By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A burning belt on an air-conditioning unit caused a lot of excitement but did little damage to the Dollar General store on South Main Street last Friday, September 6.
City police blocked off one lane of South Main as three fire engines, including Atmore Fire Department’s ladder truck, filled the store’s parking lot shortly after 7:30 a.m. Curious onlookers stood in the parking lot of the adjacent McDonald’s restaurant and at several stores across the street and watched as the incident unfolded.
Firefighters used the ladder truck to get onto the roof and gain access to the burning belt as acrid smoke began to fill the store’s interior. Other firemen pulled tiles from the ceiling to make sure the fire hadn’t gotten into the ductwork.
After the fire was extinguished, an exhaust fan was used to pull the smoke from the building, and the business began welcoming customers again about an hour later.
Angela Koym, the store’s assistant manager, was the first employee in the store Friday morning.
“We had gotten our delivery this morning, and I was just putting up freight,” Koym said as firefighters went in and out of the building. “It started smelling really strong, like burnt tires, after one of the A/C units kicked on.”
Koym said she did a quick survey of the store to see if she could determine the source of the smell. When she was unable to do so, she called the fire department.
“First, I walked around the building and checked the stuff I thought might be getting hot,” she said. “I didn’t find anything, and that’s when I called.”
Fire Chief Ron Peebles said the cooling unit’s “motor, or squirrel cage, locked up, causing the belt to burn.” He added that the relatively minor fire “smoked the store up pretty good.”
Peebles pointed out that AFD protocol calls for dispatch of the department’s ladder truck when a fire is reported at any commercial location. He said the arrangement worked out well in this instance, as the store’s ladder was missing.
“We always send the ladder truck when it’s a commercial fire,” he said. “It was a good thing we had it this time, because we wouldn’t have been able to get on the roof if we hadn’t.”