Close to Home: Casper Firefighter Thanks Colleagues Who Put Out Fire Near His Home While He Was Away
The fire was mere feet away from his backyard.
The grassfire that took place on Thursday, August 10 near the Wolf Creek subdivision in Casper could have been a lot worse. Luckily, it was put out by firefighters before it could spread to any of the surrounding homes or businesses.
But it was close.
For Dane Andersen, an Engineer and the Public Information Officer with Casper Fire-EMS, the fire hit close to home.
The fire, which was later determined to have been caused by fireworks, spread quickly and it was incredibly close to Andersen's backyard before firefighters were able to extinguish it.
"Well it finally happened," Andersen wrote on his Facebook page. "I just didn't expect it to happen when both Marie and I were out of town, taking our oldest on a trip to an amusement park. Ever since we moved into this beautiful home, I've kept a wary eye on the field behind us. I figured that some day, something would catch there. And if you could feel the ever-present strong southwest wind through your phone, it would be blowing right in your face as you look at it."
The wind was heavy that night, and the fire did spread. And Andersen wasn't there to fight it.
For firefighters, it's an unfathomable premise - being away your family and not being able to stop the one thing you've been trained to fight.
"It was really kind of a helpless feeling," Andersen told K2 Radio News. "I was staying at some relatives' that night down in Cheyenne. And I just thought about my mother-in-law and my youngest son who were still in the house, and who were presumably asleep, with it being 9:30 at night. Were they awake? Were they gonna be alright? How bad is it? I just had so many questions and usually I'm privy to answers right away."
Andersen and his wife had taken their oldest child out of town, but his 17 month old son was still in their home, being watched by Andersen's mother-in-law.
"It just so happened that the time was 9:35 last night when Casper Firefighters got the call for a running wildland fire," he wrote. "As I looked at the address when it came through on our dispatching app, my heart sank. Remaining in our home while we were out of town was Marie's mom, Cathy, and our 17-month-old."
Andersen said that as soon as he heard what was happening, he pulled up the scanner app on his phone. As a firefighter, his first instinct when hearing there's a fire is to act. It's just...there wasn't much he could do from a couple hundred miles away. But he had to do something, anything.
"I knew that if I tried to call any of my colleagues that were on duty, they wouldn't be picking up the phone because they had a job to do," Andersen stated. "I wouldn't expect them to do that. So I was just sending text messages to them saying, 'Hey, if you have a spare moment when all this calms down, can you please give me a call?'"
Additionally, obviously, he called his family first. When he called, he was relieved to find out that his son and his mother-in-law, along with their pets, had evacuated their home.
"Fortunately, there were some good Samaritans out there who were going door-to-door in the Wolf Creek neighborhood, warning residents and helping them evacuate," he shared. "It was two gentlemen named Jeremiah Lovelace and Adam Hill. I had never met them before in my life, but that's just the type of people they are. And it's just so gratifying to live in a neighborhood where those types of people are right there."
Andersen said that the two men moved his truck from his house to a safe parking lot, and they helped load the pets into his mother-in-law's car.
"These are people who are just normal civilians who haven't even taken an oath," he said. "And they're going out of their way to risk their lives to help evacuate my family."
It wasn't just the civilians, though. Even though he was 200 miles away, Andersen knew that he could trust his team, his people, to take care of his family.
"As I was listening to the incident evolve on the scanner, I could visualize almost perfectly where everybody was, and what they were doing," Andersen said. "What was really comforting to me was hearing those familiar voices of my colleagues on the radio. I know those guys are great firefighters. And I knew that they were doing exactly what they needed to be doing, which was attacking that fire with absolute gusto and just hammering it with everything they had."
Andersen said that Brush Trucks, Engine Trucks, Water Tenders, Chief Officers and more from nearly every agency in Natrona County responded to the fire. He said that it was Casper Fire Brush 2, Brush 6, and Engine 1 that arrived on the scene first.
"As I sent messages and communicated with my mother-in-law while she was evacuating our house, these units went straight to work - immediately putting their vehicles, hose lines, and quite literally their own bodies in between the fire and the homes - our home," Andersen wrote. "Being on the other side of this, and helpless as I listened in 2 1/2 hours away, I hoped that the small patch of grass I mowed down would buy these Firefighters enough time. I silently pleaded for no one to get hurt - I wished with every fiber that I would have been here. 'Just no one get hurt. I can fix whatever gets wrecked, but no one gets hurt,' became my silent mantra."
His pleas were heard, by somebody or something. It took about an hour for the various firefighters on the scene to contain the fire. And they did so before it could really impact any of the homes or businesses in the area. There was very little damage, just a lot of burned grass.
Andersen said that ever since he became a firefighter, he's kept the important things, documents, photo albums, etc. in a fireproof safe. He also backs things up on a flash drive as well, because you just never know. So the biggest priority, the only priority, was making sure his family was safe.
They were, thanks to his team and thanks to a couple of good Samaritans.
"After assuring that Cathy and our youngest were evacuated safely (with Neville and Crookshanks - Mucca decided to hide, he was on his own.) - I listened back in on the radio chatter," he wrote. "It seemed like forever, but what was likely more like 10 minutes passed before Command got on and said the words 'Log Fire Contained.'"
Relief washed over him in an awesome wave. His family was safe. His team was safe. His house was untouched.
When you're a firefighter, people put their lives in your hands. But what what we don't often think about is the fact that these firefighters are putting their own lives in the hands of each other, as well. That's why there's such a camaraderie between firefighters, why there's such a bond. You have to be able to trust that the guy or gal on the left or right of you will pick you up when you fall down, literally or figuratively. You have to trust that your team has your back.
For Dane Andersen, that's never been a question. He knows that he can trust each and every firefighter in Natrona County and beyond. The events of this fire, in particular, proved that, because he wasn't entrusting his own life with them; he was entrusting the lives of his family.
"My one message would just be an incredible thank you," Andersen said. "What a distinct honor it is to be their colleague and to be the recipient of these services first-hand. And then to also have the honor and privilege of serving with them - it's something that is very, very important to me and it's something that I will never forget, especially this night. God forbid if there's gonna be something like this that happens again in the future, when the grass grows back because it's dry again, I know that it's gonna be alright because I know the caliber of the firefighters that I work with, and if that night is any measure of what we can do...man, we can do a lot."
Andersen wishes to thank the following people from Casper Fire-EMS, Natrona County Fire, Evansville Fire Department, Bar Nunn Fire Department, and the BLM High Plains District:
"A special thanks also goes out to Evansville Fire Brush 12, with Capt. Corey Ramsey calling me at midnight to give me a personal report on the house. I remain a proud alumni of that fire department."
"Behind my house is not their jurisdiction, but they came all the same and fought the fire with the same gusto," Andersen said. "My profound thanks to them."