Editor’s note: Update to fix years of service.
Entering a burning building that might be occupied is one of the most difficult occupations for firefighters.
Assistant Fire Chief Ronnie Rein has dragged people from burning blazes and has participated in others where the occupants couldn’t be saved.
“If you have a structure fire and you know you have somebody inside, that gets your adrenaline going,” he said.
Rein has retired as a fireman after 35 years of service. He started working for the city of Abilene in 1985 and became a firefighter two years later. He was named the assistant chief in 2001.
The Kirby House
In two of Abilene’s biggest fires — The Kirby House Restaurant and the Great Plains Theatre — neither were occupied.
In both cases fires had burned long enough before firefighters arrived and neither building could be saved.
In both cases the firefighters went into a defensive mode, trying to save the surrounding areas.
He called both “interesting experiences.”
It was February 20, 2013 when the Kirby House Restaurant, 205 N.E. Third Street, closed down early as Abilene was expected to be hit by a major snowstorm that Wednesday evening.
“By the time we got the call, it was already through most of the building,” Rein said of the Kirby House fire. “We had flames showing up at the top floor at that time. We got the call late.”
That allowed the fire to burn for quite awhile until a call came in around 6:30 p.m.
“Somebody over at RHV happened to see a little smoke and called dispatch,” Rein said.
He said firefighters attempted to go inside.
“There was already a big hole burned through the floor. They made it about 20 foot inside and came across the hole, so we pulled all of them out,” Rein said.
The Kirby House fire literally burned through the night.
“We knew we had no life inside. Nobody was in the building,” he said.
Great Plains Theatre
The fire at 300 N. Mulberry was called in by local radio host Gary Houser at 7 p.m.
“The basement had fire in it for a while,” Rein said.
Firefighters entered the building from the west as fire was rolling out of basement windows and up the side of the building.
“We had guys try to go down the stairs on the west side and they were pushed back with the heat. Then we went around to the east side and made entry. We had a crew down in the basement when we started having ceilings fall,” he said.
There was also an apartment building located directly west of the theater.
“We designated one truck to keep that building watered down and cooled off so we didn’t lose it,” he said.
When it comes to a vehicle accident, collapsed structures or fires, the firefighters are the first to respond when a rescue is needed. All of the firefighters are certified as EMTs.
“In a car wreck, we are in there helping take care of the patients before we get them out while other guys might be taking a door off or flipping the roof off,” Rein said.
On his retirement Rein offered this advice in preparing for fire:
• Have smoke detectors;
• Know your exit plans;
• Teach the kids the exit plans;
• Don’t overload your electrical circuits;
• Try to keep the house as clutter free as possible.
Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.