Homeowner, fire department address issues with gate after house fire

They believe gate malfunctioned, but not because of siren-operated sensor

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - A gated community has been in the spotlight since a home was struck by lightning Monday and burned down. It happened at the Enclave neighborhood inside the Wortham Oaks neighborhood in northeast Bexar County.

Neighbors originally told the Defenders they thought a malfunctioning gate slowed response time. Thursday, the homeowner and the responding fire department addressed issues with the gate and commented on whether that slowed response times.

That stormy Monday turned into the night Jerry Maestas almost lost everything.

"We were sitting and watching the lightning and the storm from our bedroom. Then, we heard a loud pop, like a firework going off. The kids started yelling, ‘Fire, fire.’ I went outside to look. The right side of the house was in flames, so I yelled for everyone to get out," Maestas said.

The whole family made it out, including two children, 10 and 12 years old, and three pets. Once Maestas knew everyone was safe, his concern turned to his community's gate.

"In the past, we've had some electrical storms. The gates have malfunctioned or not opened," he said.

Maestas immediately ran to check the gates to make sure emergency vehicles would be able to get through.

"I saw a line of folks trying to get in," he said. "The exit gate was about one or two feet open, but it was stuck there and there were one or two cars waiting to leave. There's a little container there with a hand crank, so I got that immediately and started just hand-cranking it open," he said.

Neighbors previously said the siren-operated sensor, or SOS, at the gate was not working and delayed the response time of firefighters. Thursday, Ken Jarvis with the Bexar-Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department said that was not the case.

"Our incident commander was the first to get there. We got to the gate and there were cars, civilian cars between us and the gate, and we had to get them moved through so we could get to the scene," Jarvis said.

The Bexar-Bulverde fire chief said when they got there, Maestas was already hand-cranking the gate open, so they didn't stop that process.

Thursday, neighbors who helped during the fire said after the gate was cranked, emergency sirens did alert the sensors.

"It didn't really contribute materially to our response time. It did slow us a little but we still made it," Jarvis said.

Maestas agreed, it was too late anyway.

"In a matter of minutes, they lost their home. It was pretty well lost by the time we got there," Jarvis said. "It makes me sick to think about."

Maestas is convinced for a short window of time, the gate wasn't working properly and has alerted the management company. He never made a complaint to the Bexar County Fire Marshal's Office because he didn't believe the SOS was the issue.

The Defenders checked out inspection records, and the two most recent inspections showed no problems. One was the annual inspection in December, and the other was this week after the fire at Maestas's house.

Jarvis also explained the SOS protocol. If the SOS system was to fail, the Fire Marshal's Office has required homeowners’ organizations to set up a specific pin code so responders can open gates with the keypad.

Responders ask the public to pull aside if they are waiting at a gate when emergency vehicles arrive. If the siren does not activate the sensor, they can get to the keypad to open it.

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