Downtown fire could have been catastrophe

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 9, 2002

The Selma Fire Depart-ment chalked up one of its more impressive recent outings Saturday with its response to the fire that struck the old Barton Building on Alabama Avenue.

It might not have been readily apparent to the crowd gathered to watch the thick clouds of smoke rolling across downtown and bringing traffic on nearby Broad Street to a crawl, but the quick actions of the firefighters on the department’s B shift prevented what could have been a catastrophe of major proportions.

B shift is under the command of Battalion Chief Andy Dearman.

One of the keys to containing the blaze was the quick response time.

Flashover is the point at which a structure is totally engulfed by fire.

Stokes emphasized that every minute counts in a situation like that which occurred Saturday. &uot;A quick response can be the difference between having $5,000 worth of damage and having $500,000 worth of damage,&uot; he said.

Although the smoke was so thick at times that it slowed traffic and made it difficult to breathe, even as far as a block away, firefighters were able to contain the actual fire to its point of origin on the second floor of the building.

For the firefighters on the front lines that meant attacking the fire at the point where it is most dangerous. Instead of pouring water on the blaze from the relative safety of the street outside, the firefighters of B shift donned air packs and climbed through the smoke and heat to the second floor of the building.

That’s hardly the natural response when fire breaks out. &uot;Most people,&uot; Stokes pointed out, &uot;don’t run into a fire. Most people run away.&uot;

The smoke on the second floor was so thick, initially, that firefighters were forced to feel their way along. By directing the water used to fight the fire directly at the source, firefighters were able to limit water damage to the building and its contents.

The building is occupied by On Time Fashions, a clothing store. When the water used to fight the fire eventually began seeping down onto the first floor, firefighters moved the inventory on display there out of harm’s way and spread plastic sheets over it to prevent any water damage.

Given the extent of the damage to the second floor, and what could have been, the first floor escaped remarkably unscathed.