Couple: "The House Would Have Been Gone"

Meghan Youker

OMAHA (KPTM) -- An Omaha family says thank you to a retired firefighter who saved their burning home. The former fire captain was passing by a neighborhood, when he spotted smoke and rushed to grab a neighbor's garden hose.

Monday they met face to face for the first time since the June 26th fire. "We were eating supper at the kitchen table over here and we saw smoke coming up the deck," said homeowner Lisa Menkel.

Douglas and Lisa Menkel rushed to get their five-year-old daughter and dog out of the house before dialing 911. "Came outside, looked at the fire and decided there was no way I was going to fight it. I was just going to let the house burn. It's only stuff," Douglas Menkel said.

That's when P.J. Driscoll and his wife just happened to be driving by the home near 163rd and Giles. "When we turned the corner, I could smell it and I knew right away we had a fire," Driscoll said.

The former Omaha fire captain quickly grabbed a nearby garden hose and put the fire out. "It was kind of second nature to me, but probably a little hotter than what I would have liked, because of the (street) clothes I had on," Driscoll said.

At the time, responding firefighters were still a few minutes away. "It's a good thing he got here when he did because he stopped it from going inside the house," said Captain Jim Gentile of the Omaha Fire Department.

The Menkels had just hired a company to stain their deck and workers had left the materials behind. "What happens with rags like this, when they have product on it and they're tightly compacted where they're not able to breathe or air out or dry out, they can spontaneously ignite," Gentile said.

On what was such a hot and windy day, the situation easily could have been much worse. "In another 5 minutes, they said that the whole house would have been gone," Lisa Menkel said.

It's left the Menkels grateful, both for P.J. and for the firefighters who answered the call. "I was just happy that it didn't get any worse than it did," Driscoll said.

Something the family says all of us should appreciate. "I guess a lot of people don't really realize how valuable a service they provide for the community," Douglas Menkel said.

The Menkels say the insurance company of the business that stained their deck is covering all the losses.

Coincidentally, another fire that same weekend at 140th and Manderson was also caused by rags used for staining. The fire department says if you're using chemicals to stain a deck, make sure you allow the rags and drop cloths to dry and air out before storing them.