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Beyond the call of duty

Ben Godar

A recent apartment fire was contained to one unit thanks in part to

the quick action of an off-duty Burbank Fire Captain.

Just before 9 a.m. Saturday, fire officials received reports of

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heavy smoke coming from an apartment complex in the 300 block of

North Buena Vista Street. Before fire crews could arrive, Capt. Frank

Walbert, who was driving his children to a track meet, saw the smoke

and stopped to check it out.

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Since the building manager was unsure if anyone was inside the

apartment, Walbert went inside the smoke-filled unit several times to

search for people. Running in without any breathing apparatus,

Walbert said he felt his way through and checked to make sure no one

was in bed.

With fire consuming half of the living room, Walbert said he took

fire extinguishers provided by the building manager and attempted to

extinguish the fire. While he was unable to put out the blaze, he did

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subdue it enough that it took firefighters only about 10 minutes to

squelch it.

Investigators said the fire was caused by a couch sitting on an

extension cord, which was worn to the bare wire. Damage was estimated

at $50,000 to the structure and $20,000 to the contents. The family

that lived in the apartment was at church when the fire began, fire

officials said.

Walbert, a 28-year veteran of the department, said he has stopped

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while off-duty to assist with car crashes and other accidents, but

never gone into a burning building before. Even so, he insisted he

didn’t do anything the average person wouldn’t have done.

“I felt like it was part of my duty, whether I was on- or

off-duty, especially if it was a safety issue like this,” he said.

“It’s a Good Samaritan thing. I’m just glad I could use my expertise

to make sure there was no one in there.”

Burbank Fire Marshal Dave Starr called Walbert’s actions heroic,

and said the early intervention probably prevented the fire from

spreading beyond the apartment. He cautioned, however, that those who

aren’t professionals should be cautious about going near a fire.

“I would never say we don’t want people to try to rescue someone,

but don’t put yourself in harm’s way,” he said.


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