By TIM KELLY and MADDY VITALE
Social distancing played a role in the fast response and prevention of a potentially serious fire at the Ocean City Tabernacle early Thursday morning.
In the pre-dawn hours, the ballast of a fluorescent lamp apparently overheated and ignited a small fire, according to Tabernacle Pastor Jay Reimer.
The incident occurred in a storage area near the gymnasium at approximately 4:40 a.m., Ocean City Fire Department Chief Jim Smith said.
The mechanism of the light fell to the ground, causing a nearby box of basketballs and other sports equipment to begin smoldering and ignite a small fire.
This in turn set off the smoke detector, as well as the fire alarm at the Tabernacle, located at 550 Wesley Avenue.
“We were very fortunate,” Reimer said. “As you may know, we had some firefighters staying with us, and they took care of it before (the situation escalated).”
In the “old normal” pre-coronavirus pandemic days, a crew of eight firefighters would have been living in close quarters at the Fire Department Headquarters building across Asbury Avenue from the Tabernacle grounds.
Because of social distancing concerns during the pandemic, however, the bunk room beds have been spread out, and three members of the eight-man crew were staying overnight at the Tabernacle, as they have since March 27.
“We’re very thankful to the Tabernacle to open its doors to us,” said Smith. “It’s probably a blessing in disguise they were there. As usual, our guys did a great job.”
Smith said the OCFD members “found smoke and fire” when they arrived at the storage area and that the Tabernacle’s sprinkler system had “held the fire in check” up to that point. The firefighters connected a hose and quickly extinguished the small fire, Smith said.
“They had to stretch the hose out and put the fire out,” he said. “There was minimum damage from the water.”
Had the firefighters not been on site, the outcome could have been entirely different, he added.
“It was fortunate our guys were there to address the fire before (they left for the night) and came back from across the street,” Smith said.