Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Fireman Story

I had just a couple months on the job when our Engine company was called to a working fire. It was late morning, not too cold, not too hot, a perfect time of day for a fire. We were second engine in to a fire in a "taxpayer", a two story building with retail on the ground floor and living quarters above. Captain Putze was the boss, I was the cub and glued to his hip.

The Captain was an interesting guy, my first boss on the job. Not the buddy, buddy, type. He always kept to himself and didn't socialize with other firefighters. He was also nearing retirement and spent every off day golfing or in Arizona. He also had the reputation of being a hard-ass and a fireman's fireman. He had seen some serious action in his career and was well respected within the ranks. His nick name was "Digger" because he was also a mortician. Only his friends would use his nick name, I wouldn't dare.

Being second engine in, the crew laid a second line to back up the first-in crew. That left me and the captain to do search and rescue. The fire was on the second floor. We followed the first crew's line up the stairs and paused briefly before entering the room. The first engine was still advancing so we assisted with moving the hose forward. we were getting worried, they still hadn't found the fire and the place wasn't that big. They ended up going through the entire apartment passing up the fire. Our crew was still laying the second line when the Captain crawls into the room, I follow keeping in contact with his boots. The next thing you know he's gone and the room lights up. The scene has played out in my head over and over. It was beautiful, surreal and somehow peaceful. It was like someone had taken a bucket of flaming gasoline and in slow motion poured it across the room. It was coming my way. I remember the finish on the coffee table ignite, it was happening real fast yet it was in slow motion, like the movies. One of the few times I saw a fire that clear and that close. We followed the hose line in and now I was using it as a guide to back out. It was a race with the wall of fire. Just then the hose burst. The fire had burned through it, probably saving my life. It put enough of the fire out to stop it's advance. Being terribly concerned about the Captain I crawled back in following the broken hose-line to the hole and directed the spray onto the rest of the fire. It was out pretty quickly and when it was clear enough to see, me and the first crew went looking for the Captain. He was nowhere to be found. We continued to search when he came strolling in the front door. "Where'd you go Captain", he replied, "out the window", "How far down?" "Three feet, onto the roof next door". I asked him if he knew there was a roof there? "Nope, I was pleasantly surprised".