Know Your Enemy #28


A teenager and seven other inmates died in a jail fire in North Carolina this year. Click Here To See Story

So far the county has paid out about $75,000 in fines and funeral expenses that would have probably paid for installing sprinklers the building. How about the jails in your communities? Do they have the defects described in the article?

The purpose of a jail is to confine the inmates. Inmates have been known to set fires to cause confusion during which they can escape. There is a head to head conflict between our principle of getting people out of burning buildings and the jailers need to prevent escapes.

At Naval Operating Base Balboa, Panama Canal Zone in WWII we had a wooden brig which could accommodate 20 prisoners. A master locking device that could release all cells simultaneously was on order. In the meantime the guard/sergeant would fumble through a ring of identical keys to find the key to a padlock on each cell to release the prisoner.

The Marine officer in charge of the jail was not impressed by my argument that it might not be possible to release all the prisoners and that we did not have violent criminals in the jail, just personnel who had had one beer too many and were still out after curfew.

The colonel of the Marine detachment, a man who smiled but once a year and then for only a fleeting moment, was just as adamant. I went to my boss the base commanding officer a Navy captain. A captain in the Navy is the equivalent rank of a Marine colonel.

He called the colonel and gave him a direct order to remove the padlocks. The colonel was very unhappy and on Nov. 10, the birthday of the Marine Corps, a most sacred day to Marines, the base commanding officer was not invited to the party, a serious breach of Naval etiquette. The captain loved parties.

I was the duty officer. The captain called and told me to go and "secure" (shut down) the party. It was too noisy.

I went to the colonel's quarters. It was a very sedate party. The Marine officers were resplendent in white and brass. I had gone directly from my shipboard fire fighting school to the duty office. There was one problem after another and I had not had a chance to spruce up and change uniforms. I looked grubby.

I felt like the lead guy in The Charge of the Light Brigade. I gave my best imitation of a military salute and delivered the message from the CO as if I was from Western Union so the colonel would know it was not my idea.

He said, "Thank you son. Goodnight" and the beat went right on.


In many parts of the country huge single family homes have been built for people with so much money they had to brag about it. These structures present special fire problems which this writer sets forth in an article scheduled for January 2003, Firehouse Magazine.


Imitation slate shingles made of old tires have appeared on the market. If you have had any experience with them please write