DOING THE JOB
By Michael Morse
It was a two-story cinderblock construction, commercial, unoccupied structure on a busy city street at 4:50 in the afternoon. Quitting time was 5 p.m. Smoke poured from the roof, and fire was visible on side 2. Lieutenant Steve Schora was out of the officerâ€™s seat before the truck had made a complete stop, and so was I.
â€œHold on to my coat!â€ he chuckled when I caught up to him at the glass entry door that he had just forced with his halligan. Kenny had the pipe, I flaked the line like I had been taught at the training academy that I had graduated from a week ago. The pump operator throttled up; I heard it whine as I masked up and turned my pack in.
In a blink, Kenny and the lieutenant disappeared into blackness. I followed, stretching the line as we ascended into the heat, searching for the glow. If all went as planned, the second-due engine company would be establishing a water supply; the third-due company should be arriving any second to back us up; and a four-member ladder company would be separating, one team starting search and rescue operations and one team going to the roof to vent. A second ladder company would be throwing ground ladders and preparing to enter the building to do a secondary search and open ceilings and walls. The Special Hazards Unit would be doing whatever needed to be done that wasnâ€™t already being done.
I didnâ€™t worry about everybody else and the jobs they had to do; I was busy. We found the fire after crawling through what I thought was 100 yards of barbed wire, bodies, and land mines but turned out to be about 25 feet of tables and chairs left over from the abandoned nightclub. The fire had started in a corner and was gaining strength; the ceiling above us glowed. Kenny hit it at the seat and the place returned to blackness. Just as my ears began to blister, the ladder company got the roof; the relief inside was palpable.
We spent the next hour chasing sparks, overhauling, cracking jokes, and working like people possessed. I knew then and there I had found my place.
Prior to my employment with the Providence (RI) Fire Department, I worked construction, did some restaurant work, and cut lawns. I never minded working hard. The people I worked with did. I never tried to make my co-workers look bad; I just liked to work.
â€œKid, donâ€™t bust your balls,â€ the older guys on the work site would tell me. â€œNo sense killing yourself for the crummy pay they give us.â€
I kept on working hard. I just didnâ€™t know any other way. I wasnâ€™t better than the people I worked with; I was just wired differently. I never felt as if I was part of the crew. They resented my willingness to work like a maniac, stay a few minutes late, and get the job done. It used to drive me nuts.
At around 6 p.m., the hosebeds were repacked, the roof secured, and plywood covered the entry door. Â The chief took the time to thank us for a job well done. Twenty or so firefighters responded to a building fire 10 minutes before quitting time. Twenty or so firefighters busted their balls for more than an hour putting the fire out. Not one of them complained. Each one gave everything they had while doing the job, each part of the operation–a vital part in ensuring a safe, effective outcome. If one person slacked off, everybody suffered.
We were soaked to the bone, filthy, exhausted, and satisfied. One by one, the crews left the fire scene and headed back to their respective stations. We were the first in and the last out. I sat in the jump seat as we cruised through the city streets on our way back, rolled down the window, basked in the smell of my own sweat and the smoke from my first fire, closed my eyes, and knew without a doubt that I had found a home.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department, author, and popular columnist. His books, Rescuing Providence and Responding, are considered must-reads for people interested in EMS and the fire service. His latest book, Mr. Wilson Makes it Home, was published in February 2015.