New policy for fighting fires at drug houses

A new policy will be in effect to protect Contra Costa firefighters from having to enter marijuana grow houses during a fire.
February 19, 2014 9:42:51 PM PST
Firefighters in Contra Costa County say when it comes to a choice between pot plants and people, the choice is easy. Firefighters say they will not put their lives on the line to fight fires in those grow houses.

These are full-scale marijuana operations set up in the middle of residential neighborhoods and they cause a big danger to firefighters. Therefore, a new policy will keep firefighters from going into those homes, unless a life is at stake.

A fire in Pittsburg on Jan. 24 looked like any fully-engulfed house fire. But once the flames died down on Tampico Drive, it didn't take long for Contra Costa firefighters to figure out what had been going on inside the house.

"No doubt this was a house completely converted to a residential marijuana grow," said Vic Massenkoff, a Contra Costa fire investigator.

Fire investigators estimate there were more than 1,000 marijuana plants inside a five-bedroom, 2,700 square foot home.

It's sandwiched between other homes in a new neighborhood -- part of an otherwise manicured subdivision, but for firefighters, a pot house this can be a deathtrap.

In this case, the occupants illegally bypassed the electric meter to run a complex operation.

"It's deadly, there have been firefighters and law enforcement officers who have been killed by electrocution in Canada and the United States from these types of grows," said Massenkoff.

A battalion chief was nearly electrocuted in Pittsburg. That's why the Jan. 24 incident is the catalyst for a new policy in Contra Costa. When it comes to fires in grow houses, it will be hands off.

"In the case of this structure, what we did is we had ladder trucks on two sides of the building, shooting water from higher up in a fog pattern. Without a person actually holding onto it," said Contra Costa Fire Capt. Robert Marshall.

Contra Costa County estimates they've fought more than 30 fires in grow houses in the past two years -- a number that's climbing rapidly.


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