Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.
TALES FROM THE DONUT SHOP BY JULES A. STAATS
The Gut feeling, a Source of Prophecy? by Jules A. Staats
Another nice, sunny and quite comfortable day in the Arcadia unincorporated area in Southern California. It was late morning, and the fortunate many who worked weekdays were taking advantage of a great Saturday to do various chores or enjoy their day off with their families.
Jay was not one of the fortunate many. He was a deputy sheriff working for Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Cops are deputy sheriffs and they also work weekends. Still, he was assigned to the day shift, and for him, that was acceptable. After all, he secretly preferred having week days off, when streets and stores were not crowded.
He was assigned to the Contract City of Duarte car. As usual, there were no units assigned to the County jurisdiction, just outside of the Arcadia city limits. On occasion, though, he was assigned to urgent and emergency calls in the adjacent County area south of the city.
The deputy also was keenly aware that he was inclined to have a nervous stomach. If a situation he was involved in, became dangerous, he could feel his gut do flip flops. It seemed he had something inside him that knew more about a situation, than he did. Conversations with other law enforcement officers revealed that a lot of them rely on flash judgments based on years of training and experience and that gut feeling, so he was not alone. A Sergeant who was a personal friend of his had told him that we all have fear but we know how to control this emotion. Applying the mindset of the U.S. Army and the Sheriff’s Academy had molded any fears into controlled determination to run to the problem while everyone else was running away from the problem.
That was all well and good, but strangely when a significant incident was about to happen that day with him involved, he had a premonition that something big was going to happen. A few times he had felt this in such a way as his stomach did flip flops.
He had strongly felt this tightening of his gut, while on the way to work, that day. With the rising sun at his back, driving the twenty-five miles down the perfectly straight Arrow Highway he just seemed to know that this was going to be a critical day. Still, he did not like to rely on his feelings to conduct police work, and refused to think that he could somehow predict anything. However, his late Grandmother seemed to know that there was an illness or death in the family, way before the phone rang, with the very same news. So, the deputy added a small portion of his so-called gut feelings to his excellent and comprehensive police training, and subsequently had a certain amount of trust in both concept and training.
As the morning passed, there were no calls, nor assignments for Jay or his partner unit, the Duarte city traffic unit. Feeling that the deserving citizens of the county area, south of Duarte should get at least some patrol. He asked the other car to meet him at a local donut shop for exchange of information.
After a few minutes and, while at the do-nut shop, he mentioned to his partner, Fred, that he wanted to check out the "south end." Fred also thought that would be a good idea. The residents were always pleased to see a squad car driving around in their neighborhood. What better day, than Saturday, to make sure some of the weekenders actually saw the Sheriff's unit?
Jay still interrupted his thinking and pondered for a while why he tended to be so uptight today. He passed the city limits sign and paid attention to the large residential area ahead of him. Now that he was enroute to the unincorporated area, he now seemed to feel very relaxed and actually content.
As he drove down one of the main streets, the numerous side streets passed by the patrol car. Actually Jay had twenty five choices to make a right turn and twenty three choices to make a left turn. As he drove down Myrtle Ave he chose—that one--and turned right.
The deputy drove slowly down the street, and observed many children playing in their front yards. Seeing this activity and children having fun playing instilled a longing wish to be with his four children. Deep down, he wished that he was one of the many Dads, playing ball with their kids. He was reminded that his children were home with their mother. They would probably grow up hardly knowing their Father, like most children of cops. Heck, even mowing the lawn seemed like a fun thing to do, at this time. Jay waived at a few children, as he slowly cruised down the tree lined street. He liked to acknowledge children, most of all. Maybe they would grow up, not hating cops.
As the Deputy drove by one of many, well-kept homes, he thought he saw some smoke through the open door of a two car garage. He stopped the patrol car, glanced back out of the rear window for children or vehicles and backed up about thirty feet. There was some smoke, and there was a middle aged man trying to open the hood of a large sedan, parked in the middle of the structure.
Jay pulled over to the right curb, and called for a Fire Department response to the location. Once acknowledged he then stabbed the electric trunk release of the patrol car, and grabbed the county issued fire extinguisher. As he quickly sprinted toward the garage, he saw the man finally succeed in opening the hood.
That was a serious mistake on the part of the car owner.
This was an automobile engine fire, caused by a rubber hose antifreeze leak and the hot motor compartment was smothered or suppressed by the cramped area under the hood. When the hood was opened, the fire erupted with a fury, singing the man. Although not seriously injured, the man ran blindly out of the garage, almost into the arms of the Deputy Sheriff.
It took only a few seconds to reassure the man that the deputy would take charge and assist, and the Fire Department was on the way, but in that brief time the fire had spread to piles of stacked newspapers in front of the car. Jay knew that his little five pound Dry Chemical fire extinguisher would do nothing to put out a now larger fire involving flaming liquid and paper.
The fire grew to savage intensity as the rubber fuel line that ran between the engine mounted fuel pump and the gas tank disintegrated. The raw fuel had also ignited and was now running under the vehicle and toward the street.
"Get everybody out of your house!" Jay ordered, to the home owner. This was an attached garage, but the home owner’s wife was brought out of the house safely.
He had seen many structure fires before and expected that the fire department would just arrive and extinguish this fire.
At that instant, Jay felt his gut clamp itself flat. He mused: (Now what was wrong?)
The deputy peered out the windshield, and saw people from the neighboring homes flocking toward the now blazing fire. The entire engine compartment was completely on fire and was also fueled by the failing rubber gas lines, often seen on cars at that time. Flames now were as high as the roof, as they roared from the garage. No question that this spectacle had a much expected result. Now there were numerous men, women, and even more children, forming a large ring of Saturday morning bystanders around the fire albeit some of them were all standing on the sidewalk safely across the street.
Jay pressed the button on the police radio microphone. "Car 58, request tach frequency with any unit that can respond to 15665 Randall Road!"
He then rotated the radio knob to Frequency 1--the tactical frequency, and asked, "Fifty-eight to any unit?"
"Car 56 by, go ahead guy."
" I got a 904S and 904A (structure fire and vehicle fire) and I need some crowd control, ASAP."
"O.K. Jay, I can be there in about three minutes or so."
"Get here quick, Dave, I have a car on fire, inside a garage, still waiting for the Fire Department."
The owner of the car was standing next to Jay, anxiously wondering just how much time that it would take for the Los Angeles County Fire Department to get there? This gave Jay a chance to also ask an important question.
"Sir, the Fire Department will be here in driving time, and they are on the way. What I want to know is why do you think caused the car to burn?"
"I just got back from the gas station, and pulled it in the garage. I felt it was running a little hot. When I got out of the car, the smoke started."
Jay's gut was still acting up and now it felt like he had a wooden stake shoved through it. He had one more question:
"How much gas is in the tank?"
"I had just filled it up. About 22 gallons of premium gas, deputy."
The deputy now could see the terrible danger that faced these bystanders, that this intense fire could super heat the gasoline and cause an explosion.
Jay flipped the frequency selector to the dispatcher frequency. In spite of his now inner fear of something horrible about to happen, he managed to keep his practiced calm voice, even when he was now very worried and tense. "Car 58 ten thirty-three."
"Unit with emergency, go!" the professional Radio Center female voice shot back.
"Fifty-eight, regarding my fire, car fifty-six is rolling to assist me in three minutes with traffic flow. Roll him Code 3, I have a crowd in serious danger"
"Fifty-six, per car 58, your assistance roll is now Code 3." (A pause due to separate frequencies for dispatcher and patrol vehicles.) "Ten-four, car 56 rolling Code 3, with an ETA of one minute. Fifty-eight, your reason also for a Code 3 request?"
Jay had no more time for the radio. He threw the Radio Microphone on the front seat.
He bounded from the car, desperately wishing that he had a public address or loud speaker system to warn the crowd. (Electronic sirens, with that equipment, became available a year later.)
The crowd of perhaps forty or fifty Saturday bystanders now formed a ring of humanity, a rainbow of people, some across the street and all about thirty feet from the fire and some even closer on each side. Jay barked out loudly, for the people to back away that there was a serious danger. A few complied, and others moved right back into the crowd to observe the fire. This served to maintain the roughly thirty foot radius of human spectators around the fire..
A screaming mechanical siren from the assisting deputy overpowered the loud crackling and roar of the garage fire. The old wood shingle roof of the detached garage was fully involved, now, and flames were towering into the sky. Jay could now hear the sirens of the approaching fire engines. Only 5 minutes had passed, but it seemed like an hour to the deputy.
Dave, in Car 56 had arrived but had a puzzled look on his face. He could see a large structure fire of a garage and observed a gathering crowd of spectators which appeared a little close, but nothing unusual. He was unsure of why Jay had asked for emergency assistance during a period when a Code 3 response by a Los Angeles patrol deputy was not only a rare occurrence at this time but had to be eventually substantiated to the Lieutenant Watch Commander at the station.
Jay ran up to the assisting Deputy Sheriff. "Dave, we got to clear the area, these people are in danger. There is a full tank of gas, waiting to explode in that garage!
"Let's do it, partner!" Dave replied, moving to the left-center portion of the ring of bystanders.
Both Dave and Jay were still unable to fully clear the almost hypnotized crowd—observing a house fire—and completely unaware of the dangerous area, in front of the garage. They were maintaining their crowd position. Dispersing this crowd was not working even with two deputies trying to push back the focused spectators.
The feeling of grave urgency and a strong call to action along with the fear of immediate danger, even catastrophe welled up inside Jay like a bomb about to explode. The fear was real and caused Jay to express this impending disaster to the spectators.
Standing only twenty-five feet from the front of the burning car and building, Jay yelled, "The car is going to blow up! It is going to explode and kill your children! Get away! Run for your life! Run-run-run!"
The tactic of injecting fear and even panic into the minds of the bystanders worked. The crowd immediately broke up at the center, as the bystanders started to realize their own and their children’s possible and deadly jeopardy. Jay could see that everyone was now running away from the fire. Jay moved to the west side of the fire just in time.
Jay’s fearful thoughts of horror to come became a reality in the next instant.
It was not like in the movies, where dynamite or controlled explosive squibs are used for spectacular effects. In a movie, special rigging and tricks cause a high order explosion of a vehicle to make it interesting and spectacular. However in a real life situation, anything can happen when a gas tank ruptures in a fire. The gas tank then burst from pressure caused by the intense heat of the fire and boiling fuel and as the gas tank ruptured it caused a strong low frequency noise as the metal tank ripped open just below the rear bumper.
The superheated gasoline liquid and vapor spewed from the large hole in the gas tank. There was a significant violent eruption of deadly flame from the back of the car, making a tongue of fire five feet wide, ten feet high, and almost one hundred feet long. Like a giant, horizontal hellish fountain, the liquid and flaming gasoline spewed from the car gas tank, through the open doorway of the front of the garage, and well across the street. A fifteen foot wide swatch of roadway and lawns on both sides of the street now burned intensely as if attacked by a huge military flame thrower. The flames stopped just 10 feet from the front of a home across the street.
This was what fire fighters call a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion) or in this case a liquid gasoline heated to a gas and under pressure. Although the most destructive BLEVE explosions have been due to propane tanks, this incident could have burned alive anyone in the path of this fiery eruption.
As the fire department rolled up, Jay surveyed in awe the burning street, the burning lawn, the burning garage. People were still grabbing children, and running for their lives even though they were finally at a safe distance now. Due to the induced panic that caused the fearful scattering of the crowd by the Deputies, the fire had touched no one.
Jay could finally relax a little now; as he watched the Firemen pour thousands of gallons of water into the garage. Several more fire engines arrived a few minutes later. The fire in the road and on the lawns had mostly burned out in a few minutes but the dark burn in the roadway marked the area where previously the deadly flames from the vehicle gas tank had the potential to kill or injure numerous adults and children.
He had once again affirmed through actions his Oath “to protect life and property.”
The two deputy sheriffs absently watched as the increasing number of professional fire fighters brought an end to this auto/structure fire. As he continued to watch the mop up operation and write his report there was one thing he was certain of. He now knew without a doubt, that through his inner gut feelings, and the excellent assistance by a fellow deputy, they had saved many persons from being burned alive with flaming superheated gasoline.
He marveled that he had (on a whim) decided to patrol another area that day and just “happened” to turn on the one street where all this was to take place. His arrival timing just “happened” to be absolutely perfect as the fire ignited at the instant he drove by the location..
Was this just a fantastic coincidence that a patrol Deputy Sheriff would drive down the exact street at the exact time where so many persons would face terrible burn injuries or even death had he not been there?
Jay knew the answer. He was once again at the absolutely wrong place at the absolutely right time and this was due to his Lord once again guiding a deputy to where he was badly needed.