Presidents’ Day and the Talking Heads: “Burning down the house”

Working for the government has its perks.  One benefit of being a government official is that I get random holidays off from work like Columbus Day.  This past weekend I had a three-day weekend due to Presidents’ Day.  Knowing that my wife loves having a nice fire to enjoy while lounging around the house, and having a perfectly good fireplace, I decided I would surprise her on our day off together.

I’ve never been much for building fires.  Frankly, I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to open flames.  I like my face just the way it is, and I’d rather not burn my eyebrows off.  But when it comes to making my wife happy, I do things that might be considered uncharacteristic…like going to Starbucks.  Or building a fire. 

After finding a place for us to live following our wedding, we couldn’t help but notice a nice, brick, fireplace in the middle of the living room.  (Well, it was along one of the walls…not literally in the middle of the floor in the living room.)  I’ve lived in places that have offered fireplaces, but have never taken advantage of those situations because I just never cared to.  So, my first thought was to have the chimney inspected.  Responsible, right?  Thank you for noticing.  After sending multiple emails to the landlords regarding the safety of the chimney, they never acknowledged the inquiry but replied to other issues addressed in those same emails.  So I began thinking that it probably wasn’t much of an issue.  Recently I found out that the girl who lives on the first floor of our duplex has had a couple fires over the winter without anything going wrong.  Well, with those two little nuggets of information, I decided it was good enough to give it a go! 

I rummaged around in our kitchen closet and discovered a hand broom to clean out all of the old ashes.  While crawling around in the old, nasty fire pit, I knew enough to make sure the flu would cooperate with my intentions.  It seemed to be working perfectly fine.  All the while I was thinking of necessary steps to extinguish the fire; you know, just in case things went awry and didn’t play out as expected.  (Hint, hint.)  Feeling good about being able to pull this off without too many problems, I hopped in the car and went straight out to get some firewood.  I picked up a couple of those fire-starting logs to make things simple and a bundle of wood to ensure that the fire would be worth while.  When my wife noticed the open fireplace and stack of logs, she couldn’t help but figure out my thoughtful plan.  She was excited at the prospect of enjoying a fire and lying around watching the good ol’ boob tube.

All cleaned up and ready to go

I put together a nice little pile to get things started, grabbed a lighter, and started setting things on fire.  I stepped back to enjoy my handiwork, when my wife brought it to my attention that not all the smoke was exiting through the chimney.  Without being completely familiar with starting a fire, I decided to give it a minute to see if things cleared up.  They did not.  She suggested I check the flu, so I did.  That wasn’t it.  More smoke poured out into our living room.  Luckily, I had planned for this.  I purposefully already had a contingency plan just in case something like this occurred.  We didn’t have a fire extinguisher as far as I knew, so I grabbed the biggest pot we own, filled it with water, and heaved it into our fireplace.  Half of the water actually made it onto the flames.  The other half splashed all over the floor in front of the brick chimney.  Instantly, I recognized the error in my thought process.  Water + fire = smoke.  A lot.  Bad idea.  Immediately, our place filled with smoke and the silence was cut with an unbearably sharp chirping noise from the smoke detectors.  My eyes started leaking tears to try to keep themselves clean. 

Too late now, I had already started so I might as well finish, right?  I refilled the pot a couple more times, aimed a little better and doused the logs with water to prevent them from burning or re-igniting.  My wife opened the windows, and I brought the ceiling fan roaring to life to blow away the cloud that had filled our house.  She asked me if I thought that was a good idea.  The logs were drenched with water, so I assumed we were in the clear.  Wrong again.  The fire re-ignited, so I grabbed a cup hoping it would provide a little more accuracy.  It worked pretty well, but I just couldn’t get to the red-hot embers from the back of the pit.  With the fan “fueling the fire” the ashes continued to flare up time and time again.  Then I realized that although the windows had been opened, the storm windows were still down.  So that wasn’t helping matters much.  I took a break from ruining our morning/afternoon and raised the storm windows to allow the smoke to escape and get some fresh air in our lungs.  That’s when my wife mentioned the fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink.  My feelings of stupidity and ignorance sank to new lows.  I pulled out the little red canister, checked the gauge on the neck of the bottle to ensure its “freshness”, pulled the pin, and sprayed the hell out of the fireplace.  White clouds of cO2 billowed up, and I closed the fire screen as fast as I could to keep it contained to the best of my ability. 

Look closely and you can see smoke filtering the light in the air.

My wife was frightened throughout the whole ordeal, but subconsciously expecting this to not go well, I was prepared enough to not freak out.  That’s when I realized that I had saved my family’s lives.  On Presidents’ Day.  Naturally making me a national hero – at least in the eyes of my wife and dog.  I blew my nose last night, glancing in the wad of tissue.  I couldn’t help but notice the contents were black.  That can’t be healthy, can it? 

So that’s how I became an unexpected fire fighter over the weekend.  Not through some planned course of action with training and videos, but rather with no conscious decision or forethought involved, and spontaneous necessity of having to save the day.

Thank you, that is all.

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