Fire. Even as it destroys it enthralls. Sunday. A day long hyper autumn cleaning and organizing, nearing OCD levels. I made myself stop at 6:30 so I could get in a solid workout. I spent an hour on the bike, grinding through a double set of gearing pyramid, followed by 5 minutes of Tabata sprints. Then an hour of upper body and core work with resistance bands, hand weights, kettlebell, and medicine ball. I topped off my day with a nicely vegan dinner of green lentils, quinoa, and rice, with a side of yam, and a cup of Rooibos tea. I had just finished eating, was sipping my tea and pondering a much needed shower when my pager went off. I checked the text from dispatch: Structure Fire. Okay, chances were high that we would be recalled before we got out of the station, but then you never know.
I sped towards the station. Coming up the crest of the hill I saw It. Across the field, flames leaping into the night sky. Damn, this one was close. I would lie if I said I didn't get a surge of adrenaline. Just enough to make my heart beat a little harder, not enough to make me nervous. I did press the accelerator, just a little. At the station, my usual small band of brothers. Big Ed was already climbing into the Tender, we were going to need a lot of water. We pulled on bunker gear, climbed aboard my beloved Engine 485 with Cap'n Eddie at the wheel, and headed into the night with lights and siren announcing our approach.
It was a short ride. We were first engine on scene. The house was fully engulfed at this point, so it was going to be all defensive and fought from the outside so we didn't need to donn airpacks. Captain Jim tells us to grab the 2-1/2" hose, Cap'n Eddie will man the pump, so it's me and Joe on the line. I admit, I am much fitter than Joe. We pull the crosslay, I grab the nozzle and run up the driveway with Joe on my heels. The fire is so damned hot I actually got a blister through my gloves. The heat is amazing. I'm cursing myself for not pulling my hood up all the way, it is just around my neck, but my helmet is doing its job and keeping me from really feeling fried. We get the hose stretched back to the corner, it is fucking hot. Fire is hot. Fire is also mesmerizing.
I call for water and watch the hose swell as the water rushes up the hose at 100psi. I kneel and brace myself, knowing just how much power comes out of the 2-1/2". It is not a hose to easily handle solo. I yell at Joe to back me up. I open up. The pressure pushes me back, but I know its coming so I'm braced and ready. As much water as is flowing, it is still one hose, and a lot of fire. I feel ineffective against such a creature. And g'damn, it's hot. I'm aware of a bulky figure joining us on the hose, almost unrecognizable through the smoke, Paul had come in his own truck. He braced me from behind, a strong, solid guy to have at your back. I yell a greeting to my friend.
It wasn't long before we were joined by Station 9, with Station 3 hot on their heels, and Station 1 just moments behind. Funny thing though, and I've noticed this at other fires; I notice the arrival of other crews, but my focus is so intent on the job at hand that the rest of the world kind of falls away. With our District out in full force it didn't take long to bring the fire under control. We turned our hose over to another crew so we could go grab water and a quick break, the work was just beginning.
What most people don't know about a fire is that dousing the flames is just part of the job. Then comes overhaul, the mop-up. Rubbish hooks and pike poles, tearing down sections of wall and roof to get to hot spots. Looking for smoke, because as they say, "Where there's smoke..." Tear down, rip up, spray with water. Poke around, climb over debris, find coals, spray with water. I worked until I was exhausted, then worked some more. Tear down, rip up, spray with water. The Chief came back and watched Paul and I work. There was a back corner that just kept smoldering, I was beginning to take it personally. I kept tearing shit up, Paul would soak it down. I climbed over piles of wet, black, charred debris, digging with my pike pole, finding coals, having Paul pass me the hose, and soaked that fucker. Then I tore down the remnants of the roof, with its layers of old cedar shingles and covering of newer asphalt shingles. Tear down, rip up, spray with water. Finally, the smoldering stopped. I had won. We had won.
One highlight of the evening was when we all stopped to watch the truckees with the Ladder Truck, up on the ladder, extended over the skeletal remains of the house. With sheer water power, shooting a master stream, they knocked apart the chimney to remove it as a potential falling hazard. As the chimney fell, a cheer went up. Our crew in action. Yes, we love what we do.
Finally we cleared the scene and headed home to Station 8. Engine 485, being first on the scene, had been used to her fullest. Damn near every hose and tool had been pulled off of her and now had to be cleaned and restored before we could go home. As always, being the big happy family that we are, crews from the other stations came by to lend a hand. Hoses washed and reloaded, engine washed and water tank refilled. I was so tired at this point that I couldn't lift my arms above my head. It was 2:30am, Monday morning. Someone brought cookies. They tasted like manna from heaven.
By the time I got home I felt as if I had completed an Ironman. I was tired from head to toe, in ways that no simple workout can ever duplicate. I was wet, cold, and reeked of smoke and sweat. Yeah, I loved it. The hot shower was glorious. Shampooing twice to get the smell out of my hair. Scrubbing my whole body twice with bodywash to remove any potential carcinogens. I ate a simple meal of tea, a bowl of rice, a vegan protein smoothie, a multi-mineral, and an electrolyte capsule. My alarm would be going off in 3 hours, work would be tough enough, the least I could do was refuel my body as if I had done an Ironman.
One of the best decisions I have ever made was listen to that inner childhood dream and become a firefighter. True, I have only been on a few structure fires. Most of my calls are simple medical calls. I tell people that my super power is Hand Holding. But no matter what the call is, I love that I get to go. I love that there is something I do that makes a little bit of a difference in the world. And besides, I get to ride in a Fire Engine!!