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Surviving the Flames; Two Heroes Tell their Tale

Surviving the Flames; Two Heroes Tell their Tale

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The Modesto Bee via YellowBrix

March 22, 2010

MODESTO – After 24 years of fighting fires, Jim Adams had become an expert with the hook.

So on New Year’s night, with fire raging in the garage of a home on Modesto’s Coston Avenue, the 46-year-old Modesto fire engineer climbed onto the roof and began prodding away. He used the rakelike tool to confirm structural stability, looking for the best and safest place for his partner, J.D. Clevenger, to rev up the chain saw and cut a hole in the roof.

They do this to let gases and heat escape, making it safer for the other crew members to go in to extinguish the blaze. It’s a procedure normally done “100 out of 100 times” without a problem, Fire Chief Jim Miguel said.

Not this time.

“As I hit the roof, I take a step and then hit the roof again,” Adams said. “(This time) it followed my swing. It was almost as if I’d knocked a structural (support) out.”

Suddenly, “I felt like I was standing on an air mattress,” said Clevenger, who turned 32 on Saturday.

In an instant, with no other warning, the roof collapsed. Both men landed hard on the concrete garage floor below, plunging into an inferno like neither had ever experienced.

The next 90 seconds, Adams said, seemed like “at least 90 days.”

Watch the Video: Modesto Firefighters Say Thanks

Ninety seconds, engulfed in flames and flesh-blistering heat of excruciating and unbearable pain.

“I figured it was pretty much coming to an end,” he said. “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to hold on much longer.”

In their first interview since the blaze, Adams and Clevenger talked openly and often emotionally about the fire that left both with third-degree burns — Adams over 45 percent of his body and Clevenger over 10 percent.

These are men who do their jobs quietly and professionally, never seeking glory or attention. They spoke because they want people to understand what happened and the dangers firefighters face every day. They thank God for enabling them to survive.

They wanted to thank their comrades in the fire services who saw to their families’ needs during their hospital stays. And they wanted to thank the thousands of well-wishers who donated blood, sent cards and e-mails, wrote on blogs and Web sites, and all who prayed for them.

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