Firefighter Dwayne Waldron, who rushed into a burning Pike Street, Kitty house on Wednesday morning without safety gear to rescue a family, says that the only thing that came to mind at the time was getting the family to safety.
A video of Waldron’s valiant efforts went viral on social media yesterday and he has since received praise for storming into one of the four buildings that was razed to rescue a woman and her three children.
Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, Waldron said that he has been in the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) for more than 15 years and is trained in Chemical Response, Fire Investigation, and Fire Prevention. He is currently in charge of the Information Technology Department.
Waldron was riding the responding appliance that arrived first at Pike Street, where the building where the fire started was already engulfed in flames.
“On arrival, one of the buildings, where the fire started, was fully engulfed. When we arrived there was also heavy gusts of wind and so the next occupant on the eastern side of the house caught afire and we applied but the fact that the breeze was assisting the fire made it difficult to subdue and it caught on to the second building,” Waldron recalled.
He said that after they switched their attention to the second house, which was on the eastern side of the house where the family was, one of the neighbours alerted them that a woman, Angela Demmick and her three children, were still in their home.
Waldron said that as soon as he was made aware that persons were still inside one of the buildings, he alerted another firefighter and oblivious to the fact that he wasn’t wearing any safety gear rushed into the house.
“She was looking for stuff to bring out and we were telling her that she needed to come out and we assisted her and her children to come out. We got her out of the building and we tried our best to soak as much as we could and that is why that building wasn’t as damaged as the rest,” Waldron said.
He said inside the house was hot and stifling but his only priority was ensuring that the family was a safe distance away from the fire.
“No firefighter ever studies about his safety. He just thinks about the public safety and we are here for human service. It’s not a point where you think about your safety but containing any situation and ensuring the safety of the public and then you think about yours,” Waldron said, while stating that the safety of the family was paramount because that is what firefighters are trained to prioritise.
‘Did their best’
While the wind made it difficult for the firefighters to effectively fight the fire as well as the lack of a reliable source of water, Waldron said that they were able to use the canal that runs parallel to Camp Ayanganna for water but because of the distance from the fire they had issues getting the water there on time.
He said the wind eventually subsided and eventually they were able to contain and extinguish the fire after it had ripped through four houses.
On Wednesday, residents whose homes were burnt to the ground and their neighbours said that in addition to the fire service arriving late, it was very disorganised. The residents stated that had the service been more organised, it might have been able to contain the fire to the house it originated.
However, Waldron said that the firefighters did the best that they could and sometimes the public’s idea of how they should fight a fire and what they should prioritise is warped.
“As it pertains to the fire, most persons do not know the numbers to call. Most call 911 but in order to get onto the GFS you have to get on to 912. Many persons also try to fight the fire first and then call us and some persons told us that they tried to fight the fire first and I think persons who would’ve passed by called the fire service,” Waldron added.
He noted that they arrived with three appliances and when they checked the nearby hydrant it wasn’t “pushing enough water” to assist them and they were forced to find another source of water.
In addition to the lack of water, Waldron said that they had the challenge of fighting a fire that was being fueled by heavy winds. He said that the wind also had a sudden change in direction, which caused the fire to spread to the third house and eventually the fourth.
“Firefighting is very technical. You don’t just turn up and put out the fire. You have to look at the nearby buildings and try to contain and extinguish it. Saving people is one thing but the fact is that the public need to understand that it is not magic that we turn up and extinguish the fire. It’s a process that we need to go through and ensure that the public is safe. It’s not about saving one or two houses but ensuring that everyone is safe and we do the job to the best of our ability, with whatever limited resources we have,” he said.