Local Firefighters Using Little Known Tool To Battle Blazes

A little known tool is going a long way to saving people's property during fires.

The Tyler Fire Department calls them salvage covers, but you probably know them better simply as plastic tarps. These 15x18 ft. tarps can be used to cover furniture, electronics and other valuables, protecting them while firefighters put out the blaze.

In two recent apartment fires in Tyler, the covers helped save thousands of dollars worth of property for tenants.

You'll be hard pressed to get them to admit it, but firefighters do more than just put out fires. They did more than just that in an apartment fire two weeks ago. A bolt of lightning sparked a blaze inside an upstairs unit at the Tanglewood Place Apartments in Tyler.

As residents looked on, firefighters pumped thousands of gallons of water onto the building. What the fire didn't damage you would think all that water would have, but that's not the case.

"The mission of the fire department is to protect lives and property in that order so as soon as we have time and manpower available then we start covering peoples belongings up," said senior captain Joey Wiggins, Tyler Fire Department.

Using plastic tarps, firefighters were able to save more than $20,000 dollars in property from just one man's apartment. Wiggins said the covers don't work in every situation, but when they do, it's worth it.

"There is a priority list, you can look at stuff and see what is expensive plus personal belongings, pictures and things like that," he said. "Definitely we have to put the fire out first, that's the first thing about saving a property, but once the fire is out you can save more property by keeping the water off of it."

Captain Wiggins said learning how to use the covers is an important part of their training. He said the results are something that can't be taught.

"It helps businesses get back in service faster and it helps families get back in their house faster, it's a great tool."

The Tyler Fire Department doesn't keep any hard numbers on how often they use the tarps, or any dollar figure on how much property they have helped save. They say when they have the time and the manpower, they'll always attempt to save as much property as they can.

Tyler is not alone in this effort. Most larger fire departments use some type of salvage covers.

Chris Gibson, reporting