One Hour

[ Based on scanner traffic overheard by and personal observations
  of author ]

Wednesday, December 11, 2001.  Just past 7 p.m., or abouts.  Driv-
ing west on I-440, the "Beltline," fresh from batting cage slash K-
Mart visit on Western Boulevard, heading toward Cary to find chow
and make 7:30 movie-on-tape-date with Julie.  Misty fog softening
the many points of light-pierced darkness.  "We should ride around
later and listen for fire calls," mulls Mikey, "this is great
weather for photographing emergency vehicle lights."  Moments lat-
er, the scanner squawks of a reported plane crash.

Engine #23, a stone's throw from Leesville and Westgate roads, just
north of the airport, apparently responding to a "plane down."
What!?!?  Catch a couple of street names: Umstead and what sounds
like "Oleana."  Missed the initial dispatch, but the nature of the
call is repeated: "possible plane crash, two residences on fire."
Other ears are also popping up.  Car #53, a "DC" (District Chief),
marks en route.  Engine #24, off Brier Creek Parkway, off Lumley
Road, just west of the airport, also joins.  Truck #16, it sounds
like, is also "10-76."

"County" unit are also responding, but the "City" channels are "re-
peater-based" and, thus, more readily received by the two scanners
mounted below the dashboard of my card.  (Unit-to-unit traffic from
"Durham Highway" et al won't be picked up until I'm closer to the
emergency scene.  By then, I'll have a *third* scanner in use, a
"handheld" extracted from the glove-box.)  Exit "440" onto "1" and
then onto Walnut Street in Cary.  Whip into shopping center; pull
up to pay phone.  Sweetie is tired and doesn't want to join.  "Can
you be back in an hour?" Sure.  Back to car, back to Beltline.
Blue lights in distance; State Trooper, from the flasher style,
mostly likely also headed to crash scene.  Scanner now very busy.

Engine #23 has arrived.  Single wooden structure, "fully involved."
No hydrants in neighborhood, however, neither on Stone House Cir-
cle, the actual address, nor cross-streets Umstead Forest Drive nor
Ebenezer Church Road.  (Stone House is roughly one mile due east of
Raleigh-Durham International Airport.)  They'll need "tankers" to
"shuttle" water from somewhere else.  Thus, the Commanding Officer,
soon Car #53, orders all incoming units to "stage" on Ebenezer and
*not* proceed to the fire scene.  Need to keep narrow, residential
road open for "water shuttling."

Durham Highway Fire Department, from Norwood Road (plus apparatus
stored at former firehouse-turned-aforementioned Raleigh #23) ar-
rives next.  Engine #23 is attacking both "Sector One" (front of
structure) and "Sector Three" (rear of same), with particular con-
cern for chance of fire spreading to woods behind house.  Dispatch-
er passes along request from airport.  "Tail numbers," when possi-
ble, to identify plane and confirm number of "souls" aboard.  En-
gine #23 responds "be advised, aircraft appears to have directly
struck house."  "Twenty-three" also confirms one "F-Frank." Fatal-
ity.  (Learn later that *three* were killed aboard what appears a
small, private plane.)

Between hasty driving and intermittent map-book consulting, hear
dispatch of additional Wake County  fire departments.  "Bayleaf" is
"sent," as is "Western-Wake."  Even "Bethesda," from Durham County,
is "10-23" (on scene).  And though Engine #23 confirms crash loca-
tion is *not* inside the City Limits, additional Raleigh units con-
tinue responding: Engine #14, as "RIT" (Rapid Intervention Team.)
Engines #17 and #16, from Pleasant Valley and Crabtree Valley ar-
eas, respectively.  Truck #16, already en route.  Same for Rescue
#14, from right at Rex Hospital, which dispatches itself upon En-
gine #23's report of "fully involved."  (As does SR #5, the breath-
ing-air support unit stationed at Cameron Village.)

Police control is requested, expectedly.  (As I'm still many min-
utes away, I resign myself to the fact that I *won't* be getting
close to the incident scene, much less even the *staging area*.)
Since the scene *is* inside the County, "Command" is transferred
from Car #53 to "Durham Highway."  Raleigh units switch from City
to County "tactical channel."  Later, a second "tac channel" is ut-
ilized solely for "water operations" as water-tanker trucks from
the various County departments behind toting water back-and-forth,
from "water source," most likely a distant hydrant, to fire scene.
(Alas, can't tell if a "dump tank" is in operation, a X-thousand
gallon "portable pond" that shuttled water is "dumped" into and
that the pumpers draw from.)

After exiting Wade Avenue onto Blue Ridge Road and driving nearly
the entire length of Ebenezer Church, I finally reach the "perime-
ter."  Sheriff's Deputy is stopping traffic, maybe 300 yards from
cluster of emergency-vehicle lights, most likely marking the stag-
ing area.  News crews are there, but no one's being permitted past.
Newspaper photographer gets yelled at, brazenly walking past road-
block.  (He returns and fakes an apology.)  Nothing to "see," so to
speak, so I shoot a roll of "arty stuff"-- road flares in extreme
close-up, camera operators in silhouette, distant lights through
open window of police cruiser, etc.

Police cars periodically appear.  Personal vehicles, too, though
precious few are allowed through.  Fire trucks, first one then an-
other, *exit* the scene.  From the other direction, "Western Wake"
approaches, three units from stations near the Fairgrounds and off
Highway 54 in Cary.  (Command subsequently advises all "water shut-
tlers" the "entry point" is Glenwood Avenue and the "exit point" is
Duraleigh Road, which, my friends, is one *Hell* of a loop.)

Leave scene after, still curious but satisfied with near-full roll
of "night shots."  Check time, stop car, consult map book.  Hmmmm.
Side road, right around corner, connects with Glenwood Avenue.
Hmmmm.  I *can* take I-540 back to Cary, back to Julie's.  Hmmmm.
Let's do it.  Reach "70" (Glenwood Avenue) in mere minutes.  Hear
and see "Six Forks" fire unit screaming past.  More sirens in dis-
tance.  Swift Creek Fire Department, too, from Holly Springs Road
at Tryon Road.  Other County departments, says the radio, are dis-
patched for "coverage," such as "Falls" filling in at Durham High-
way's station.

Gas and power companies also on scene, as is customary at all work-
ing fires.  Other hazard overhead is a propane tank reported at or
near the burning residence.  Also reported aflame is an automobile
and, maybe, a boat.  (Not sure if the last one was heard correct-
ly.)  Nearby houses checked for damage, including one residence
with a dog that might escape if any windows are broken.  "Ground
search" initiated, too, with firefighters (and other personnel)
presumably fanning out from the crash site, looking for victims.
By now, I'm parked at the corner of Ebenezer Church and Glenwood,
across the highway from Car-Max.  Raleigh Police are allowing only
emergency vehicles and "identified" residents to pass.

Fire trucks still arriving, including presumably re-filled "tank-
ers" last seen leaving the scene.  Alas, no "line of sight" sights
on this end of Ebenezer.  And no telling when the "PD" will begin
letting news crews (and, as I identify myself, "freelance photogra-
phers") through.  And I'm due at Julie's.  So, at 8:00 p.m., nearly
exactly one-our later, I leave, but not before pulling off to a pay
phone and requesting a pizza.  Fittingly, one of the last transmis-
sions tuned into is a dispatcher advising that "Barry's Cafe is re-
sponding, with refreshments."  Bless his heart.

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros


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