I jumped off the truck ready to go. We were first in, and the garage was fully involved. As my feet hit the ground running, I placed my helmet on my head and something wasn’t right. It didn’t fit. I instantly remembered you wearing it around the house a day earlier. I had brought my gear home with me as I was at a different station the last shift, and in the few days I was home you enjoyed wearing it…playing firefighter around the house. And I instantly remembered The Blessing in a Helmet. No time to pause for a prayer tonight though. Lots of fire and not much time before it spreads to the house. Gotta get moving…no shame in a quick prayer on the go.
So I took the helmet off my head and readjusted it on the go, placing it back on my head just as the nozzle from the crosslay being pulled off the truck fell into my hand. It was a long stretch to the front door, so I went on air as I was walking to the door and made entry with my partner right behind me. It was dark and smoky. Visibility was limited…I could see my hand in front of my face and that’s about it. As I lowered myself to a semi-crawl/walk position it wasn’t much better, but I could make out objects in the room. I knew the direction I needed to go, and I turned right…toward the fire.
It took what seemed like forever to work my way through the first two rooms…it was probably 2-3 minutes from the front door to the fire. At one point I looked to my right and saw the front window…I shouldn’t be seeing that…I should be further back into the house already. A few more steps. Why am I at what seems like a fireplace facing the wrong direction? Another minute. Man I’m breathing hard…I gotta slow down and conserve my air. Keep moving forward…I can hear it now. It’s getting louder. I’m in the kitchen, I can see what looks like a cupboard. A few more steps. I’m in a closet. No a bathroom. Nope, a walk-in pantry. No, this is a mud room. Either way, it’s small. And there it is. Fire above me.
We start pulling ceiling and fire is raining down on us. What a sight…we found it. Let’s do this. Water on the fire. The guys behind me are pulling more ceiling, and it’s quickly obvious we need to move. The fire is behind us. It’s moving the attic behind us and threatening to move beyond our ability to control it. As I’m backing out, I turn around and with the nozzle still in hand run into someone. He’s trying to pull the nozzle out of my hand. I resist and pull it back. He keeps pulling and is yelling at me to give it to him. Firefighting 101…don’t ever hand over your nozzle unless you’re prepared to never get it back. It’s the Captain…I better give it to him.
After he hits the attic behind us I take my nozzle back and move. We’ve found the door from the kitchen into the garage. Still lots of fire out here, but I can see crews working it from the outside too. Below me, just outside the threshold of the door is what looks like a wood platform. I sound it and step onto it cautiously…yep, we’re good. Let’s do this. As I’m moving the nozzle back and forth, I hear a “pop” and see a bright flash to my left when the water hits the side wall. Must be some live electric wires there…mental note…let’s stay away from that. (Turns out later it was the main electric panel for the house, and I fried it with that short burst. I was close enough, and using enough of a straight stream, that I’m lucky it didn’t juice me.)
We’re knocking a lot of fire down when I ever so slightly lose my balance. Taking a quick step to my right, I put my arm up to catch myself on the wire railing…and it gives way. I fall off the platform and catch myself on a wall about 3 feet from it. I’m hanging off the platform, one foot dangling and one arm grasping for a hold of something to push myself up against. I’m still holding the nozzle, with my left foot still on the platform. My right foot is not touching the bottom of this hole, so I know it’s at least a four foot drop. I’m looking down to my right, and I see fire. Lots of fire. It’s all I can see, and I know that if I fall off this thing I’m going to land in right in it.
I can’t put into words the various thoughts that crossed my mind in those moments. Suffice it to say, for a few seconds I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. And if I did, it was sure to hurt like hell. Would my kids still love me all burned and scarred? Holy hell, I don’t really want to get burned today. It’s amazing to me how quickly so many thoughts can instantly pass through the mind. And yet all the while I’m struggling to stay up on that stinking platform. I start yelling. And I throw my left arm up in the air and yell for the guy standing on the platform to pull me back up.
I’m glad my partner was paying attention. According to him, he was behind another firefighter who followed me out onto the platform. He turned to look behind him and in the instant his head was turned, he looked back my direction and I was gone. He stepped out onto the platform and saw me struggling. Saw my outstretched arm and heard me yelling for help. Moving past the other guy standing there he grabbed my arm and gave me the leverage I needed to pull myself up, as he pulled to assist me. When I was back on the platform, I was sitting with my legs dangling off the front of it, like a kid with his feet dangling off the dock at the lake.
It was a great position to fight some more fire. The last fire I fought that night was fought sitting on my butt. Not for long, though. The debris on that platform was still burning. And within moments, it was burning my butt. Mental note…protective fire gear will in fact burn. Might take longer to feel it on your tush, but it does burn.
Afterward, I walked through the house and got to see where we were in a better light. Turns out my fall would have only been about 3-4 feet, so I easily could have pulled myself right back up. I was never really in any danger of being hurt, and it certainly was not a close call, by any definition. Just reinforces to me what’s important…and that when your helmet doesn’t fit, a quick prayer on the go never hurts.