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Author Topic: Car Fire INSIDE the Drive-In!
Jack Ondracek
Film God

Posts: 2348
From: Port Orchard, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2002


 - posted 08-31-2003 02:38 AM      Profile for Jack Ondracek   Author's Homepage   Email Jack Ondracek   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Most of you know that we own a drive-in and an indoor house. We've had the drive-in for the past 17 years, and find ourselves continously learning new things... wierd how that is!

I posted this on our drive-in owners' board, but thought it might be interesting to those of you who also have dealings with drive-ins:
______________________________________________

2003 is turning out to be the year of first experiences for us. Just when you think you've seen it all....!

We've had 3 or 4 fires out here over the 17 years we've been here... but never inside the drive-in itself... they've all been between the driveway and the boxoffices...

... until tonight.

So... Here's the question of the day: How many of you have actually thought about this possibility? Do you have a plan to deal with it? How will you deal with crowd control? Is your staff trained? Do you have enough fire extinguishers around that you can reach a couple easily?

With only one exception, I'd have to say "no" to all of the above... the exception being available extinguishers.

Here's what happened:

We had maybe 3/4 of the field filled. A family in a compact car comes in, knowing that they have a bad power steering hose, but thinking they'll be ok. They said (later) that it was smoking a little when they came in, but still thought nothing of it.

Once they got parked, in the very front-right of the field, the fire started... power steering fluid hitting the exhaust manifold of the engine.

I go the call on the radio while I was in the booth, grabbed the ABC extinguisher by the door and headed for the field. Cheryl (our older daughter) was on the scene, keeping the crowd away. As soon as I saw how much smoke there was, I told the boxoffice to call 911.

The owners of the car were trying to get the fire out, but could not raise the hood due to a jammed latch. That pretty much wrapped it, as far as the car was concerned... not being able to get to the fire itself.

By then, the smoke was so bad that nobody could see the show, not that they were watching it anyway... so I went back to the booth, got the field lights on & the show stopped. We basically just kept everyone away until the fire truck got there. They did a great job, getting the initial fire out (it was fully involved by then), and the crowd gave them a big cheer.

We had several cars move to get away from the smoke. About 10 left & we gave them their money back. After the fire was put out, the fireguys turned off their lights (except for one spot on the car) so we could get the show back on. They handled this one very well (we had a previous incident that went poorly... and as luck would have it, we got the same lieutenant... much better situation this time). In all, the show was delayed about 1/2 hour, and we lost 10 cars.

In retrospect, it all went relatively well. However, some items cropped up that we've never dealt with, such as:

We should have a procedure for such situations, whereby certain personnel will call the fire department, others will deal with the incident itself (possible extinguishment, clearing the scene... especially of paniced owners), general crowd control (keeping the customers away), an assessment made whether everyone's out of the path of the smoke, and finally, whether there's anything we can safely do to put the fire out without endangering ourselves and anyone else.

In our case, we had way too much radio traffic. Everyone was chattering on the 2-ways, and that had to be stopped immediately. The boxoffice person needed to know that she was tasked to call the fire department (which we hadn't covered in the past).

Other than that, we were probably lucky that we had people here with former experience in such matters. Cheryl grew up in and around the fire service, I spent several years as a volunteer fireman & station lieutenant, and we have a couple of staff members that have been volunteers at one time or another. The training, while not currently "honed", did kick in enough that the situation went reasonably well. Cheryl set up a perimeter around the car & other members of our staff kept the lookie-lous away. After realizing we couldn't get the hood up, we got the owner to clear out what personal items he could. Then, we got them all away from the car & verified that everyone was accounted for. At that point, there wasn't much to do but wait for the firetruck, which arrived just after the front tires blew (that excited the crowd a lot!).

Other than some staff training, which will be on the list for next season, everything went pretty well. Nobody was hurt, one person took in a little smoke, but came out of it ok. Cheryl's exposure to the service came right to the forefront & she managed things very well. We got the show back on & the crowd got a whole lot more for their money than they expected!

Just some food for thought. Have you given this kind of situation any consideration? It may never happen to you. However, everyone is coming into your establishment with a car... and its condition is outside of your control.

Are you prepared for a problem like this?

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Daryl C. W. O'Shea
Film God

Posts: 3977
From: Midland Ontario Canada (where Panavision & IMAX lenses come from)
Registered: Jun 2002


 - posted 08-31-2003 04:12 AM      Profile for Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Author's Homepage   Email Daryl C. W. O'Shea   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
...the firetruck, which arrived just after the front tires blew (that excited the crowd a lot!).

...the crowd got a whole lot more for their money than they expected!

Maybe I should burn a car every Saturday night! [Big Grin]

Glad things worked out alright for you Jack. I guess a kid running through a glass door and somebody running down one of our fences (for who knows how many times now) this past Wednesday wasn't so bad. [Smile]

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Jack Ondracek
Film God

Posts: 2348
From: Port Orchard, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2002


 - posted 08-31-2003 04:37 AM      Profile for Jack Ondracek   Author's Homepage   Email Jack Ondracek   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
I guess a kid running through a glass door and somebody running down one of our fences (for who knows how many times now) this past Wednesday wasn't so bad.
Maybe not... but perhaps the lesson here is not to get too set in your ways. Something unusual is bound to happen, & you don't want to get so rigid you can't deal with them.

Glass door, eh? Maybe you're keeping them too clean! [Wink]

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Randy Stankey
Film God

Posts: 6539
From: Erie, Pennsylvania
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 08-31-2003 09:48 AM      Profile for Randy Stankey   Email Randy Stankey   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
One thing to think about in any emergency plan is to have a person wait out front with a flashlight and greet the firetruck/ambulance/cruiser.

All they have to do is waive the driver on in if that's all they want but, depending on who the chief is on this particular run he may want a run-down such as:

"Theres a car on fire over there. (Point)
The area's evacuated. No injuries. (Or tell how many injured.)
The manager's name is 'Jack'. He's over there, (point) wearing a red shirt." (Or whatever)

Think in terms of some guy leaning out the window of the truck, giving you 5 seconds to give him the skinny.

I used to work security at a large hotel. If there was an fire alarm and there was nobody out front, we would catch hell from the chief. All he wanted to hear was, "Third floor... No injuries... Jack is in charge." but if he didn't get this info he could really give us an ass-reaming. We were told that the time he had to take to find this out could have been spent saving lives.

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Tim Reed
Better Projection Pays

Posts: 5246
From: Northampton, PA
Registered: Sep 1999


 - posted 08-31-2003 11:19 AM      Profile for Tim Reed   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Wow, Jack, what a show! Glad you all made it through relavtively unscathed.

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Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5305
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 08-31-2003 12:34 PM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Wow, patrons really got an action-packed show that night, eh? You could of charged them an extra buck for the 3D/Stereo Special Effects!

Running a large venue as we do, it became obvious long ago that we needed a thorough, specific plan, so years ago we sat down and plotted out a handbook detailing what's to be done in any emergence you can think of -- heart attacks, patron altercations, fire, false alarms (which happens more often than fire to be sure) falls or other accidents where medical attention is needed quickly (do you stop the show?). The trick is to anticipate everything and then train everyone as to their specific job in any of these events. Just like in football, you have different "plays" with everyone performing their preassigned task.

Everone has to know exactly where they are supposed to go, what they are supposed to do -- someone assesses the emergency and conveys to another whose job it is to call 911, someone goes to the road to direct emergency vehicles (as you guys did), someone makes the decision to stop the show and bring up the house lights based on predetermined criteria, etc. In the case of a building as big as ours, someone is always designated as the Fire Marshal whose job it is to make sure every member of the staff is accounted for; the staff knows where they are supposed to congregate with alternate locations if the primary can't be reached -- this prevents people from rushing back into a fire to get friends or loved-ones, unaware that they are already safe. Most of all, everyone needs to know that as soon as the agreed upon signal or code is sent, whatever it may be, unnecessary communication on your com system must cease so the walkie talkies and/or headset intercom can then be used only to transmit emergency communications by a designated person.

Naturally when you have a house with 2500 people, or a lot with a few hundred cars, what's usually more dangerous than the actual emergency, is if the audience gets paniced. And where there's smoke, there's panic. And it doesn;t even have to be smoke -- recently we had a false alarm at a high school graduation that takes place in our theatre with a full house. It was just a false alarm, but the audience doesn't know that -- so you have all of these parents hearing a horn sounding and strobe lights flashing and their child is off in the wings and can't be seen by the parents. There is a rush for the stage. Luckily a few years ago we installed an emergency squawk box with its own microphone and horns which will work even if the house system fails. The stage manager was able to explain it was a false alarm, that all the children were safe and that we were in the process of stopping the alarm. But it took time to make that announcement because we had to determine if it was indeed a false alarm.

We had ushers who are trained to move to the isles as soon as an alarm is sounded or our inconspicous, miniature, high intensity red lights, which are above the proscenium and in various other places back stage and in the lobby, are illuminated by the Stage or House Managers. The job then is to get patrons out of the theatre in an orderly manor. Of course none of this guarantees anything except that you are a bit a head of the game and no matter what happens down the line, you can know that you did everything you could to prevent tragedy.

We also have a generator system that kicks in in a blackout, which, incidently, DIDN'T kick in when we had big one a few weeks ago - that's being investigated. Luckily there was no show going on, but you can imagine the panic if all of a sudden every light on the stage goes out and the entire hall is black?! Funny thing is, when we put in the generator, we removed the battery operated emergency lights which would have worked just fine. Even with an usher compliment all wheelding flashlights, people can very easily get hurt if they are spooked.

I would imagine a DI would also do well with a small generator that could power a few selected lot lights and exit road markers, possibly even the sound system so you can tell the patrons what's going on. Without reassuring them, you could wind up with cars being driven wildly, all trying to get off the lot at once, perhaps even blocking emergency vehicles from getting to the fire or other emergency.

My dad was a fireman and he reiterated over and over: panic can be more fatal than any fire. And also, DON'T try to put out a fire yourself. He had seen so many tragedies cause by people trying to fight what they thought was a "small fire," that he refused to put fire extinguishers in our house. He said, there's the temptation to grab a extinguisher for a fire that looks small enough to contain. Thing is, most lay persons have no idea how fast a fire can flash. For example, you don't necessarily know what combustables are feeding a fire or what combustibles are in the area of what seems like a managable fire. In that car fire, there could easily have been a flash or even an explosion that could have been much more serious than just the relatively "tame" flames that could be seen coming out from under the hood. The oil cap could have been compromised and the minute the hood was popped, buring oil could have sprayed on the person who opened the hood and anyone near the car. Also, the gases from a fire can be deadly; depending on what is burning, a few breaths of those black toxic fumes could easily cause permenant lung damage. This of course is all speculation, but the rule of thumb should always be to let the fire company mess with anything burning and get everyone's asses as far away as possible.

I sure am glad nothing serious happened to anyone at your "event," Jack and I am impressed that you are making it a learning experience. Also, you are blessed to have a daughter Cheryl, who is so level headed that she could take charge of the situation.

Let's hope that's the first and last such experience. As me sweet mom used to say, "Well Frankie, learn from everything -- just chalk it up to experience." To which I would reply...."Yah, Ma....but I am running out of chalk!" [Big Grin]

Frank

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Paul G. Thompson
The Weenie Man

Posts: 4718
From: Mount Vernon WA USA
Registered: Nov 2000


 - posted 08-31-2003 12:51 PM      Profile for Paul G. Thompson   Email Paul G. Thompson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
People are stupid. Some of the cars they drive are in such bad condition that they belong in the scrapyard. Bald tires, oil drippers, all four corners of the car seems to be smashed because the driver could not navigate away from a tree the "Just sprung up" in front of them, burned out headlamp/tail lamps, missing wheel lugs, no brakes, and yet they still drive them. [Eek!]

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Jack Ondracek
Film God

Posts: 2348
From: Port Orchard, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2002


 - posted 08-31-2003 01:03 PM      Profile for Jack Ondracek   Author's Homepage   Email Jack Ondracek   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
One thing to think about in any emergency plan is to have a person wait out front with a flashlight and greet the firetruck/ambulance/cruiser.
Randy, that's a good point, and we do that... in a way. Our nearest fire station is about 1 1/2 miles down the road, and it helps that I used to be the volunteer station lieutenant there. Still, they could be out & we could have had a different engine respond. Everyone outside the concession carries a 2-way radio. Some of us have earphones, which makes it easy to hear in most environments we have outside. There's also a radio in the concession building, and one in each boxoffice.

In this particular case, the boxoffice people were able to direct the engine into the field and tell them to follow the fenceline on the right side. That was pretty much enough, since it was obvious where the problem was once they got into the field. They also knew I was there, and (except for one person who took in a little smoke) left everything but the fire itself to us.

TIM: Unscathed, but definitely sobered!

FRANK: Once we got things back to "normal" and the movie back on the screen, I told a few people out there that we had hoped to put off the special effects show until "Bad Boys II" had started (I didn't say that to the car's owners, though!).
quote:
I would imagine a DI would also do well with a small generator that could power a few selected lot lights and exit road markers, possibly even the sound system so you can tell the patrons what's going on. Without reassuring them, you could wind up with cars being driven wildly, all trying to get off the lot at once, perhaps even blocking emergency vehicles from getting to the fire or other emergency.
I have "Office Depot"-type UPS's on each of the sound systems here, which lets me keep up communication for a while. We did find ourselves wishing we had a bullhorn when we were actually out in the field. That'll probably happen soon. We do have a generator here, though it is not hardwired. If needed, it takes about 15 minutes to roll it up to the building, plug it in, start it & switch the building over to it. Now that we've converted some of the cooking equipment to gas, the generator will run both the concessions and the booth.

Here are some pictures I got this morning. We could have taken some pretty dramatic shots of the fire... and the crowd last night. Strange... nobody thought of it at the time... [Cool]

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Ken Layton
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1452
From: Olympia, Wash. USA
Registered: Sep 1999


 - posted 08-31-2003 01:23 PM      Profile for Ken Layton   Email Ken Layton   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Wow! Another car fire and I missed it. [Eek!] I had thought about coming up to the Rodeo last night, too.

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Paul G. Thompson
The Weenie Man

Posts: 4718
From: Mount Vernon WA USA
Registered: Nov 2000


 - posted 08-31-2003 01:53 PM      Profile for Paul G. Thompson   Email Paul G. Thompson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I think everyone should by now realize that rubber hoses under the hood are attacked by oil and grease. Coupled with that idea, one must realize that today's modern engines run at a higher temperature than they have in the past.

I think lot of engine fires could be eliminated if:

1. Go to the Wishy-Washy and keep the engine and engine compartment clean! It also makes them easier to work on if the need arises.
2. It would not hurt to look under the hood once in a while and check the hoses, belts, etc. for signs of deterioration. Replace them if they are. A little preventative maintenance never hurt anything if done correctly.

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David Stambaugh
Film God

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From: Eugene, Oregon
Registered: Jan 2002


 - posted 08-31-2003 01:58 PM      Profile for David Stambaugh   Author's Homepage   Email David Stambaugh   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
As a general rule, if there's a fire of *any* kind, you as a businessperson should probably cover your ass by calling 911. You just never know what might happen when a fire starts, or what liability someone might try to pin on you for not calling 911 if something/anything happens.

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Gerard S. Cohen
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 975
From: Forest Hills, NY, USA
Registered: Sep 2001


 - posted 08-31-2003 02:43 PM      Profile for Gerard S. Cohen   Email Gerard S. Cohen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Bullhorns are effective and cheap enough so that one can be secreted in the manager's office, booth, concessions, etc. for use in an emergency for crowd control and audience reassurance.
They may prove more reliable than a central sound system if you can't get to the mic, or if the generator won't start.

Someone sometimes warns "The gas tank's going to explode!" for excitement, but this can occur, or there may be a reserve can of gas in the trunk, or unexpected inflammables. Keeping the crowd back far enough can be a problem.

I applaud Jack and Angel's emphasis on planning for emergencies. With news of terrorist car bombs in Israel, Iraq
Indonesia, etc., a thorough plan with practice drills
seems to me essential.

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Travis Hubrig
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 175
From: Minot ND, USA
Registered: May 2003


 - posted 08-31-2003 03:06 PM      Profile for Travis Hubrig   Email Travis Hubrig   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
We had a fire in our popcorn kettle once, the popcorn oil ignited in the hot kettle... an assistant had the fire out within a minute of it starting, but we had the fire dept their to assess the situation and to clear smoke and give us the 'all clear'

The funniest thing, we had an annual fire inspection earlier that afternoon. Passed with flying colors.

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Paul Turner
Expert Film Handler

Posts: 115
From: Corvallis, OR, USA
Registered: Apr 2001


 - posted 08-31-2003 03:31 PM      Profile for Paul Turner   Email Paul Turner   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
If the car is a manual transmission model make sure the way in front and behind the vehicle is clear (or blocked with something nonflamable). If a fire melts the starter solenoid and it makes contact, that sucker will be taking a walk. Nothing like an unguided, unmanned rolling aflame gas tank to add to the entertainment spetical. I was impressed how far a car can go on its starter motor when on fire the first time I saw this happen.

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Scott Norwood
Film God

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From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 08-31-2003 05:17 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Glad to hear that no one was hurt and that the drive-in property wasn't damaged.

I like the idea of having a UPS for the sound system as well as some battery-powered megaphones (or wireless mic for the installed sound system). How long would a typical UPS power a standard drive-in system, anyway? Presumably radio transmitters require less power to run than field speakers.

I've occasionally thought that a large single-screen indoor house would be wise to have a slide projector and a set of slides that could be quickly flashed on the screen by the projectionist to help control panic in the event of a fire alarm. One might say something like "fire alarm has sounded - please walk calmly to the exits in the front and rear of the theatre" with arrows pointing to them and another might say "the fire alarm has malfunctioned; please remain calm and seated while we work to deactivate it." Of course this wouldn't do any good in the event of a power failure, but it couldn't hurt to have the slides made up and ready to use.

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