It;s a snowy afternoon, 1992. Big city. Jeez its been twenty years…
I'm assigned to Special Hazards, which is quite an honor for a guy who finished 55 out of 64 in the academy. Never was very good with the books, didn't make me an idiot, and the training officers believed in me. A fire in the West End, an old Queen Ann, balloon construction, fire on the first floor and who knows where it will lead. We've got three engine companies, two ladder companies a chief officer and an ALS unit on the scene. The hazards arrives, throws ground ladders the splits into two teams of two, I'm with Captain Dillon, the other two guys, Sean Reddy and John Broome turn in their packs and head for the third floor to do a primary search.
Captain Dillon gets hung up with the Battalion Chief, sees Engine 8 getting ready to enter through a side door and orders me to "stick with them!"
I've got a short pole and an axe, and I hurry to the side door, and just as I get there the officer of the Eights, "Time Bomb" to his crew, Lieutenant Dangelis to me, forces the door, masks up and gets low as flames shoot out the door and over our heads, Joe Fontaine is on the pipe, Tom Capraro backing him up. I shout that I'm with them, Capraro tells me to "hold onto his coat," and we go in, crawling along the floor, ears burning, the sound of fire above us, vision clear, I can see the kitchen table, the cabinets, the linoleum pattern on the floor. The air from my Scott pack is fresh, and cool, my face feels great, my body feels as if I just walked into an inferno.
Fire above us, we move in. Didn't learn that in the academy, but this isn't the academy, and I'm going in. The line I'm stretching jerks, and fills with pressurized water almost simultaneously with the radio transmission, "ENGINE 8, CHARGE MY LINE!" from Lt. Deangelis. Joe hits the seat of the fire with a straight stream, and instantly my world goes black. Some relief from the thick smoke and heat follows, and I think Ladder Co 2 must have "gotten the roof." Joe chases the fire, along the roof and walls, killing it, stomping it out, ending it.
The smoke clears and I'm in a burned out kitchen in the West End with three firefighters. Maybe four, I'm not sure if I belong.
"Pull that ceiling," orders Lt. Deangelis, and I do without thinking, sinking my pole into the soft plaster, hitting a lathe board so hard I feel the jolt from my shoulders to my toes, turning the point to its side, pushing up again, this time it sinks, I twist the end and pull down, taking a big chunk of the ceiling with me. Fire up there, Joe hits it hard, I'm soaked and exhilarated as I continue to pull. The Lt. climbs on the counter, flashes his light here there and everywhere, orders the stream and Joe lets it rip, water everywhere, steam everywhere, plaster and wood, and ash and heat, and four firefighters in the heat of battle.
It was a perfect moment, one I have never forgotten. When we were sure the fire was out we took off our masks, and shook out our hair, and looked around. The firefighters were sizing me up, not saying anything, just looking at me. Three Providence Firefighters in a burned out room, not at all like the officers in the academy, their hair flowed over the collars of their turnout coats, They looked like a mix between cave men and rock stars. Lt. Dangelis had a perfectly waxed handlebar mustache, nothing like the regulations said we were allowed to grow, their gear was crusty, their tools were crusty and they were crusty, but through the soot and grime and sweat I saw something in their eyes. They had fire in their eyes, long after the fire was out, and joy, too, and a camaraderie that I had until that moment only read about, and heard spoken of, but never experienced.
It was true, what I had been told. Firefighters are a different breed. They really do eat smoke, and laugh, and work, and live like brothers.
We walked out of the house together and packed hose until the street was clean, and the smoke had cleared. I went back to my crew and we drove back to our station, and the 8's went to theirs.
*Captain Dillon is now Chief of Department
Lt. Deangelis "Time Bomb" is retired and golfing when he can
Joe Fontaine is Lieutenant, Ladder 5
Tom Capraro is retired (lieutenant) and working in Maine in the Emergency Preparedness field.
Sean Reddy is an Arson Investigator
John Broom suffered a career ending injury when Ladder One's bucket let go at eighty feet and crashed to the bed of the truck
and me, I'm telling stories…