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A Garage Fire

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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.

garage fire

I was making my way to the fire from inside the front door about the time this was taken by a bystander.

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.

Love,

Dad

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The Blessing in a Helmet

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“For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net, or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time, as it suddenly falls on them.” Ecclesiastes 9:12

fire helmet, firefighting

Playing Fireman

I’m in awe. I just got back to the firehouse. Your mom brought the three of you…SD, NE and SI…to the station this afternoon to visit me on my second day of a 48 hour shift, and while you were here, we were dispatched to a motor vehicle crash on the highway. You had been here about 20 minutes, climbing all over the ladder truck as usual…playing firemen…wearing my boots and my helmet. When you wear my helmet, it’s so heavy on your little head that when it’s sized for me, not you, it falls down over your forehead, covering your eyes…so you winch it down to your size, so it fits.

fire helmet, firefighting

Playing Fireman

You have been doing this for months now, maybe even a year or more. I always would forget to enlarge it back to my size after you left, and it used to drive me nuts to slap it on my head, and it not fit. So much so that I’ve not let you play with it as much recently…my OCD kicking in. I’m over that now.

I hate the highway…always have…always will. I’ve been saying it for years…I’d rather run into a burning building than work a wreck on the interstate…any day of the week. As I prepared to step off the truck onto the interstate this afternoon, I grabbed my helmet and was putting it on my head as I opened the door. As I dropped it on my head, I realized it was too small…and I immediately, instinctively thought of you. My mind raced back to the laughter and smiles as you played firefighter in the very same seat, not 5 minutes earlier…to the memory of you standing there waving and saying “I love you” as we drove out…to the thought of you standing by the radio desk at the station, eagerly listening for my voice on the radio. And I paused ever so slightly. Not long…just long enough to make a difference. In that pause, a car raced by at full speed, inches from my open door…me still in my seat. In that moment, I instantly realized the blessing in a helmet that was last on the head of a 5 year old boy.

Have you ever given any thought to what you would do right now if you knew with certainty that tomorrow you would die? Would you act differently? Would you treat people around you differently? Would there be something you’d want to say to those you love? Is there something that you’ve put off doing that would quickly be moved to the front burner? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t?

What’s holding you back? Is it that you think you have more time? That your time’s not up yet? That “it won’t happen to me”? Are you afraid of offending someone? Afraid of embarrassing yourself? Afraid you’d be laughed at?

Get over it. The one certainty in life is this: all things die. You and I are no different. And you don’t know when it’s your time, so what are you waiting for? In the first 12 verses in the ninth chapter of Ecclesiastes, God uses King Solomon to encourage us to enjoy life, despite the death that awaits us. Live today like there is no tomorrow, and instead of living a life full of tomorrows, “what-if’s” and “if only’s”, you’ll live a life full of today’s…a life worthy of the admiration and respect of your fellow man…and more importantly, a life worthy of the approval of the Father. Few people on death’s doorstep look back on their life and have regrets for the opportunities they seized. More often, they regret the missed opportunities…those things they should have done but didn’t. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 16 years in EMS, life is too short to have regrets.

Not saying that my experience on the highway today was a close call…but it was closer than I’d prefer to experience. It was close enough to remind me what’s important. Close enough to remind me there are no guarantees that the next call won’t be my last. It was close enough that I’m over my earlier OCD about my helmet not fitting my head, and will instead encourage you to play with it, rather than be frustrated by it. It was close enough that the next time I put my helmet on after you’ve worn it, I’ll pause when it doesn’t fit my head…say a short prayer for protection…and be just a bit more safe in what I do.

“Good to Be Alive” – Jason Grey

Love,

Dad

P.S.  Within a month of this note, I responded to A Garage Fire and came off the truck with a helmet that didn’t fit.  I believe it was a blessing then too.

Just Another Grass Fire

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I’m laying here in bed at work…wide awake after waking from a dream. It was a dream that was partially rehashing a call we ran earlier today, a grass fire on the side of the highway. By the actual definition of “close call”, it was not. It was a routine call, without further incident. However, I quite honestly consider every time I step off the truck on the highway, and live to tell about it…a close call. I’ve said for years I’d rather run into a burning building with little chance of survival than to step off the truck on the interstate.

Let’s just call it what it is…generally speaking, the general public doesn’t give a single thought to the safety of their firefighters, police officers and paramedics. When they’re driving down the interstate and see my firetruck, their first thought isn’t “hey, I’ll slow down…move over a lane…and do my part to make sure these guys make it home to their wives and kids tomorrow morning.” No, they have somewhere to be, and my firetruck blocking a lane of traffic is impeding their progress. They’re distracted with their cell phone…or the cup of coffee in their hand…or with the radio…or…you get the picture. And honestly, I don’t blame them…completely. Until you’ve stood on the interstate in the middle of the night…in the pouring rain…and watched as cars and semis whiz by you at 70+ mph, within two feet of you, you really just don’t get it. Until you’ve been knocked off balance by the force of the wind from a passing car…or sat in the stopped truck waiting to open the door to get out, as it rocked violently back and forth from the semi that just passed within inches of you…or had the smack on your backside from a passing car’s side-view mirror…you just don’t get it.

So as I lay here, thankful that what transpired on the roadside grass fire in my dream is not what I faced on the highway this afternoon, I’m left with a vivid image of a road sign from my dream…a road sign with a peculiar inscription. On our highway call earlier today, it was a road sign that sat 200 feet in front of us and read it’s a state law to slow down and move over when emergency vehicles are stopped on the highway. Ironic, eh? The following is what was written on the road sign in my dream:

“There comes a time in every man’s life when he’s called upon to do something that offers him no tangible benefit in return. How he responds to that call will follow him beyond the grave. The benefit of his decision to act is in knowing that he did so merely because it was the right thing to do.”

Be safe out there, and remember…slow down and move over when an emergency vehicle is stopped on the highway. Somebody is counting on you to do your part to help him make it home to his wife and kids in the morning.

Love,

Dad