When Highland residents Tayson Arnoldsen, Sam Orton and Benji Smith were mowing park lawns July 29 for their work with Highland Public Works, they weren’t planning to be heroic. But, they were.
“We had just pulled up to the Beacon Hills Park to drop off the mowers so we could go back to the public works building for lunch. I was dropping off my mower, and my crew was following me” said Arnoldsen, the crew leader. “I saw black smoke coming from one of the homes bordering the park property.”
Arnoldsen jumped out of his truck and ran to the home, but his crew didn’t realize where he went for a few minutes, until they saw the flames through the garage window. When they got to the home, no one was there, but they saw a fire in the corner of an open garage. Arnoldsen called 911, and they grabbed a hose and started spraying the fire.
“For some reason there wasn’t a lot of water pressure in the hose, so it wasn’t really spraying,” Orton said.
Orton and Smith then noticed two push mowers, two gas tanks, and a propane tank in the garage. Without thinking about the danger, Orton said they “grabbed anything that could explode. There wasn’t much thinking, we just ran in to get them. The fire wasn’t blocking them, but it was super hot.”
So hot, in fact, that Arnoldsen said it was melting the paint on the parked car in the garage. To tackle the flames more effectively, they all formed a bucket brigade of sorts with a few buckets they found in the garage, and started using a neighbor’s sink to throw buckets of water onto the flames. They were able to douse much of the flames in the corner, but the fire had quickly spread to the roof.
“We were throwing the buckets of water up to the ceiling over the curved garage door to get at it,” Orton said. “But then it got too dangerous to go inside.”
Arnoldsen and Orton said they continued to battle the blaze until the fire crew showed up. The crew took over, and Arnoldsen’s group quietly left.
“We didn’t really talk to anyone, and no one really talked to us, so we just walked off and went to lunch,” Arnoldsen said.
After lunch, in their smoke-infused clothes, they continued their mowing rounds. The crew mows all of the parks in Highland and the Alpine Country Club, so they had a tight schedule to keep.
They didn’t receive any applause for their flame fighting, but a few weeks after the fire, the crew got a bunch of cookies and balloons from the homeowner.
“She told us that if we hadn’t been there, the firefighters said the house would have burnt down. It only ruined the garage and the floor of the bedroom above,” Arnoldsen said. “So she was so grateful we’d saved her house.”
To that single mother, the small crew of men in their early 20s were true heroes. But the quiet-spoken men were a bit embarrassed by the attention and feel they were just helping out.
“It’s human nature to try to minimize the damage. It’s not that we thought, we just did it,” Orton said.
Orton and Smith were only working on the crew for the summer, and have since gone back to school. After the fire, Orton's mother suggested he become a fireman, but he balked at that.
“I can’t do it, because of the EMT part. Blood makes me sick,” he said.