Fire Yenta 2/7/03

By Diane Feldman, Managing Editor

Columbia Shuttle debris
From Mark Wallace, chief, McKinney (TX) Fire Department: At about 8:00 a.m. Texas time, the Space Shuttle Columbia was suppose to go over McKinney, but we didn’t think about it until we had several units dispatched to different areas for a report of an explosion. What it was, of course, was the shuttle. My on-duty battalion chief had a good vantage point and watched the event transpire. He saw the contrail start to get bigger, the boom happened, and then parts started coming off. Before it reached the horizon, the contrail disappeared. Its actual path seems to have been about 30 miles south of us or just on the south edge of Dallas. It was obvious to him that it was breaking apart.

There were many reports of suspicious debris in the area, but all of the calls we responded to were simply construction trash. We collected it all but do not think it is actually debris. There are thousands of pieces of debris spread over an area 500 miles long. The largest piece reported to have been found was about the size of a car door. The smallest piece was about the size of a penny. The cloud of vapors and particles has been tracked into Mississippi and completely across Louisiana.

It will takes thousands of people to search the area to find all of the major pieces. One big chunk apparently landed in a lake. Because the areas are sparsely populated and include forested areas, the search will be difficult.

Some private citizens are assisting law enforcement by standing guard over the chunks of debris that they found, while others have reportedly offer pieces over eBay for sale. Because of the toxic nature of some of the shuttle’s components, 27 people have been treated for exposure to chemicals that resulted in burns and other problems because they probably picked up a contaminated piece of material.

Meet the Yenta
The Yenta will be appearing live at FDIC West in Sacramento, California, February 8-13. If you have a funny story to tell, stop by the Fire Engineering booth inside the Exhibit Hall and tell her in person. Your story will appear in a future column.

Water leak tales
From Mike Ciampo, lieutenant, Fire Department of New York: I’ve been to a few weird water leak calls. Once we went to a lady’s apartment for a complaint of water leaking from the bathtub in the apartment above. When we got upstairs and knocked, we found the door opened and the back bedroom on fire. Seems the tenants above tried to put out the fire themselves and left the tub on with the drain plug closed. Needless to say, the woman below ended up with more water once the engine arrived to extinguish the fire!

But my most memorable call was a lady who called for a water leak from an apartment above. When we arrived, the light bulbs in the light fixture were filled with a rust-colored water. We figured, No big deal, it probably was from a broken sewage pipe, but when we got upstairs and into the apartment, much to our surprise we found that a person had been shot a few days earlier. That brown liquid we thought was sewage water was really blood!

New siren for Squad 18
The Elmsford (NY) Fire Department recently held its Third Annual Seminar. About 350 people attended, and the department collected more than $5,000, which was donated to the Squad 18 Family Fund in memory of Andy Fredericks (FDNY lieutenant and Fire Engineering advisory board member and author who was killed on 9-11). Out of those proceeds, the Squad purchased a Federal Q-2 siren for their rig. Just before his death, Andy had been trying to obtain one for the rig. The inscription on the siren reads: “In memory of Lieut. Andy Fredericks, 9/11/01, Donated by Elmsford FD.”

Department captain Syd Henry spoke at the ceremony: “Not only was Andy our first speaker, but his help was instrumental in making this annual seminar a reality. In addition to his help with the seminar, Andy was always a constant source of information. All I had to do was pick up the phone or send an e-mail, and Andy had the answers for me. Just to give an example, our department now uses smooth bore nozzles (very effectively, I might add) on some of our attack lines because of information provided by Andy.”

Quote of the week
From David McGrail, district chief, Denver (CO) Fire Department, writing on of his friend and mentor Andy Fredericks from FDNY who was killed on 9-11: “It is not the one event of a day in history that defined who Andy Fredericks was. It was, in fact, his entire life, dedication to his family, and to our profession that made the man. He was a great firefighter not only by his heroic actions that terrible day but also by the contributions he made in his 20-plus years in the American fire service. You can carry on his message as one of Andy’s Ambassadors. Are you up to it?”

Diane Feldman is a 13-year veteran of Fire Engineering; she has spent the past 12 years as managing editor. She has a B.A. in English/communications. Previously she was an editor at the American Management Association in New York City.

If you have a tidbit for the Fire Yenta, e-mail

Past Yentas

Click here for Fire Yenta–2002

Diane Feldman is a 13-year veteran of Fire Engineering; she has spent the past 12 years as managing editor. She has a B.A. in English/communications. Previously she was an editor at the American Management Association in New York City.

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