In the middle of the night, when Bob Buch was about 6 years old, he clearly remembers his father’s fire department radio waking him up whenever there was a fire in town.
“I was ready to go,” he said, adding that he wanted to help his father, a Darien firefighter, any way he could.
“My dad would drive to the scene. I had to stay in the car or next to the car,” Buch said. “I would always try to help with cleanup.”
Buch said he always knew he wanted to stay involved in the fire department when he grew up and has stayed true to his word.
He’s in his 38th year volunteering for the Noroton Fire Department, and a past chief. He is also the only fire marshal for the town of Darien.
“I grew up in the fire service in Darien. My dad [who shares Bob’s name] was a past chief and past president in the Darien Fire Department,” said Buch, who now lives in Norwalk. “I was at the firehouse all the time. I used to go to calls with my father as a little kid, and then when I was 18, I joined the Noroton Fire Department.”
There are no paid firefighters in Darien; all are volunteer. Among the three fire departments — Noroton, Noroton Heights, and Darien — there are close to 90 active firefighters in town.
The Noroton Fire Department gets about 300 calls per year, Buch said.
Buch’s son, who shares his name, is also a firefighter, with the Milford Fire Department, as well as an assistant chief of the Noroton Fire Department.
Buch has worked in the fire marshal’s office for almost 34 years, and has been a fire marshal for 22 years.
As fire marshal, Buch said that unless he receives a specific complaint, “we are completely independent of the three fire departments in town. We do all fire investigations throughout the town, for origin and cause of any fire.”
Buch also conducts inspections of construction projects and fire investigations for every type of building other than one- and two-family homes.
He inspects all buildings for codes, according to a schedule. This includes residential and multi-family properties, assisted living facilities, places of assembly, restaurants, bars, and churches, as well as day-care facilities and schools.
He looks for possible hazards that can potentially cause a fire, such as storage in a stairway, use of extension cords, and emergency lighting units that are not operable. “You almost always find some kind of violation,” he said.
Aside from Buch, the fire marshal’s office consists of a full-time deputy fire marshal/emergency management director, three part-time fire inspectors, and a part-time fire inspector/blight officer.
Another aspect of Buch’s job as fire marshal is resolving hoarding and blight situations.
“Hoarding is a disease or mental disorder and it takes time to get people to finish compliance with it,” Buch said. “We work very close with the director of human services with hoarding issues. Our goal is to insure the hoarders are safe in their house, have working smoke detectors, and can easily get in and out of their exits.”
Putting out the fire
When there is a fire, “We go through what caused the fire and try to determine if it was done intentionally, accidentally, or if it was from some type of malfunction of a piece of equipment,” said Buch, a father of three grown children.
He added that if people accidentally set a fire, “they may be afraid to admit it because their insurance company may not pay for damage or loss. They are afraid to get in trouble.”
Fires can take anywhere from an hour to several days to put out, depending on the extent of damage, according to Buch.
“If there is a very small fire in the kitchen, sometimes you can wrap it up fairly quickly,” said Buch, adding however, that with a larger fire, it can sometimes take a long time to find the cause.
He said most fires are of an accidental nature. The main causes, according to Buch, are faulty or older wiring, a problem with an appliance, and improper use of extension cords.
He added that while he’s certified to conduct fire investigative work, the Darien Police Department also has a certified investigator to do that kind of work.
One way to avoid a fire is not to overuse extension cords, Buch said.
“If you don’t have enough outlets, people tend to use extension cords,” Buch said. “They tend to use a zip cord, which is a very thin extension cord. At the end of it, you can plug multiple devices into it.”
He said that any extension cord is designed for temporary use, and aren’t designed to be used in place of electrical outlets. They can overheat and can potentially burn.
If extra outlets are needed, he said to contact an electrical contractor to add them.
Another large cause of fires is the improper disposal of fireplace ashes.
“The ashes from the fireplace may seem like they are cool and you want to clean them out. Instead of using a metal bucket, many people use a paper or plastic garbage bag or pail, and if you touch the ashes, they seem cool to you,” Buch said. “But as you compact them in the bag, and bunch them together in a tight and close space, they are still actually very warm. The tighter they get, the more heat they generate and they will start to burn.”
Buch said he loves coming to work. “You are not doing the same things every day. Our priorities can change at the drop of a hat. It’s a lot of interaction with people.”