-story-building. For the next two hours, firefighters conducted interior and exterior operations and eventually made a stand, saving four of the 16 units in the building.

Like the incident one month prior, this fire too had started as an unattended cooking fire. With no range top fire extinguishers in place, the fire went unchecked and that head start proved to be the difference. In the end, no lives were lost, but dozens of residents lost everything. The loss to the apartment complex was estimated to be well in excess of a million dollars.

An exterior view of the second fire, as flames vent from the mansard roof of the apartment building.

(3) An exterior view of the second fire, as flames vent from the mansard roof of the apartment building. Photo by Jason Rhodes.

A firefighter trains a hose stream on fire in the second response.

(4) A firefighter trains a hose stream on fire in the second incident. Photo by Jason Rhodes.

 

 

Origins of the Effort

The effort to distribute range top fire extinguisher units in Overland Park started a number of years ago. In 2012 and 2013, The OPFD procured grants to purchase and distribute more than 1,600 of these devices. Based on the department’s risk analysis document, target hazards were identified for distribution. These included residents who had previously experienced cooking fires, older adults living independently, those with or living with impairments (mental or physical), and multi-family dwellings. In addition, range top fire extinguisher units were placed on fire apparatus. This allows crews to install them for residents from our target groups that they might encounter on medical calls or calls for assistance.

This program took some heat (no pun intended) from a local radio editorialist, who criticized the use of grant money (public money) to fund fire safety for individuals. Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner refuted the criticism, explaining that the fire service has been offering smoke alarms to those in need for decades. “This effort is an extension of that service,” said Dehner. “The fire service is charged with promoting the safety of all our citizens and we take that charge seriously.” The controversy ultimately died down and the effort moved forward.

(5) Firefighter Jeff Bell installing a range to extinguisher. Photo by Jason Rhodes.

 

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In the fire service, we strive to do the right things for the right reasons. Often, no good deed goes unpunished. Criticism and obstacles can slow and challenge our progress. However, like gold being refined by fire, our justification of these causes vets and proves them to ourselves and others. In the end, lives and property are saved and we remain good stewards of the public trust. Working to get range top fire extinguisher units in apartment complexes will save lives and property. The fire service should educate residents and complex managers about these devices and when necessary, provide them. This tale of two fires illustrates the benefits of these devices and why the OPFD believes we have responsibility to move this effort forward in our community.

Jason Rhodes has been the Media Manager for the Overland Park (KS) Fire Department (OPFD) since 2005.  He works as the public information officer and operates a television production studio, located at the Overland Park Fire Training Center.  OPFD’s Media Services program works closely with the department’s public education specialist, training division staff, and administration to develop programs that further the mission of the fire department.

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