Organizers Save Okla. Family from Fire
March 28, 2014
Trentice Hamm and Robert Bausch started out their day hoping to inspire some nonunion Oklahoma construction workers during an organizing blitz.
They didn’t expect to be considered lifesavers just a few hours later.
On March 17, a cold, cloudy, Monday morning, State Organizing Coordinator Hamm was driving to Tulsa Local 584 to join other regional IBEW activists for a daylong blitz at nonunion construction sites in Oklahoma’s second-largest city. Bausch – an organizer from Topeka, Kan., Local 226 – was in the passenger seat.
Minutes away from the hall, the two men saw it: plumes of fire reaching skyward from a small home near a highway off-ramp just outside the city’s downtown area.
“The flames were shooting from the roof,” Bausch said. “Our first thought was to call 911, but we didn’t have the address.”
Hamm pulled his Ford Taurus off at the next exit, and the two darted to the scene. The single story house sat at the end of a long street. No neighbors appeared to be outside, Hamm said, but the men saw two cars parked around the back.
“I was sure there were people inside,” said Hamm, who logged a decade as a volunteer firefighter in the town of Lexington near the center of the state. Bausch ran to the door to warn anyone in the house while Hamm called 911.
After alerting dispatchers of the emergency, Hamm joined Bausch, pounding on the front door and ringing the doorbell. A woman soon opened the door, and her two adult children could be heard in the background, Hamm said. The men ushered the three outside the house, clouds of smoke following them.
“Everyone was very disoriented and seemed like they might have just been woken up,” said Hamm. The amount of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide from the fire likely had a dizzying effect on them, he said. “A lot of times, people don’t wake up, and that’s what kills them.”
Running in and out of the house, Bausch and Hamm rescued the family’s two dogs and were able to grab some household items. At this point, neighbors had gathered on the scene, followed swiftly by a fire truck.
Hamm said the residents were "definitely in shock,” but they appeared to be relatively unharmed.
Bausch and Hamm talked with emergency crews, who took control of the scene.
Shaken further awake by their experience, the men climbed back in the Taurus and headed to the hall. The whole event lasted less than half an hour, they said.
“We just left the house and went off to do our jobs,” Hamm said. “We met up with our fellow brothers and had a successful blitz for the rest of the day.”
The organizers drove past the home several times over the next few days while on union business in and around Tulsa. They said despite roof damage, the house still looked mostly intact. An article in the Tulsa World said an electrical malfunction in the house ignited the fire and that all residents were unharmed.
Both Bausch and Hamm shrugged off descriptions of their heroic actions. “I think anyone in that situation would have tried to do the same thing,” Bausch said.
For Hamm, who has seen his share of fires, the rescue was just another extension of his union and civic activism.
“We were just trying to help people – that’s what organizers do, right?” Hamm said. “The good Lord gave us an opportunity that morning. You never know what your day is going to be like.”
Kirk Groenendaal, Special Assistant to the International President for Membership Development, praised the organizers’ efforts.
“Their bravery, courage under fire and quick thinking averted what could have been a total tragedy,” he said. “I applaud Trentice and Robert for their heroism and selflessness. The IBEW is lucky to count such individuals among our ranks.”