Crisis averted: PW employees put out trash can fire at private residence

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Jan. 23, 2013
(L-r) Tim Cronin and Mark Hilton of the Public Works Department relate the incident to the Town Council on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
(L-r) Tim Cronin and Mark Hilton of the Public Works Department relate the incident to the Town Council on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

A potential crisis was swiftly averted in South Windsor when two town employees, Tim Cronin and Mark Hilton of the Public Works Department, observed a trash can on fire at a private residence, and managed to put it out.

The two were driving on Birch Hill Drive on Thursday, Jan. 17, early in the afternoon when they saw the burning plastic trash can up against the home. They contacted the South Windsor Fire Department, and then proceeded to use snow to beat down the fire. They moved the can away from the home and tried contacting anyone inside, but no one responded.

Firefighters and Fire Chief Kevin Cooney were dispatched to the scene at 1:15 p.m. They later learned that there was an occupant in the home, a 22-year-old daughter of the home owner, who came outside upon noticing the fire truck.

About an hour earlier, she had brought the trash can back from the curb to the side of the house, into which she deposited ashes from a wood stove. The ashes were left over from a fire the night before, and were left outside to cool. While she thought the ashes were cold, they were in fact still hot, and the plastic container caught fire.

The fire had already begun to melt the vinyl siding of the home, and could have spread to the rest of the house. “The potential was very significant,” said Cooney. “I guarantee you it wouldn't have been much longer before the whole house was involved.”

Because the incident occurred at a time when most people are at school or work, Cooney noted that the road was not frequently traveled at that time, and it could have been some time before someone else had noticed the fire. “Who knows how much of a loss it would have been before someone else called it in,” said Cooney.

“Fortunately, the timing was perfect, where [Cronin and Hilton] were able to put some snow on it and move it away from the house,” said Cooney. The fire was out by time firefighters arrived.

For their good deed, Cronin and Hilton were recognized by the Town Council on Tuesday, Jan. 22, where Mayor Thomas Delnicki called the two, and all Public Works employees, the “unsung heroes” of the town.

While Cooney commended the actions of the two men, the incident calls attention to the “fine line” regarding how much an untrained member of the public should act when dealing with a fire. Cooney said the incident is similar to an event in the summer, when the vinyl siding of a home caught fire when the homeowner was burning weeds. Neighbors were able to put out the fire with a garden hose.

“In both cases, the fires were external,” said Cooney. “I certainly would not advocate anybody entering a [burning] house or building. Our motto is 'get out and stay out.'”

Cooney said that even police officers, without proper gear and breathing apparatus, could be at risk responding to a fire.

The lesson of the story, according to Cooney, is how to properly dispose of ashes. “Regardless of how hot or cold you think the ashes are, never dispose them into any kind of plastic container,” he said. Ashes should be put into a covered metal container left far from the home.

“[The homeowners] were fortunate, they only had some siding damage,” Cooney said. “But the potential was much worse.”

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