The day began as it normally did for UC Davis students Nick Balardi and Mark Goering — a 5:15 a.m. departure from their campus dorm on Russell Boulevard to catch a ride to crew practice in West Sacramento.
But the morning of Feb. 5 progressed somewhat differently, starting with the acrid smell of smoke in the air.
A volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Nevada City, “I was like, this isn’t quite right,” Goering said. “It definitely didn’t smell like a wood-burning fire, so I figured it had to be a building or trash.”
Although it was still dark outside and they risked being late to practice, Balardi and Goering decided to ride their bikes along Russell Boulevard to investigate further.
“Right after we crossed Russell Boulevard we noticed there was a lot of smoke in the air,” said Balardi, a Chico native whose community service includes achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. About 300 yards down the street, “we saw the building with the smoke coming out of it.”
The 18-year-old freshmen were the first to notice a storage shed that had caught fire at the Orchard Park apartment complex. Goering used his cell phone to call 911, which brought police and fire crews to the scene.
Fire Chief Nathan Trauernicht said the fire, believed to have been started accidentally by a squatter who was staying in the unit, caused about $20,000 in damage but could have been much worse had it not been for Balardi and Goering’s quick thinking.
“The actions of these young men embody what we hope all citizens will do when they encounter something unusual,” Trauernicht said. “They cautiously investigated, called 911, and were able to get resources to mitigate the hazard to the scene quickly. By doing so they helped drastically reduce the loss potential.”
Despite the unexpected detour, Balardi and Goering made it to crew practice on time.
“I thought it was pretty exciting,” Balardi said of the incident. “It definitely woke me up.”
Goering, who is considering applying for UCD’s student firefighter program, said his past training came in handy that morning.
“It helped me stay calm through the whole thing,” he said.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene