Monday, March 12, 2007

Part One

The following story is entirely true. It happened to me early in my career, in fact I was on probation at the time. I learned several very important lessons that I continue to use in my career there.

The alarm sounded in the station. Being young and new I rushed to the engine (fire engine/pumper), and hoped it was a real fire. I have found since that a lot, if not all, of the "new guys" want to have fires. Now that I am older I want a safe shift and a chance to sleep all night. Over the speakers in the station the dispatcher said it was a house fire. She said it was called in by a neighbor who saw smoke next door.

I was on the first engine to arrive. The house was fairly new, in a nice section of the city. It was a single story, with about 3000 square feet of living space. We knew based on the layout and the district that it had an attached garage that opened to the rear alley. As we arrived the lieutenant told dispatch he could see smoke from the rear of the house.

The lieutenant ordered us to pull a cross-lay. A cross-lay is a 1-3/4" hose line that is pre-connected to the pump, and stacked so that it lays across the width of the engine in the middle. It can be pulled from either the right or left side. He wanted to take the line to the front door. Our goal was to go in, find the fire, attack it and keep it from moving from the rear toward the rest of the house.

There were four of us on the engine that day, the Lt., the pump operator/driver, myself and another firefighter. The other firefighter was not about to let me have the nozzle, so I was forced to open the door. We were fully dressed in our turnout gear, breathing apparatus and helmets. I used a spanner tool to break the glass in the front door and reached in to open it.

As we entered the house, the smoke was very thin, and only down to the level of our waists. It was almost like walking into a bar on Friday night. We knew the fire was in the rear, so we moved that way. Directly in front of us was the living room area. To our right was the kitchen and dining room. We moved to the back of the living room, found nothing and started to the right into the dining room. That is where we found the door to the garage.

I reached up and touched the door with my gloved hand. It was hot. I told the Lt. and Don the firefighter. We all knew we would find the fire behind the door. At this point I asked Don if he Was ready. He nodded he was. I was upright on my knees at the door and opened it. What we didn't know at that point was that the seat of the fire was directly behind this door. It had fully involved the garage with wall to wall and floor to ceiling flame. When I opened the door, the fire engulfed me. I hit the floor in pain.

Visibility in the house up to that point had been fair. When we entered we could see the ceiling above us, and if we got on our knees we could see across the room. After I opened the door, the thick black smoke and high heat shot out of the garage and banked down to the floor. Visibility was now gone. And it was hot. Real hot. Fingers of flame danced above us.

Don was on the nozzle and I was behind him now. Don was putting water into the garage, and up toward the ceiling. The Lt. was behind me on the radio yelling for another hose line. It had become so hot that we lay down prone on the floor to escape the heat. What was worse, we were being pushed back from the garage by the heat. My face around my mask was burning. The fire that jumped out as I opened the door had burnt me.

About this time Dons' low air alarm on his SCBA(self contained breathing apparatus) went off. That meant he needed to get out before he ran out of air. The alarm was basically a bell like on the old wind up alarm clocks. The Lt. told me to take the nozzle as he grabbed the hose behind me to back me up. He ordered Don to follow the hose out. I heard Don's bell ringing and getting further away. And then it began to get closer again. Don had circled and came back to us. He cursed, and left again. His bell got softer and softer and then louder and louder again. He was lost on the hose and couldn't find his way out. The Lt. told me to hold the fire, he was taking Don out.

Right, hold the fire. We hadn't at all held the fire yet, how was I supposed to do it alone?

So there I was alone, where I couldn't see, slightly burnt. The next engine had arrived and were stretching a line in to help.

And it was getting hotter.

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