Monday, January 16, 2012

I Remember Strange Things from the Streets!

30 plus years on the streets leads to strange recollections. I fought many fires on freezing ass cold nights. It is so strange to be spraying water on the only source of warmth you can find on a cold night. Early in my career I had the chance to work with some amazing old timers, men that knew fire in its true wild state.

Men that were free of the burdens of modern life. Political correctness, customer service, equal opportunity, and didn't question their actions in the battle with fire, they were firemen. I know that term pisses some off and the correct moniker is firefighter, but these guys didn't care, they put the shit out.

I was at a fire on a night straight out of Antarctica, wind, snow, and so cold. You see when you spray the water on a night like that it’s kind of the same way they make snow at ski resorts.  You mist water into freezing air and I know this sounds strange it freezes.

It freezes everywhere, on the ground, on the building, on the trucks and on you. We were already wearing a hundred pounds of gear, and now it becomes covered in ice. Which is cool, it adds a layer of insulation and actually helps keep you warm, but damn it gets heavy.

If you have ever seen the TV show Deadliest Catch with the crab fishermen in Alaska, I’m sure seen how the ice builds up on their ships, same thing with us. Anyway this craggy old chief I’m working for that night spots me putting water on an isolated contained fire in the structure.

“New guy” he yelled at me, he didn’t know my name. “Leave that go.” Funny phrasing but that’s the way he said it. “Leave that go.” “Okay chief.” I turned the hose away from the fire, and leave it go. I’m not gonna ask him why, I was stupid but not that stupid. So later in the night my crew got a break from the fight, Red Cross had showed up to help and was handing out coffee and snacks to keep us going.
The first thing you notice is you can’t let go of the hose, it’s frozen to your arms. I had the hose tucked under my right armpit, and now the ice had covered me and the hose. I couldn’t straighten out my arms either; they were locked in position by the ice.

I had to crack lose, chunks of ice fell from me. Pretty cool I thought, never seen anything like that before. Never heard my arms cracking or almost pulled my feet out of my boots because they were also locked in ice. My legs were stiff with ice, I felt like the Tin Woodsman from Wizard of Oz.

The senior guys laughed at me as I acknowledge my difficulties, being seasoned vets they already knew the drill. Valuable lesson, never act like it’s your first time with any experience on the fire ground, pretend you’ve done it before even if you haven’t.

I was getting a cup with my boys and the chief says “Warm up boys, not too much.” Now the little fire I let go came into play, he left it going so we could go by it and warm up, it was the last part of the fire to be extinguished.

Another lesson about winter fires was at hand. The comment to warm a little went unnoticed by myself. The fire felt so good. I got nice and close and enjoyed its warmth. Soon I was defrosting and feeling much better. The vets had left me alone at the fire, I assumed it was just a new guy thing.

Break ended and back to the firefighting. Holy cow, what had been ice returned to water, cold water, freezing water in fact and it had permeated my gear right down to the skin. Then it began to refreeze right along with me.

See you can warm up a bit at a winter fire, but never defrost, never thaw out until you are back at quarters. By the end of my career I carried a winter jump kit on the truck with me every day. I had 3 pairs of socks, 3 changes of gloves, and extra hood for my head and a spare tee shirt.

When we got a break I would change socks and gloves out in the truck, throw my wet stuff on the dashboard defroster and by the next break that stuff would be dry and warm. Unlike the vets I worked with I tried to share this information with my new guys, some listened the first time, some just did it the second time.

More strange stuff tomorrow.


November Rain - k~ said...

When I was working on a llama ranch, it got cold, and we got wet. The freezing part is something I am familiar with enough to appreciate that I would NOT want a giant hose spraying water in the middle of that kind of cold! I appreciate the people like you, that have done their share of freezing, frying, and working your arse off to get the job done. I could picture the scenario you set up, and I have to wonder why the vets did not warn the newbies, seems a little cruel to me.

Thank you for another journey through the firefighter's day!

Fireman said...

As always thanks Rain, welcome Carole, Ann, Mez, Eleanor.