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Workers are neighborhood heroes

Street-maintenance crew puts out potentially damaging fire
By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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A major house fire was prevented Dec. 31 due to the quick actions of two city of Lincoln employees. The employees, though, were humble, saying it was all in a day’s work. The fire at 1570 First St. was caused by two garbage cans on fire after burning debris was placed in the cans, according to the Lincoln Fire Department. Street maintenance workers Jose Reyes and Dave Elder “were driving by and noticed the flames running up the side of the house,” said Fire Chief Dave Whitt. With the help of a neighbor and his garden hose, the two city workers put out the fire. “Their quick action of extinguishment and pulling the cans away from the structure averted what could have been a very damaging fire,” Whitt said. To Reyes and Elder, though, it was a normal day on the job and something they wouldn’t have “thought twice about doing.” “We were on our regular route. We do leaf pick up,” Reyes said. “We were driving by on First Street and saw the garbage cans on fire.” Reyes said he knocked on the door of the home to see if anyone was inside while Elder grabbed the fire extinguisher. “We just took it as just helping out,” Reyes said. “It’s part of our responsibility to report it and help.” Elder said “it felt great” to help. “I’m a city employee and I did what I thought I should do,” he said. “I don’t want to see anyone’s house burn down.” Whitt said he was impressed that they checked to make sure no one was home before moving the cans away from the house and extinguishing the flames. “What I told them on the phone is, ‘You were in the right place at the right time and you did the right thing,’” he said. “If the neighbor wasn’t home, and Dave or Jose weren’t there, the fire could have gone into the attic and spread.” Jay and Michell Spencer, who live next door to the house that caught fire, supplied the garden hose to help extinguish the flames. “They came over and knocked on our door, asking to borrow the hose,” said Michell Spencer. “By the time we got out there, they had it under control.” Spencer said she and her husband call Reyes and Elder “the big heroes.” “We’re thankful it didn’t happen in the middle of the night or else their house would have caught fire,” Michelle Spencer said. Sandra Zavala said she is “very grateful” for the actions of her neighbors as well as Reyes and Elder, for saving her house. “I think it’s awesome to not start the New Year with something like that,” Zavala said. “I had to pay for new trash cans but what I had to pay for was worth it.” There were no injuries and damage was limited to the scorching of the garage’s exterior, a damaged electric meter and the loss of the garbage cans, according to Whitt. The damage totaled $1,500. “We could say with reasonable security that Jose, Dave and the neighbor’s actions saved thousands of dollars worth of damage to the home,” Whitt said. Embers from a recently-cleaned fireplace caused the fire, according to the fire chief. “The Lincoln Fire Department would like to remind everyone that burned material must be completely extinguished by soaking in a metal bucket for a good length of time prior to proper disposal,” Whitt said. Hoping others will learn from her experience, Zavala said her fireplace embers “had been in the can since the day before.” “It will remind other people it doesn’t matter how long (embers) sit out there, you have to take the extra step,” she said.