1This is an excerpt from my next book, love some feedback.
We admitted we were powerless over fire and that fire was unmanageable:
How can something so terrifying be so attractive? I’m not talking marriage, I mean firefighting. You have all heard the expression “We run into burning buildings while everyone else is running away.”
We really would run, but from the start of a firefighting career to the conclusion, it is beat in to us not to run. It’s so hard. We want to get in there so bad and go to work, and that is the essence of our addiction to fire.
We are powerless over fire, just like huge moths dressed in hundreds of dollars of protective gear we are pulled into the flames. I don’t believe a normal person can see fire the way we do. We live for that call. If I could have gone down to a street corner in the middle of the night with a hundred bucks in my pocket and bought a two or three alarm fire and taken it home and used it, I would have been homeless in a few weeks.
I would have pawned shit for it. The progression or tolerance I would have built up for fire would surely rival crack, heroin, and alcohol.
I can see myself, haggard, unshaven, shaking in the cold and dark. Stumbling down the back ally in the worst part of town seeking a fix.
Me. “Hey what do you got?”
Fire Dealer. “I got some good stuff man. I got a three alarm warehouse fire. I got a, apartment fire, on a winter night.”
He checks the inside of his coat while I pace and rub my rough face with a cold hand.
“You know I don’t like it cold man.”
“Okay, just asking. Let’s see what else I got. You look like you hurting man.”
“Just tell me what you got man; I got a hundred to spend.”
He steps back a bit. “A hundred? That ain’t gonna get much.” He reaches in his pants pocket. “How about a garage fire?”
“Come on man, don’t do me like that. I’m a fireman, I’m a pro, a garage fire ain’t shit man. I can’t get a buzz on that. I’ll give you my badge how about that?”
“Your damn badge? What am I gonna do with a badge? Get a free burger and fries? I don’t want your tin man. What else you got?”
Frantic I dig through my pockets. Then I feel it. My Saint Florian medal, my children gave it to me to keep me safe in fires.
“How about this? It’s pure silver. Feel it man it’s like three ounces or more.”
He takes it from me as I look around the alleyway. He bounces it up and down in his palm, then flips it over and reads the inscription. “You will always come home to us Daddy with this. Love your children. That’s kinda sick man; you wanna give this up for some fire?”
“Well? Is it worth something or not?”
He shakes his head. “Man you’re supposed be some kind of hero, how can you do this?”
“You gonna judge me now? You don’t know what this is like man. You’ve never been in there with the beast; you don’t know what its roar sounds like, what its claws feel like on your neck. You never found a child and carried them away from the beast to safety. I need it.”
He stares blankly at me and then reaches in his coat and pulls out a bag.
“Here you go man; it’s an all hands fire. Enjoy.” He turns and strolls away bouncing the medal in his hand.
Some part of me knows I would have done it if I could have. I became a fireman by accident. I don’t remember having any particular fascination with fire suppression as a child. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a fascination with fire.
Next is the skin, it tingles at the knowing. The game is at hand. You feel your gear. The weight of the air pack straps on your shoulders. The tightness of your harness around your belly. The bite of the helmet into your forehead. Your gloves are tight and inflexible right now, they aren’t wet yet. Your boots are dry as well; no sweet or leakage has dampened your socks.
At the same time all your pores have begun to leak excess moisture, you sweat because the gear is thick and insulated and because your heart is at full speed. Already your body is at the ready. The air rushing in and out of your lungs feels thicker, it’s hard to force it through your nostrils, so your mouth pops open.
That nagging lower back from this morning or the stiff shoulder from flag football, all disappear. The warm bath of adrenalin has started to pour over all your little aches. That doesn’t mean they are gone, no, it means, depending on the job (that’s what we call it a “job”) not only will the back or shoulder pain return, but it will bring friends with it, a gift from the fire.
Every muscle seems to do a self check. The quads in your legs flex and tighten. The Pecs in your chest announce they’re ready to go with a not so subtle twitch. Teeth test each other in a jaw clinch. The gloves are softening up now from the constant clinching and relaxing. Your back pulls tight and tests the security of your air supply. Then you smell it.
The beast does have a hygiene problem. But each incarnation of the beast gives off different clues. The nose of a veteran fireman is as good as any CSI ever will be.
A burning house smells dissimilar than a warehouse, a trash fire smells unlike that of trash in a fireplace. A fireplace reeks of timber, a car of gasoline and plastic. A light ballast odor is more acrid than an electrical outlet. Food on the stove announces itself blocks away. And flesh, I pray you never know that one.
The other senses have to be patient, you have to get there to hear and taste the nasty thing waiting for you.