The run came in at that point in your sleep when you’re just starting to feel like you’re getting some rest. My first thought, “There goes the rest of the night.” Even if this was a false alarm, we’d be back in 10 minutes but the few hours of solid sleep that could be had that night were gone. We’d already had 3 fires that shift, one during the day and two earlier in the night. This would be our 4th.
That day E-54’s crew were all regulars: Our FEO, (Fire Engine Operator) who was just a few months short of retirement. Lt., with 27 years on the job, he was a well seasoned firefighter and calm, cool boss. G and I, the two firefighter on the back end. Our FEO stood about 5’11” and both Lt. & G were 6’4” or 6’5”. Then there was me, a whopping 5’4 ½”.
When people saw us get off the rig that song from Sesame Street went through their mind. “ One of these things is not like the other.” Just the sight of a female firefighter surprised many people, but being so much shorter than the rest of the crew really caught their attention.
When we got on scene, fire was blowing out the window in the right rear of the house, probably a bedroom. It was my stretch, so I grabbed the bundle and started pulling hose. G kicked the door open with one powerful motion. This was something he was famous for. It was rare for G need a second kick on any door.
Things moved quickly. Our masks were on, and we had water fast. I took the line to the right and G began a search to the left. Lt. was feeding line from the door.
The house had been closed up tight. It was filled with a particularly thick black smoke. The fire that had started in the bedroom, extended down the hall and was just starting to roll into the living room.
I made my way through the maze of living room furniture, reached the hallway and opened the pipe. G had searched the living room yell out a “this room’s clear” and move on to the next room.
I was just short of the bedroom door when Lt. came to back me up.
There’s a point in the process of putting out a fire where the heat is most intense. Water isn’t hitting the heart of the fire yet. All the heat is pushing out a doorway or around a corner, and you’re just beyond that door or corner, right in the heat. Experience tells us just keep moving forward, conditions will get better. Water will hit the seat of the fire and the intensity will diminish. We call this making the corner.
This wasn’t a particularly intense fire, I was able to move down the hall standing. Just short of making the corner, I had only slightly pulled my shoulders in to hunker in against the heat, no need to crawl on this one.
Lt. grabbed the line behind me with one hand, and with the other gave me a quick tap on the back, to let me know he was there. Seconds later Lt said “It’s a hot one Sheryl, get down.” I’m thinking Lt’s lost his mind.
I didn’t react, and he said it again, “Get down Sheryl”.
I moved forward, making the corner just as Lt’s massive hand was on my shoulder pulling me down. Again I’m thinking “What he hell is he talking about?” I took a knee anyway. Maybe there was something Lt. realized that I didn’t.
We were hitting the seat of the fire now and a short time later it was nearly out. All that was let was to hit a few hot spots and check to be sure fire didn’t get in the ceiling. We got back to our feet.
Word reached us the house was clear, no person found. The smoke in the bedroom was cleared enough for us to see there wasn’t a body in there either. No one had been home when the fire began.
Back at quarters, reports were completed, we washed up, and packed up our bedding. The night was over. Only a few hours of sleep again that shift.
We gathered at the table, coffee in hand, to wait for the next day’s crew to relieve us. I started giving the Lt. a little good hearted shit about the fire being hot. He said “I was burning up.”
I came back with “Well old man, it’s finally happened. You’ve lost your mind.” This was a particularly good jab since I’m only a few years younger than him.
“You didn’t think that was hot?”.
“No. I was standing the whole time, until you told me to get down.”
Having been the tall guy on the line with a short girl for so many years, G knew right away what the confusion was.
When you fight a fire, the person on the nozzle takes the brunt of the heat. For the second guy who is shielded by the first, the heat isn’t as intense. With Lt being a foot taller than me, his head and shoulders weren’t shielded. Since heat raises, his head was also in a much hotter part of the room than mine.
None of this occured to us. Based on what he was feeling and knowing the person on the pipe is usually being blasted with heat, he was sure I was burning myself. He pulling me down to keep me from blistering my neck and ears.
So what can we learn from this? At times the intensity of a situation can be a matter of perspective. When things don’t fit into your normal, you can perceive them as more intense than they really are. Input from someone with a different perspective can often help you see the reality of a situation.
Either that, or Lt. really is loosing it.