Monday, February 06, 2017

How Running on My Treadmill Because it Was Cold 
Likely Saved My Family and House From Devastation
Martin Bodek

Before I tell you our story, let me first assure you that all of us, and everything in my and my wife’s possession, were entirely unharmed, and that the result was, upon reflection, the best case scenario considering the unsettling alternatives.

With deep gratitude for the safety and security of everyone, and everything dear to us, in our home, this is what happened:

A few factors to consider which each contributed, in their own way, to how this story unfolded.
1. We’re having some work done in our basement.
  a.       Out of an overabundance of caution, I wear a facemask for long runs.
2. Sunday mornings are my long runs.
3. It was cold outside.
  a.       I wasn’t in the mood to layer up.
  b.      So I elected to run on the treadmill.
4.  The kids were not home.
5. I switch out all my smoke detector and CO detector batteries every six months.

Now then:

It’s 7:40 AM. I’m two hours into my run, with about an hour to go (I’ve got the Virtual Jerusalem in six weeks), and after audiobooking Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, on our iPad, out of curiosity, I then find a History Channel documentary on how the principles have applied through America’s wars, and how they apply to sports and politics.

I’m up to a part where the narrator is describing why the U.S. was not successful in Vietnam (They knew not their enemy, and played “Chess” instead of “Go”). They dramatize a scene where G.I.s are firing upon the Viet Cong in the jungle. Firepower lights up the screen.

Then my reality shifts.

The next five paragraphs take place within two seconds of time:

I process that there is more fire in my field of vision than there is supposed to be. I have fire inside my little screen, but my brain is registering more outside the margins of what I’m staring at. I become confused, so I look up to see what was going on.

In that instant, a column of fire erupts seven feet in front of me. Our boiler is spitting a giant flame that instantly reached the ceiling.

In the same instant, the smoke detector goes crazy.

Just as fast, the fire is sucked down and appears to vanish out of my line of sight over my treadmill dashboard.

Incredibly, despite the suddenness and shock from what is happening, I manage to not seize up and fly off my treadmill. I quickly hit the stop button, jump off, and find the front of our boiler in flames, but contained within the front panel.

I then run up the basement steps, yelling for my wife to wake up while trying to describe what was going on as I’m making my flight. She immediately yells to flick the emergency boiler shut-off switch if it's safe to do so. I do that. The flames stop. The smoke detector turns off. My wife immediately gets on the phone with PSE&G and 911. I ventilate the basement.

Two minutes after our calls: PD shows up. I show officer Lobos what happened. Everything seems under control. He advises to sit tight for FD.

Four minutes after our calls: two FD trucks show up. I show firefighters Alberti, Ayala, Masnaj, Gonzalez, and the rest of the crew what happened. Everything seems to be under control. They advise to sit tight for PSE&G.

My wife and I spend the intervening waiting time trying to help each other settle our jangled nerves, and mulling what the cause could have been, and how the scenario might have unfolded differently. 

We succeed in settling ourselves, and also conclude that it is better to acknowledge our best case scenario outcome rather than pondering how things could have been different, but we haven’t a clue what happened yet.

Forty-five minutes after our calls: PSE&G shows up. I show Sam what happened. Everything seems to be in order. Our boiler is new. The burners look fine. The chimney is drafting properly. The switches are in order. Our home contractors have not been using gas-powered devices of any sort. Everything seems ship-shape, but he’ll order new burners and arrange install.

A mystery.

My wife and I have a nice breakfast together, and over the course of our day, try to figure out what happened and why.

As if a messenger sent him to remind us about our good fortune, the gabbai of my shul shows up at our house to return some borrowed items. I put in my gomel-bentching request with him.

Later in the day, we buy a gas leak detection kit. We test independently – and also test for false positives – and it comes up clean. Good, but the mystery bothers us.

After pondering, googling, discussing our head off on the issue, the best we can determine is likely one of a few general possibilities involving the science of combustion.

No stone unturned, we make plans to address each possibility to ensure our safety.

Over dinner, we explain to our kids what happened, and we’ll be conducting home fire drills so that we’re maximally prepared for a catastrophic event.

In the final analysis, I return to the beginning: everything and everyone is okay, but it is worth stressing the lessons so others can benefit and be safe as well.
  • 1.       Don’t panic – I don’t really know what kept me from breaking my neck by sailing off the treadmill. When we returned to the basement after everything was presumed safe, I noticed the treadmill key dangling, and my facemask on the tread. I don’t recall disengaging, or taking the mask off. It happened instinctively because I didn’t freak out. I knew what I had to do – see what was going on, and warn my wife – and my muscles did the rest. My wife, in turn, grasped what was happening despite my alarming tone, and calmly instructed me to do the right thing, and do it safely. Had she not given me the instruction that she did, we may have had a house-fire ranging for four minutes, at the very least. We were both under control.
  • 2.       Make sure your smoke/CO detectors are working – need I stress this any harder? Had I not been home, the situation would have unfolded very differently, but my wife would have, presumably, received ample warning to get out of the house. I stick to the battery switch-outs like clockwork.
  • 3.       Don’t trouble yourself with What If? scenarios – we self-learned quickly that this is a form of self-torture. What happened is what happened, not what could have happened.
  • 4.       Have an escape plan – we have ladders in most of the upstairs rooms - shortly they’ll be in all - and general information for the kids on what to do in case of fire, but we’re not going to waste any more time. We’ll give specific instructions to the children, have a thought-out plan, and we’re going to practice it.

Life’s little ironies and messages unfolded in another interesting way: my wife and I went shopping mid-day, and found ourselves in a Judaica store, where an interesting book caught my attention: A Yiddishe Kop: Visual Brainteasers for the Keen Eye and Sharp Mind. We purchased it on the spot. It’s exactly what you think it is. A scene is depicted with cute drawings and questions are asked. The answers are derived from clues in the picture. My kids love it. One of the pictures had a scene in a shul on a weekday morning, and one of the questions was: “Which of the people in the picture have to bentch Gomel?” It was from there, perfectly, that the discussion of fire safety ensued.

Have a wonderful day and keep your family safe with good forethought and appropriate preparedness.


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