Fire Fighting and Prevention on Bear Island
This page was created to bring information to Bear Island
residents about fire fighting and prevention. We were all lucky that the
Memorial Day 2009 fire on the island was not a disaster. In the future we will
have recommendations from the Meredith Fire Chief about equipment that may help
us in the future.
Lessons Learned - one person's view - by Stan Janiak
- Response time is the most important item.
- Reference the chief's comment that fire doubles every 3 minutes...
- Karen Volk called in the first alarm and warned neighbors very soon
after the fire started. That warning was probably the most
critical item leading to eventual control and extinguishing
- The first people to respond, despite having just average tools, were
also key in slowing the growth/spreading of the fire.
- The arrival of the 'big hoses' was also critical as had the burn gotten
bigger and up into the trees, it would have be extremely difficult to
- Combustible materials were/are abundant
- As the amount of deadfall continues to accumulate on the island, fuel is
building up. (I applaud the BICA effort to that is underway to
help address this issue and clean the BICA property.
Meredith's fire chief also emphasized the importance of removing deadfall
and brush from near island buildings.)
- Fire Fighting Tools
- Shovels, Rakes, Pick Axe are all useful
- "Fire Swatter/Rakes" used by the fire responders were very
effective tools for beating down the flames and creating fire breaks.
- STRONG RECOMMENDATION: Every island home should have a "fire
- Fire Extinguishers
- Boat and house fire extinguishers proved helpful. (I did not
think to grab them. Kudos to my wife and others who identified this
option. These fall under the class of "Anything that
can help is worthwhile". We have since purchased a
larger 'Garage' size extinguisher to have available.) STRONG
RECOMMENDATION for a reasonable sized fire extinguisher.
- Water Buckets. STRONG RECOMMENDATION to have buckets
available to grab water from the lake or fill from a hose (if there is
power). Sometimes the most simple and timely solution is the
best. Buckets should have a handle in case they need to be
transported any distance.
- "Indian Pumps" were very effective and critical for their
ability to target from a distance. These can be refilled
on-site but are heavy (70 lbs was mentioned.)
RECOMMENDED for their ability to target and be easily filled while
recognizing they require significant effort and strength.
- Pressurized Fire Extinguisher. I spoke with another
fire department about recommendations and these 2.5 gallon units were
highly recommended. Much lighter than an Indian Pump,
they can spray 40' without the hand-pump action required by Indian Pumps.
These cost about 1/2 the cost of an Indian Pump and I'm hopeful that the
Meredith Chief will provide a source to purchase as I think they make a
lot of sense.
- Conversation & Discussion. We had never discussed what
to do for a fire other than 'Safety First'. Going forward, I
STRONGLY RECOMMEND that islanders occasionally discuss "What should
we do if...house fire; brush fire; fire in the woods; fire in the boat;
fire next door, etc.
- Whistles or some other audible alarm. The first response to
the Memorial Day fire was neighbor yelling to neighbor.
I don't have a good answer here but think that there could be something
better and more effective.
- Support was critical. While fighting the fire until the fire
department arrived, the effort proved to be exhausting. Three
(3) critical events occurred during that time that were incredibly
positive and helpful. 1) A neighbor arrived with a boat
extinguisher and hit several of the more difficult flames, 2) another
neighbor provided a bottle of drinking water - which was a huge lift to
body and spirit, 3) a first responder fireman arrived with an
Indian Pump, thereby indicating that the 'Calvary had arrived'.
- Review/discuss the possibility of
fire and what action is appropriate
- Remove combustible materials where
possible. Also, eliminate fire hazards (especially extension cords and
candles per the chief)
- Have readily available / purchase:
- Water Buckets
- Fire extinguishers (Boat, House,
Garage, Indian Pumps, Pressurized Water Cans,...
- Tools (Fire swatter/rakes,
- Remember 'Personal Safety
Reflections on Fighting the Memorial Day Fire
- The Fire
- The fire was more intense and unpredictable than I would have imagined.
The chief provided the most tangible comment at the meeting when he
mentioned that 'fire doubles every 3 minutes" depending on local
conditions. With the changing wind and terrain, his comments
were supported by my experience.
- Containment vs. extinguish
- By the time the first people arrived, the opportunity to extinguish
the fire had passed. We recognized that our opportunity,
given the tools available and the location of the fire, was to contain
or slow it down until professional (fire department) help arrived.
- Fuel. It's important to note that the fire occurred on
Memorial Day Monday, before the extended period of rain that we're having
this Summer. There was/is a tremendous amount of deadfall on
the ground and the ground itself was extremely dry. There were
times when I saw fire travel through the ground in addition to burning the
deadfall that lay on top.
- Fire fighting tools
- Long handled spades and garden rakes were the tools of choice.
- A pick-axe also proved worthwhile to break down a stump that started to
- "Fire swatter/rakes" used by the fire personnel proved to be
much superior tools for beating down the flames and for creating a 'fire
- Fire extinguishers were grabbed from boats and houses.
The most common type provides 8-Seconds of suppression.
They helped but were quickly expended.
- At least one 'industrial' size fire extinguisher was on-site and it
proved very effective
- Given that fire was a result of damage to the power lines, no
electricity was available and any opportunity to use garden hoses was also
- We found one mud puddle near the fire and dug / threw mud onto the fire
where we could. (This was one area where the spades proved
- The first water I saw was via "Indian Pumps" carried by the
first responders (Fire Department) and they were able to help keep the
fire from spreading more while the big hoses were setup to pump from the
- I'm not aware that any of the local residents who were first on scene
had any firefighting experience.
- Several of us knew enough to beat down the fire at the edges, throw mud
onto the flames where possible and create a fire break to remove easily
- All the actions were applied depending on the wind direction at the
moment and the ability to get close to the edge flames.
Several times people had to retreat a bit for personal safety, then move
back 'in' as appropriate.