Last Thursday’s big fire in downtown Renton certainly confirmed two truths about the city and its residents:
• Renton has a great, well-trained fire department.
• When a business needs help, other businesses are more than willing to step in and provide it.
Regarding that first truth. Perhaps Jerry Kavesh, owner of Renton Western Wear not far from where the fire happened, put it best.
“That could have been a big smoking hole in the ground,” he told me Tuesday. He gives credit, and rightly so, to the fire department.
There’s no hole in the ground at 232 Wells Ave. S. for two reasons. Under the leadership of successive fire chiefs, the Renton department has developed a strong working relationship with fire departments in nearby cities, providing them with mutual aid when they need it the most. Renton has one of only three ladder trucks in South King County and, without hesitation, Fire Chief I. David Daniels says the city’s dive team is the best one in the county.
It was easy to call in that chit, says Daniels, the president of the King County Fire Chiefs Association. Fire crews from Tukwila, Kent, Seattle and from the Eastside all responded for Renton’s call for help in the five-alarm fire.
Then there’s the second reason: planning and lots of practice.
Daniels holds a key state leadership post in developing the standards that fire departments would follow under the National Incident Management System. Renton, and every fire department, trains relentlessly to meet those response standards.
He told me something that caught me by surprise, although he was referring to the fire department. “The fire isn’t the big deal,” he said (unless, of course, you’re somehow affected.) “The big deal is how you manage the resources to put out the fire.”
Each fire makes the fire crews that much better in responding to the next one, he said. That, of course, is the value of experience.
The fire department engages other city departments in planning how to best use the city’s resources.
“We are all playing with the same play book,” he said.
No kidding. Without all the training, relationship-building and experience, last Thursday’s fire potentially could have spread to adjoining buildings, destroying even more businesses and homes.
And then there are the downtown businesses that stepped up. Take Calico Cheesecakes, not affected by the fire – and in possession of a kitchen. Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes was affected by the fire (it’s in the adjoining building to the one that was gutted). It had a big order to fill for a wedding, but it had no power. In steps Calico Cheesecakes with its ovens and there’s a happy bride and groom.
Other businesses and residents stepped up to donate clothes or household goods to the seven residents who lost nearly everything in the boarding rooms in the building’s second floor.
Of course, we’ve lost a big piece of Renton’s history, a nearly century-old building where lives played out. For old-timers it was a chance to remember what that building meant to them.
But I would hope that we won’t remember the acrid smoke that filled downtown Renton that night. Instead, let’s remember the response from the fire crews and the community.