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Burning Down the House
If this were to be a part of a movie script -- at this time it would be describing a scene of a tall young man in his late twenties or early thirties breaking into an impound yard. He’d find a car he was looking for and steal it.
Inside a police station; an investigator is informed that the suspected thief has stolen the car again.
It was the second time in November when the early mornings were cold enough to make me think of lighting a couple five gallon propane heaters to take off the chill in my makeshift shop as I was getting my van ready for the pressure washing I had to perform on a house that day.
I lit one heater on the ground in the middle of the shop and pulled another heater just like it out to the edge of the van's rear cargo area. I made sure that my airless next to it wasn't going to get hot and the driver’s side back door which had the airless lines wrapped around a couple of inverted hose hangers, was open far enough to stay away from the heat. (This is where I made my mistake, because I'd normally use a bungee cord stretched from the right rear fender-well to the hole in the bottom of the
door for the latch to the secondary door to hold it open. But at the time, the torque within the airless lines appeared to be holding it open and I wasn’t outdoors in the natural elements where wind could force it closed.)
The problem started when I loaded heavy pressure-washer hoses through the side door of the van. The weight of myself and the hoses rocked the van causing the back door to swing closed. Just as this happened, my pager began to vibrate and it distracted me from what I was going on. Either stepping out of the van rocked the rear passenger side closed or I might have bumped it as I walked past the rear end of the van on my way inside the house where my phone was in my dining room.
I tell yah, having the airless line with paint thinner inside while under pressure, set against the propane heater, isn't exactly the kind of thing you want to have happen.
I went into the house to return the call to the girl who was supposed to be there about twenty minutes earlier. The reason she gave me for not making it to work that morning sounded like just another one of those stories I've heard before. She said it had something to do with her son, but I was guessing it was more like a boyfriend problem.
(Later on that day I spoke to her grandmother only to find out that the story I was told, didn’t jive because the grandmother told me she had her grandson in the morning hours.)
While on the phone listening to the girl’s lies; I heard some crackling noise that sounded like my pet rabbit chewing on some-thing. When I got off the phone less than five minutes later, I walked out to find that my van's rear doors were near closed and there were flames coming out of the gap at the top of the doors.
I thought to myself: "Boy you sure screwed up Sattler." You dumb ass, that's your five thousand dollar airless and your work truck going up in flames. That's your job and your paycheck you are burning."
I made a dash for the garden hose and as I walked past the side door on the van I noticed the flames leaping inside the van through blackened window in the sliding door. It resembled the blackened glass found on fireplaces with glass doors. I also noticed nylon ropes I had routed through pulleys to make a blue tarp into a make-shift roll-up garage door were melted and hanging from the ceiling. This made me realize the van was extremely hot. The fear of an explosion entered my mind. As I ran around the front
of the garage heading towards the hose located on the opposite side of a storage shed built into the wall of the make-shift garage and on the back corner of my house; I saw my neighbors sitting on the steps of their back porch. Since they usually kept their cordless phone handy whenever they sat outside, I yelled out to them, "Hay, it's a good time to call 911!"
Reina said, "What's a matter?"
"My van is on fire."``
I looked back at the garage door opening to see why she had to ask. There was only a stream of smoke about 6 to 12 inches thick rolling out from the top of the garage door.
From watching movies, I feared that the van might blow up and I figured in the worst case scenario the house could catch fire, so just in case I went around to the front of the house, kicked in the door and made sure my bass guitar was out of the house. At the time I was felling quite embarrassed, but I had to say to myself -- this kind of things, do happen and it just happened to me. Hindsight tells me I should have grabbed my surfboard and looked for Baxter too, but at the time I figured that the fire department
would just pull up the ally and be able to douse my van with their big hose and that would be the end of it.
Even though the fire department was less than a mile down the road and just one street over, it seemed like it took at least fifteen to twenty minutes before they showed up. When they arrived, they stopped the fire engine in the middle of the street in front of the house and I walked out to greet them. A man and woman walked up to me to find out what the situation was and I told them the fire was around the back and to be careful because there was propane bottles and paint thinner. What gets me is that I'm
almost sure I suggested using the ally to drive the truck around back. At the time I figured they knew what they were doing, but I still can't understand why they didn't just drive down to the hydrant at the corner and let their main hose roll out as they'd drive around back with the use of the ally.
I couldn't help but notice the fire crew on the truck appeared to be made up mostly of minorities. It didn't take long before I recalled the conversation I had with a volunteer fireman I'd hired a month or two earlier. He said the station crew in parkland really liked him and they where even training him to drive the truck, but he knew his competition for the job as a paid full-time fireman was Affirmative Action.
I asked "What do you mean?" because at the time I didn't even realize the consequences of the particular law or even cared that it existed. Then he explained that no matter how good he was at being a fireman; his competition for a paid full time job position was people that would get hired through the Affirmative Action Program. He said, “The fire department will most likely hire a minority because of Affirmative Action. Lakewood has the best fire department around is because they don't have to
honor the Affirmative Action laws."
While observing the crew that was dispatched to my place, I noticed there was an older Hispanic man, a white woman, a black man, a short black woman and I think there might have been one other white male besides the driver, but I’m not sure.
As they setup, I couldn't understand why they would want to hand carried the large main hose around the rear end of the truck and past the front of it. Then all the way down to the corner where the hydrant was three houses down.
While they were struggling with the main hose, I walked around back to see how they were doing with the hose they had strung out along the south side of my house from the fire truck. I discovered they weren't even putting water on my van. The fire-hose was only pulled out far enough to reach the side of make-shift garage. Since the make shift-garage had a wall with a shed and lean-to built into the south side, the van wasn't even in their sight. The water they were spraying onto the roof was just running
off the opposite side and wasn't doing anything to help extinguish the fire that was growing underneath it. There wasn't much I could do about the situation because the weight of the water in the hose laid out from the tanker truck made it too heavy to pull out further once it was charged and it was already connected to the truck.
At this point in time there was another back-up crew in front of the house getting ready with another fire-hose. They asked if anyone was in the house. I said, "One dead rabbit."
I wanted to take matters into my own hands and say, Give me that hose, before you charge it. I'll take it through my house and save my tool room.
Looking into my house through my front door I could tell the fire was being sucked into my tool room because the smoke was running about six above the floor. I told them, "Before you charge that hose, take it though my house and save my tool room. It's the second door on the left just as you enter the kitchen."
"We can't without another guy with an oxygen tank as a back-up," one said.
I asked, "Don't you have another guy with an air tank?"
"Yeah, but he's around back helping with the hose."
I thought it was silly that they had another guy with an oxygen bottle helping another with a fire-hose in my back with watering down a roof.
I thought of fighting over the hose to go inside myself by just ducking under the smoke, but I was sure they weren't about to let me do such a thing. So I ran to the rear of the house and told the guy wearing an oxygen bottle I'd take over for him. I said, "Go up front to help the other guy with air go through my house and save my tool room."
It was obvious gal helping with the hose was too small to hold the hose under control by herself because it pushed her around and she was having a hard time directing it. I noticed my house was on fire by then so I thought; "Gee let's put some water the siding of my house and in the back window of the bathroom. How inconsiderate can they be? I don't think they give a dam if I lose my house. Putting water on the roof of the garage isn't going to put out the flames on my house or in my van at all."
I felt embarrassed when I glanced over and saw my neighbor video tapping my predicament. By then the fire made its way to the lean-to area where five gallon cans of coal tar epoxy and paint thinners were stored. The lids were popping loose and heavy black smoke began bellowing out. When and coal tar began to splatter through the air. I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing here? I'm not dressed for these conditions. This isn't my job. I'm not paid to do this shit."
Dressed in civilian clothes it was too hot for me and I decided to leave the area, but when I let go of the hose, the force from the water pressure spun the small lady out of control. She took off weaving all over the place as if the hose was a snake with her in its mouth, shaking her about as if she was its next meal. The fire-hose was taking her for a ride of her life, and it showed by the look in her face. She looked so pathetic, I found myself stuck there trying to help her because there was no way in
hell that she would have been able to operate the hose by herself.
I could see it in her eyes that she was terrified by just being there. No doubt she was having second thoughts about being a firefighter. I had to wonder what in hell it was that made her want to be a firefighter. Was it the four days on and three days off work week? Was it the paycheck which goes up to around $75,000.00 per year? Or did she want to be a hero seen on the evening televisions news broadcast? Whatever the reason was… it was the wrong reason because it was my home and livelihood at stake. I can
honestly tell you that she was more frightened of the fire than I was.
Not only does the job require a person twice her size, but she shouldn't have been there in the first place because when the water pressure dropped off, she just set the nozzle down on the ground. I thought what next? I made a dash for the front of the house to find out what was going wrong, but in a few steps I recalled a news report about an incident where a fireman was killed because a fire-hose nozzle’s valve had been left open and when the line was charged, the hose’s force with the heavy brass nozzle
took off on its own and knocked a fireman in the head; killing the guy. Being about ten steps away, I felt in fear of the hose being recharged and leaping about. So I turned around and went back to check and make sure she'd turned it off. I asked her if she had turned it off; she just shrugged her shoulders as if she didn't know. She picked the nozzle up and moved the control handle back and forth as if she couldn't remember which way was off. I looked at her and said, "Boy they sure trained you well."
looked back at me with confusion as if she realized she had no business being there in the first place.
Though I think I got the nozzle turned off properly just being in the situation gave me feeling of a person on a field of land minds. I turned towards the front of the house again to find out what went wrong and no doubt she was terrified because she was right on my heals as I jetted towards the front of the house.
As we rounded the front corner of the house the situation was quite was embarrassing. The people in the street were laughing at the crew. I found the two men warring oxygen bottles standing on my front porch, just standing over the second hose with a group of other firefighters standing around them. I looked at the water spout lying on the concrete porch with a small puddle of water in front of the nozzle and wonder if it was turned off. At that point I didn’t care because there were plenty of them to block
it and you can bet I kept a distance.
I think it’s safe to say that you have to be "crazy" to want to jump into a fire, but you have to be "really crazy" to jump into a fire with someone who can't carry you out.
Shortly thereafter a third fire-truck pulled up the alley and pulled out a hose just as the first truck should have. I found out from a neighbor at a later time that another neighbor named Joe Price had helped a backup crew in the alley hold a fire hose while they put water on my van.
Once they seemed to have a handle on the fire, they went into the house as they blew smoke out of the house with a fan; a fireman came out of the house with Baxter in his grip by the skin on the back of neck of the lifeless rabbit. Apparently, Baxter got scared and hopped back into the kitchen. A fireman offered to give Baxter a dose of oxygen to see if it would revive him. I covered his face with the oxygen and Baxter slowly came back to life.
The next thing I remember is that they had me go into the house let them through a locked door that lead upstairs so they could check the storage room, attic and crawl spaces. Instead of doing what they should have done upstairs, they spent most of their time down in my tool room messing around with my tools and equipment. They pulled my equipment out of the tool room and said they were doing so for the investigation of how the fire started. It was obvious the fire started just as I said it did, but I had
the feeling they were just nosing around my personal belongings and using the investigation for a reason to do. I felt they were invading my privacy just to admire the equipment that I had lost to the fire.
The equipment I lost consisted of a welder I hadn’t even had a chance to use yet. Two pressure washers, four airless spray outfits, a five horse, sixty gallon Ingersoll Rand air compressor, a roll-around tool cabinet, auto-body tools, conventional pressure pot and spray guns.
While crews were preparing to pull out, I was approached by one of the older firemen from a backup crew. I think he said he was the Captain. He said, "Sorry we didn't get the fire out sooner. It's never soon enough when it's your house is on fire."
I said, "You guys trashed my house for no reason."
He said, "We had problems getting the hydrant to work. Would you like us to board up the windows on your house?"
I didn't want to find out if I'd receive a bill for it and I really didn't want them around what was left of my possessions any-more than they had to be. Since there was some salvageable chip board around back, I figured I'd manage to do it myself so I said, “No thanks. I'll do it myself. YOUR FIRE DEPARTMENT IS A BUNCH OF FUCK-UPS!"
I'm pretty sure the little fire lady let the captain know how she screwed up with the valve on the fire-hose because the back-up fire trucks rolled their hoses up quickly and got out of there in a hurry. I think it is a good possibility that she saw the neighbors with a video camera as well as I did.
As I was standing across the street watching them scramble to put things back on their trucks, I was sure the fire department knew they had screwed up on the fire. The back-up crews were the first to leave the scene leaving the first truck to arrive behind. The driver of the first truck to show up, and last to leave; walked up to me and said, "Sorry about the fire.”
I asked, "Do you guys even know what the hell you’re doing?"
With a confused look on his face he said, "We're about ready to pull out."
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a fireman."
“You mean you fight fires for a living?"
He said, "Yeah."
"You mean -- you’re paid to put out fires?"
With a chuckle, I said, "Then what the hell are you going home for? It looks like a fire to me!” Then I pointed out the massive stream of smoke coming out of my house as if there was a chimney missing and a fairly good sized fire blazing in a fireplace.
He looked at me with a startled look on his face and shuffled his feet in a panic. I laughed at him and said, "Let the damn thing burn. You guys trashed my house anyway. What do you want to do -- leave me with a big mess? The house is a big piece of junk thanks to you fuck-heads.”
They had messed around with my tools and equipment just under the ceiling of the original back porch where the fire was still burning. Apparently they didn't perform the services they are suppose to be trained for and because of it, I ended up with a burnt out house with a hole in the roof.
By the way, the second fire was worse than the first one. I guess I let them upstairs just to let them go through more of my possessions. I couldn't see the reason for them to open a box I had a couple halide light bulbs stored in. For the box to be open and the bulbs to be unwrapped and exposed; only leads me to believe that their investigation was about more than just the fire. I think it’s safe to say that they were looking for dirt.
The Hasmat D
A funny thing that more or less proves the conspiracy started between first and second attempt to put out the fire was that, not after the first fire, but after the second, they decided to call the Hazardous Material Department. The funny part about it is the fact that the coal tar epoxy and thinners they were calling hazardous waste, were burned up in the first fire and not the second. Incidentally the video shows the coal tar epoxy burning up in the first fire and the lean-to was out way from the house which
means it wasn't affected by the second fire.
Though the hazardous materials burned up in the first fire and not the second, it wasn't until after the second fire, the fire department chose to empty a few bags of cat litter into the puddles of water in the area of where the coal tar epoxy was located. The puddles had a slight residue of oil and consisted mostly of wet ashes. After the second fire, the hazardous materials team lined my entire yard off with a yellow ribbon warning of hazard materials. They harassed me and tried to make me feel as if I was
about to be stuck with a hazardous waste site. I'm sure this was done just to scare me into thinking I was going to get stuck with a bill for cleaning up yard full of hazardous waste. It was easy to assume my home owner’s insurance policy wouldn't cover such a thing.
I asked God for a sign
The experience with the insurance company wasn’t anything like the way they portray themselves on television commercials. The first attempt of contacting the insurance company didn't seem to get anywhere, but I was told that they would be contacting me.
My second attempt was the next day was while I was at the paint store and during both attempts I learned that their game seemed be one of trying to get a recording of you on tape while you're stressed out and they use proven ways of trying to put words into your mouth. It made me feel as if they were looking for something I might say that could void the insurance coverage I paid for.
As I got off the phone at the paint store, I saw my paint representative walk through the door. The representative thought of himself as a Christian and had been known to push his beliefs on to others. I heard that he had showed up at job sites with religious literature and try to push his beliefs on to others. Another annoying thing about him was that he had a superiority complex. He had a way with using derogatory statements of a person as a gesture of humor. Needless to say I never thought his humor
towards me or others very funny at all. I had taken him on as my representative just so I could negotiate better prices on the materials I would normally use because the special prices were not available through the management within the store. However, I learned that it was a mistake telling the outside paint rep about my clientele because the result was that my customer’s office doors became revolving doors for other painting contractors bidding against me and many of those other painting contractors were signed
up with the religious rep.
That day of the fire, I wasn't in the mood to hear one of his smart elicit remarks and didn't want to hear a word out of the hypocrite. At the moment I decided to vent some of my frustration out on him as soon as he'd open his mouth. And without a doubt he did, so I took the opportunity to blow off a little stem. I wanted to get him into a side office away from others and beat the living crap out of him, so I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and jacket and swung him towards the doorway of the small side
office. Unfortunately my aim over the back of my shoulder wasn't as good as it should have been because I missed the doorway and put him through the wall.
With all the hassle of trying to get in contact with the insurance company and carrying on with the paint work I had in process, I didn't find the time to board up my windows that day of the fire. Since the door to my bedroom was shut during the fire, it was the only room that didn't get smoke damage, so I thought it was best to sleep there overnight to deter looters from taking salvageable possessions.
To my dreadful surprise, water had leaked through the ceiling tiles and got the bedding wet. I managed to find a couple dry blankets in the closet under the stairway and put them on my bed. But that didn’t solve much because Baxter and I found out how cold a waterbed can get in one day.
About 1:00 am, while I laid there freezing in my bed, I thought to myself, "What did I do to deserve this? This has to be about the worst thing that could ever happen to a person."
I not only lost my home, but also the equipment I needed for the work. Without the equipment, it would be difficult to keep my painting business operating and without my business operating, it would make it difficult to come up with the house payments that were still there.
The fire destroyed everything I had worked so hard to get. My bass guitar was the only thing I had left.
Just as some advice I'd been given by a customer: "We've always bought what we needed, because we knew we could get what we wanted later." Everything I had such as the home furnishings were mostly hand-me-downs and most of the possessions I owned were tools I used to make a living with. As for my tools and equipment, if it wasn't like new, it was near good as new and functioned just as well. Just as the time a friend named Darlic brought his friend by; we were in my tool room and Darlic said to
his friend, "This is where things are happening."
I really didn't have anyone to turn to since my family was in a sense -- distant from me and I didn't have a girlfriend at the time; I felt entirely alone.
As I laid there in the light of a propane lantern, I began to pray to God. I spoke to him just as I always did; like an ordinary friend. I said, "God what did I do to deserve this? Are you with me Lord? Do you even know this has happen to me? Is this something that was meant to be?" (Of course it was a one sided conversation.) "If so, how am I'm suppose to get through this? Is there some way I can come out ahead? If you are with me -- please let me know -- please show yourself to me."
I knew God doesn't usually make himself visible to people and I figured it wasn't likely he would appear before me, but as I laid there and prayed, I said to him, "Please give me a sign that you know this has happened to me. Please let me know that you're with me." I said, "Anything Lord; just make a tile fall from the ceiling or a pitcher fall off the wall. Please anything at all."
Strange how those things you hear about how it is when you're at your lowest point in life, you'll have a thirst for God.
I can't remember for sure, but I think I heard some thunder and I wondered if it was the sign I was looking for.
Before long, I got thirsty for something to drink but all my dishes were either melted or covered with soot. Another problem was that water had been turned off at the meter because if the pipes froze, it would cause them to split, then later when they'd thaw, it could cause another mess such as the possibility of the house being encased in a mound of ice if the temperature would drop down into freezing temperatures again.
Then I had a notion: If the face of the microwave on top of the refrigerator has melted down the front of the refrigerator and it’s been at least eighteen hours since the time of the fire, then the ice cubes in the bowl and ice cube trays inside the freezer should have melted by now. It's my guess the water from the ice should be fairly clean too.
So I got up out of bed -- grabbed a propane lantern and walked into what looked like a kitchen from hell. Over-powering was how the soot turned everything black. The paint had blistered and had pealed off the walls. The water from the fire-hose had streaked the blackness of the walls and caused fallen debris everywhere. The floor was wet and sloshed from the sound of soggy debris and ashes. To say the least it was quite the horrendous mess.
As I opened the freezer door, the first thing I noticed was how black it was inside. Then my mind flashed back to what it had looked like a day or two before the fire. It was about time to defrost my freezer because there was about 2 to 2-1/2 inches of frost built up on the top.
Though blackened with soot, I was surprised to see there was even more frost than there was just a day or two before. The seal on the freezer was burned and melted. It destroyed by about forty to sixty percent. The frost was blackened with soot and the surprising thing about it was that the frost hanging from the top was at least 3 to 4 inches thick.
I examined a soot covered bowl and noticed the ice cubes in it had not melted at all. I scooped the soot covered ice out onto the floor and looked for a puddle in the bottom of the bowl. There wasn't even one drop of water to be found. The ice cubes had not melted at all, not even one drop. In conclusion there was no evidence of water being re-frozen because of some freak refrigeration.
Then I grabbed the ice cube trays and noticed the ice cube trays were stiff. The cubes were still stuck in place, so I smeared the soot off the top of the cubes; then twisted the tray to free the cubes. I took a couple and wiped them clean with my shirt. I took a bite with a smile of amazement on my face because I thought it had to be some kind of miracle and I was sure it was the sign from God that I'd asked for.
I thought to myself, "Gee, this just has to be the best ice cube I've ever tasted." I'm going to be all right. Its obvious God knows this has happened to me and I'm not going through it alone. Maybe this is something that was meant to be. I guess I'm just going to have to make the best of it. May-be if I kept my faith in him, there might be some sort of blessing in it.”
I wondered if it was possible to come out ahead on the ordeal. As I walked back to my bedroom I felt there was nothing to worry about. I knew things would work out because no doubt -- God was with me.
I have to wonder if God knew what the local government had in store for me. I wonder if he knew of the corruption and anticipated the way the government was planning to sweep me under a rug. In turn, he made me a person of special importance as well as a person whom could deal with the corruption that would be dished out to me. No matter what the government would try to do, the fact that I'm the person that I am and what I done; can’t be changed. Like, Stupid Rule Number 3: You can't change history. I figure;
God must have saved some of the simple ideas for me.
They called it newsworthy
Because of the scare with the Hazardous Materials Department, the fire made the newspaper the following day. The so called hazardous materials were cooked. The solvents and paints burned in the fire mostly consisted of over eight hundred dollars worth of coal tar epoxy and MEK in five gallon containers. As you can imagine, I ended up with several five gallon cans of tar and epoxy baked as hard as a rock.
Astounding is the word to describe the discovery of a red plastic gasoline container that had melted down to the level of the gasoline inside it. Remarkably it didn't burn or loose any of the gas. The propane bottles didn't blow-up either. As a matter of fact, I still used one of them several years later until it became out dated and it couldn’t be refilled. The only thing wrong with the other propane bottle was the knob to the valve was melted in the extreme heat from being in the back of the van. I figured
the seal might have been bad too, so I decided to discard it. The seal in the one I used afterward was protected by the fuel cooling it as it flowed out through the valve.
The day after the fire I met the independent investigator the insurance company hired. He said the Environmental Protection Agency had been by that afternoon. He said the inspector from the E.P.A. told him that it was his impression I was well organized and responsible with my materials. The inspector left a note saying there was no hazardous waste to worry about and to call them if I had any questions.
The way I had my place set up was so that latex (water base) paints were in a shed for protection from freezing in cold winter weather. The coal tar epoxy and flammable solvents were kept farthest from the house in a lean-to on the opposite side of the shed containing the latex paints.
Since there had been a string of garage arsons in the area; I wanted the flammable materials farthest from the house. I didn't want the materials in view from the ally as people passed by, so had a tarp hung down concealing the materials from the ally.
The private investigator hired by the insurance company said from just looking over my household he had appreciation for my lifestyle and the passion I had for it. He truly felt sympathy for my loss. It was a refreshing experience compared to the kind of apathy I got from the fire department and the insurance adjuster. Strange thing about small worlds, he ended up buying a house on Spanaway Lake next door to where I grew up. I had a chance to visit with him since the fire and he truly seemed like a nice guy.
Have you seen the other Book Excerpts?