A quick response by a local firefighter may have helped save a Langley family’s home this past week.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteer firefighter Marc Swenson, a carpenter by day, was heading into Freeland at about 6:45 p.m. on Feb. 6 when his pager went off. The alert from dispatch reported a chicken coop on fire near a house. It was a street he recognized, Pintail Road, because he lives nearby.
“I had a pretty good idea of what house it was,” Swenson said.
He turned his truck around and headed for the scene. When he arrived, he could see a glow from the chicken coop. But, no one was in sight. Not the family that lived there or whoever actually called in the fire.
He let dispatch know he was on scene and assessed the situation. Flames about two feet tall were coming out of the coop and were dangerously close to reaching the overhangs of the log-framed home above it.
“If it would’ve spread into their roof, it would’ve caused a lot more damage,” Swenson said.
He knocked on the door, but nobody was home. He saw a garden hose stretched across the yard. He followed the hose back to the spigot, turned it on and proceeded to knock the fire down and buy some time before help arrived.
The situation was plenty intense to get his adrenaline pumping.
“It always does get your heart rate going,” Swenson said. “We train for it and try to prepare ourselves so we can continue and not get tunnel vision. You do get pretty excited.”
As luck would have it, part of the fire department was preparing for drill at around the time of the fire. The cavalry arrived a few minutes later in gear and ready to help douse the flames completely.
A heat lamp caused the fire.
“It wouldn’t take but a few more minutes then it would’ve been up the side of the house,” said South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Wendy Moffatt.
Erin Kelly and her family were away from the house watching their daughter’s basketball game. On their way back home they saw fire trucks racing down the highway and headed toward their neighborhood.
When they arrived at their home, they saw the fire trucks in front of their home.
“We stood there flabbergasted wondering what happened,” Erin Kelly said.
Kelly said the lamp is designed for chicken houses and was clamped to a beam. Still, the lamp was prone to being knocked over when chickens swatted it. Before, it only caused the hay and flooring of the coop to be warm. This time, it caused a fire.
She knows the outcome could have been far worse.
“I’m so very grateful and I’m really happy,” Kelly said. “
She also learned a valuable lesson from the experience.
“I feel bad that I knew that light could fall down because it has before and that I didn’t secure it as well I could have,” Kelly said. “I will never take that chance again.”
Kelly plans to move the chicken coop away from the house, while also figuring out a better solution to the heat lamp problem. She was so appreciative of Swenson’s efforts that she wrote a letter to the fire department and baked him a cake.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Wendy Moffatt said timing was everything, from Swenson’s proximity to the fire to the training exercise.
“Everyone was in route to the fire station for training anyhow,” Moffatt said.
“He happened to be right there.”
Moffatt said it’s common for people to put heat lamps inside chicken coops or barns, but that safety is important.
She also added that Swenson has maintained a strong presence in the department for quite some time and his quick action exemplified the role of volunteer firefighters.
“That’s exactly what a volunteer is: Stopping what you’re doing to help your neighbor,” Moffatt said.
Swenson, who grew up on Whidbey Island and joined the department in 2012, underplayed his role as a hero to Kelly, but added that he was happy to do his part.
“I’m glad that we are able to help,” Swenson said.
He’d also like to shake the hand of whoever called the fire in.