I have had quite a few friends ask me if I wanted to be involved in the most destructive fire in the History of Colorado and the short answer is hell yeah I wanted to be involved.
I think the feelings I had were mixed. Did I want to be working 16 hour shifts swinging a Polaski? No, I did not. Did I want to sleep in a sleeping bag on an asphalt parking lot? No once again. Did I want to choke on dirt and smoke to the point my eyes turned redder than a drunk’s on Sunday morning? No.
What did I want to be involved in then? I wanted to be involved in Tuesday night’s action, that is when I felt it. That excitement that only firefighters and junkies can know. That insane pull that something outside of you can have on you.
I was monitoring the radio transmissions of my old friends that night when 65 mile per hour winds pushed the beast down on top of them. I heard the eerie voices of men and women I know well coming from my computer.
You would have never know by listening to just their voices, what was really happening up there on the side of a mountain that night. A friend of mine from recruit academy days was the IC that night of one of the divisions that had been strategically placed in harm’s way. I listened as way old pal calmly gave reports on the fires behavior. Never a hint of what he was really seeing (we would days later know exactly what they were facing). Then I heard it, an ever subtle change in his voice that would have gone unnoticed by 99% of people.
But I heard it. His octave was up a bit and just a hint of stress, as he ordered his guys to “Bug Out”. A Bug Out in firefighter parlance means get your asses out of there and fall back to a safe distance.
And suddenly I felt like a junkie about to ring the doorbell at my dealer’s house. My mouth went dry and I rushed to my front door yanked it open and stared out at the mountain just a few miles away. Freaking smoke obscured my view. I ran back to my computer, unplugged it from the power cord and ran back outside and across the street.
I stood there staring out at the dull orange glow that was back lighting the smoke and I listened. Then I heard a voice I didn’t recognize. It was foreign to me, and I heard this man report that he was having a personal conflict with one of the IC’s Chief Schanel, my Chief for many years, and this voice said that they didn’t agree with Schanel’s decision making and that they were going to move another location.
Very strange I thought. Why would you announce over an open channel that you were having a dispute with a commanding officer and that you were not going to do what he was asking?
Then a few minutes later I heard Schanel give the command to his troops that they were going to hold the line, that they were going to make a stand and that they would not let the fire pass.
My neighbors that all know I’m former firefighter had now begun to cluster around me and watch as well. Then it hit me, these guys that were redeploying themselves didn’t live here, I don’t know where they came from or who they were, but this fire wasn’t consuming their city or their houses, no it was just a damn big scary fire and then ran.
Then I wished so hard and prayed so hard that somehow I could be magically be transported to the fire, that God would reach down his hand and pick me up and drop me right in the fire, right next to my old friends. That I could somehow replace the runners. I would have gladly stood with my old friends and fought for my city, fought for my friends, and fought that freaking fire.
But God didn’t answer my prayers. But he did answer many others. Not a single firefighter suffered an injury worth reporting, or if they had they didn’t complain about it. 80% of the homes affected were saved, and they were saved by the men and women of the firefighters that live in Colorado. Denver fire, Manitou Springs fire, Colorado Springs fire and many more I am not aware of at this writing.
One thing I know for sure is that since my retirement I have never wanted to be a firefighter again as much as I have the past week. It has been killing me to just watch. Damn I retired too soon. I will share more in the days to come.