Burning Sofa Could Have Produced Tragic Unintended Consequences

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Setting fire to a sofa in the middle of Buffalo Street during the winter's first and only snowfall could have had truly tragic consequences.

The region's only ladder truck, belonging to the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department, became stuck attempting to leave a house fire on Fifth Avenue to respond to the burning sofa.

Had there been a second structure fire while the ladder truck was stuck…

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In particular, had there been a fire in a Longwood University dorm, especially in one of the high-rise dorms, lives could have been lost.

People could have died.

Those applauding the burning sofa certainly never thought of any such potential consequences. The approximately 200 young people, most of them apparently Longwood University students, regarded themselves as celebrating the snow, hoping to use Buffalo Street for their own sleigh-riding purposes. (And let's suggest right here that Lancer Park must surely possess a hill or two that could be used, perhaps one of them even dedicated for such a purpose by the university, as a sledding venue for LU students when it snows. Lancer Park, with the pedestrian bridge over West Third Street, is safely accessible to all, and without having to drive a vehicle to get there).

My own college days are not so distant that I cannot understand the point of view of those gathered in Buffalo Street on February 19, though I cannot imagine responding to snow by setting fire to a sofa anywhere, much less in the middle of a town street. When one is 19 or 20-years old it can be difficult to look beyond the unbridled moment at hand toward possible unintended consequences.

So I am not going to ask, How could that have happened? I know how it could have happened. I think if we look inside ourselves and are honest, we all understand how it could have happened. We have all, at one time or another, acted as if we had left our brains at home.

Nobody, surely, is more thankful that the burning sofa and what followed did not result in injury or death than those responsible for the flaming couch. We join their thankfulness, the thought of what might have happened still sending shivers down our spine.

The ladder truck had to wait for a heavy-duty tow truck from out of town to drive through the snowstorm. With the first snowfall of the year, more than one person might have decided to light a fire in a little-used fireplace or woodstove with a chimney filled with combustible creosote. There easily could have been a second house fire.

The tow truck driver could have had an accident that took his own life or the lives of others in a collision on the highway, responding to a call that should never have been made. There were more than 30 accidents in our area on that snow-filled Sunday. Driving was dangerous.

Longwood University responded effectively, the following day, to the events on Buffalo Street, letting students know unequivocally that such behavior would not be tolerated. The message must be sent to help ensure such events never happen again.

And the Farmville Police Department admirably handled a truly difficult situation, stretched as thin as they were with so much going on in Farmville as a consequence of the snowstorm.

The words here lack any indictment of Longwood University's students because the overwhelming majority uniformly set such positive examples with their behavior 365 days a year that it would be both wrong and inaccurate to cast such aspersions. Those 200 individuals represented a small percentage of LU's student population and certainly not all of those 200 were doing anything wrong that night.

Let's establish a sledding hill at Lancer Park for future snowstorms and make it clear that anything like what happened on February 19 will result in swifter and more certain punishment for the transgressors.

Firefighters must not be called away from a house fire to combat a sofa set alight in the middle of the street. The region's only ladder truck cannot be lost to use, even temporarily, responding to such a call. Nor should the police be diverted from their other responsibilities.

Lives were not lost but they could have been.

As for the rest of us, let's look for our own life lesson in these events and remember there are unintended consequences for our own actions and behavior, no matter our age or profession.

We are all capable of setting a metaphoric sofa on fire, thinking it's all in good fun.

Think well before the lighter touches upholstery.