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Firefighting moments that defy logic

A look at a moment that seems to go against all reason

If you have been in the fire service for any period of time I’m positive that you have experienced those situations that simply defy logic.

How a firefighter could lift a large, heavy beam several times his weight that had pinned a fellow member of his attack crew or how an individual could survive extreme conditions to rescue someone trapped inside a burning building.

The American Physicist Albert Einstein once said, “the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”

Einstein is correct, because the occurrence of such mysterious happenings cause us to question the norm and allow us to sometimes find answers that we never would have considered.

One such incident occurred on Dec. 30, 2011 in the small western Pennsylvania community of Patton. That morning one of the parishioners of Queen of Peace Catholic Church was laid to rest with a funeral mass. As part of the service, a container called a thurible was used to dispense lit incense.

After the funeral one of the altar servers mistakenly emptied the contents of the thurible into a plastic kitchen size garbage container inside the church.

After the service the parish priest Father Ananias is visited by a fellow priest who has just returned from Austria.

Austria is the historic home of Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters and it is still commonplace, especially in the northern part of the country for families to name at least one of their children Florian to help protect that family against fire.

At approximately 5PM the visiting priest informs Father Ananias that he needed to leave but before going he wanted to see the inside of the church which he understood was beautifully decorated for Christmas.

The two proceeded over to the church and when they opened the outside door of the building they are greeted by a thick cloud of dark smoke. By this point the smoke had already banked down to the top of the church pews. Both exited immediately and called 911.

The Patton Fire Company #1 arrived on scene minutes after receiving the alarm to find all of the interior church spaces filled with thick black sooty smoke.

The fire department deployed its interior crews to try to determine the seat of the fire.

Their investigation led them to a small vesting room. Inside this room they found the remains of a plastic garbage container that had burnt and melted.

This ignited some of the curtains covering a nearby door, the carpet on the floor, and wood baseboard and trim. The firefighters also found water spraying from a copper pipe that feeds a nearby sink.

The pipe appeared to have been opened by the fire and sprayed enough water to extinguish all of the burning material including the curtains over the doorway. The pipe had been opened by the fire on the supply side of a cold water valve.

The fire department initiated ventilation and overhaul operations to clear the interior of smoke and to ensure that the fire was out. At the same time the shutoff valve for the cold water line was located and turned off.

Once all operations were completed investigative personnel turned to determining the cause and origin of the fire. As part of this investigation the cold water supply line is turned back on to verify the spray pattern however the same line which extinguished the fire now will not leak a drop of water.

The line is left on and does not leak for the next two months until it is replaced as part of the fire restoration project.

All of those present expressed amazement that a simple fire in a garbage container would produce enough heat to unseat a soldered copper pipe joint but not damage other joints only inches away on the same line. In addition the group was astonished that spray from the line extinguished fire that was seven feet in height.

The members of the church who were present felt that since there was no logical explanation for this fire being extinguished it had to be through the intervention of Saint Florian.

They attributed this to the visiting priest’s recent return from Austria and the role that priest played in the events of the day.

As a result the parish priest sought and received sufficient donations to commission a large statue of Saint Florian by a woodcarver in Italy. The statue has been completed and is scheduled to be enshrined inside the church sometime in late October. In addition the parish has pledged to celebrate an annual Firefighters Mass on May 4th each year which is the feast day of Saint Florian.

If you would like additional information on the enshrinement or the annual mass you may contact Patrick Illig at patilligii@emsmotors.net

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