She lived in a third floor apartment, exterior cement stairs led to her steel door that was secured with a lock and a dead bolt. Neighbors saw her earlier, standing on a balcony with her two year old daughter. At seven o’clock at night, the two year old girl’s father, who lived forty miles away received a phone call from his ex, telling him goodbye.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, Engines 2, 12, 7, Ladder 7 and 3, Special Hazards and Battalion 3 were dispatched to a Still Box on Chatham Street, occupied apartment fire. I was in the tool seat, behind the officer in a four man company. Arthur was driving , Kenny had the pipe, Captain Kossak in charge.

We arrived on scene and reported a smoke condition. Fire was visible on the third floor, behind a secured window, the smell and feel of smoke growing heavier the closer we got. Arthur spotted the engine perfectly and got ready to pump, Kenny climbed onto the rear step of Engine 2, grabbed an 1 3/4 line with a Task Force tip, loaded a length of line on his shoulder and followed the Captain up the stairs. I shouldered about thirty feet of line and then flaked the rest as I caught up with the Captain and Kenny.

Using his Haligan tool, Captain Kossak forced the secured door and we made our way in. Neighbors had gathered, screaming there was a woman and infant inside, Flames rolled toward us, apparently originating in a rear bedroom, followed the ceiling and filled the apartment with heat. We crawled forward.

“Charge Engine 2’s line,” said the Captain, and I felt the line give a little hitch, and a lifetime of seconds later, as heated smoke drove us closer to the floor felt it fill, and so did Kenny, and he opened the gate, and he hit the fire just as it was about to overtake us.

Instantly the hallway was gone. Nothing but black in front of my mask. Kenny, two feet in front of me-gone. The Captain, ahead of us-gone. I heard a crash, and felt the heat let up a little and figured Ladder 7 had the roof. We pushed forward, hit some fire on the way, fogged the hallway, took a right into the fire’s room of origin and put the rest out. The Captain appeared through the smoke, carrying a woman in his arms, and got her out of the building. More companies arrived, we did primary, and secondary searches of the two bedroom apartment but never found the baby.

She was gone, at a friends house. He mother dropped her off, went home, set a mattress of fire in the baby’s bedroom then locked herself into her room, called her ex, said goodbye and prepared to die. She didn’t die, she was carried out of her death trap by Captain Kossak while we put the fire out. I saw her a few years later, same apartment, but clean and sober, and she had her baby back. Both seemed to be doing well.

The city gave us medals. Meritorious Action, First Class. It looks good on my dress blues.

At the time I thought the medal kind of silly, I was simply doing the job I loved. Now, some twenty years later, I’m glad they did, life and careers go by in a blink, it’s nice to have something solid to hold on to, and remember people and events through it.

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