Milton man douses residential fire with garden hose

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Neil Johnson
Friday, September 6, 2013

MILTON—Milton police are commending a Milton man whose quick thinking and deft use of a garden hose helped avert a house fire Thursday afternoon.

Police Chief Dan Layber says Eddie Berlanga, 22, of Milton drove out of his way to investigate black smoke from what he figured was a house fire at 908 Nelson Ave., then grabbed a garden hose and doused flames on a burning balcony deck attached to the house.

Police said Berlanga reported the fire as soon as he got to the house at about 3 p.m. Thursday, then he got to work putting it out while waiting for emergency crews.

Berlanga, who works at Zumiez in The Janesville Mall, said he was driving along Janesville Street in Milton toward a friend's house when when he saw black smoke rising to the west. He said he drove toward the smoke, and when he got to the house on Nelson Avenue, he called police.

Then he got busy trying to help.

Berlanga said a nearby wooden fence rigged with plastic rope was on fire in a backyard, and it appeared to have spread to a raised, balcony-style deck attached to the house on Nelson Avenue. Berlanga said the fire was relatively small, but was starting to take off. 

“I said, 'Damn, this looks like it's going to keep spreading,'” he said.

Berlanga said he ran to the front of the house and started knocking on the door to warn anybody inside, but nobody came to the door.

Berlanga searched frantically for a garden hose. Before a police officer arrived, Berlanga found a hose tucked in some bushes. He said someone had left the outside faucet turned on, so all he had to do was start spraying the deck.

“I just started spraying it and put the fire out," he said. "The Milton cop who came took over after that and took care of the rest of it. I just told him, 'Cool. Your turn.”

When the fire department arrived, a teenage male came out of the house. Berlanga said he thought the teen had been asleep the whole time and the commotion had awakened him.

The teen was unharmed, police said.

A Milton Fire Department official said the department still was looking into the fire Friday and had not determined a definite cause or a damage estimate.

Milton police hailed Berlanga's quick actions, saying he went a beyond the normal call for a citizen reporting a fire. 

“His quick thinking and actions are well above what is expected in such a situation and deserve our community's thanks for a job well done,” Layber said in a written statement.

Layber said Berlanga's actions might well have averted a more fully involved house fire. 

“The officer told me it was cool that I helped out,” Berlanga said. “Because, you know, most people don't do that. They don't get involved.”

Berlanga said that, as a kid, he wanted to be a police officer or fireman. He said it was "cool" handling a de-facto public safety detail for one afternoon, but that he plans to stick with what he does best—his day job as an apparel salesman.

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