At work: four houses destroyed on the island of North Carolina


On November 20, a rapidly spreading fire destroyed three condominiums and a private residence on Bald Head Island in an incident that strained resources. A 9-1-1 call told me, “I think we’ve been bombed. There is fire like mad. It’s horrible.”

Bald Head Island consists of approximately 12,000 acres located two nautical miles from the coast of North Carolina. It is the southernmost barrier island in the state, and its 1,120 homes house 247 full-time residents. During the high holiday season, the population can reach 10,000 inhabitants.

Fire protection is provided by the Combined Bald Head Island Public Safety Department, under the command of Chief Alan May. Composed of 26 full-time employees and 34 volunteers, the service operates from a single station. Emergency and service vehicles are the only automobiles permitted on the island, with most transportation being bicycles and golf carts.

The incident

At 7:56 p.m., Brunswick County Emergency Communications dispatched Bald Head Island responders to a structural fire at 114 North Bald Head Wynd. At 8:01 am, the first unit to arrive said, “I have four structures completely involved. I am going to need several mutual aid societies. This triggered a pre-plan that automatically assigned Southport and Oak Island to the call.

Due to the remoteness of the island, this assistance and the following ones required a significant mobilization, because the aid had to be delivered by boat. Boiling Spring Lakes, Bolivia, Carolina Beach, Leland, Northwest, Shallotte, St. James, Sunny Point, Sunset Harbor / Zion Hill, and Winnabow all provided personnel and / or devices as part of the attack and cover. fire. Brunswick County and St. James EMS also responded.

The flotilla for the 20-minute trip consisted of ships from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol, the Bald Head Island Ferry, and the United States Coast Guard. As none of them were capable of carrying an aircraft, the Bald Head Island barge was activated after hours to meet this need.

May was having dinner on the mainland when she heard about the event. Based on the initial size, it instituted a series of notifications to support long-term operations, including placing helicopters on standby, recalling personnel on leave, and requesting additional EMS / rehabilitation resources.

In an interview with Fire station, he explained, “All our staff are trained as firefighters, police and paramedics or paramedics. In this case, we were in full fire fighting mode. We wanted a few paramedics because all of our staff were going to fight the fire. “

Initial strategy

Initial strategy and tactics were managed by Sgt. Steven Barger. Since the initial 9-1-1 call raised concerns about a potential danger to life, this issue was immediately resolved.

Fortunately, this was not the case and resources were allocated to two attack groups to begin the crackdown. A lieutenant has been assigned away from the site to coordinate the management of mutual aid assets.

May commended the local citizens for their help in this process.

“It’s about three-quarters of a mile from the ferry terminal to the scene,” May said. “The islanders really got involved. They showed up with golf carts and shuttled between the firefighters.” Neighbors near the blaze used garden hoses to help minimize the impact of the flying embers.

Embers were also a concern for the nearby golf course, which was asked to activate its irrigation system to reduce the risk. Since this water comes independently from the municipal system, there was no negative impact on firefighting.

The island’s utilities department monitored the situation throughout and reported that even though the pumps were running at maximum capacity, there was no cause for concern. The chief praised the cooperation provided by all village officials and staff during the event, especially their assistance in resource mobilization.

Lessons learned

When asked what to take away from this fire, May replied, “The PPA has certainly been a big factor. Where it was a bit lacking was that we had a lot of people who came, and we should have kept a few in reserve. We didn’t know what the potential for spreading this thing was. We have already had our after action meeting, and that is being resolved.

“With so many different agencies, communication was a problem. There was a lot of dialogue between the channels. This is something else that we will be working on.

“The lighting was a huge problem because this island is completely dark at night. Our rehabilitation area was quite dark. We literally had to send people out to keep others from tripping over the pipes so the lighting is something we could have used more of.

“We received tremendous support from the people of the village. People provided food and accommodation. Restaurants lit their grills and an owner who was on a cruise contacted his general manager to start delivering food to the firefighters. “

“We were also fortunate to have enough staff to allow us adequate rehabilitation. We were able to remove people every twenty minutes or so and replace a new team. “

“The geography of the island is such that there is no single solution. What will work in one street will not work in another. There is no grid system here. As for the end result, we weren’t going to change that. You have to remember that we initially only had six people. This is why we have a mutual aid plan. There is no way in hell six people could fight a fire of this magnitude.

The final answer consisted of three motors and a Bald Head Island ladder, and three mutual aid service motors. The two island ambulances and three rapid response vehicles were also at the scene.

Most of those agencies offering assistance were released at 2:30 a.m., with local crews wetting hot spots throughout the day.

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