After a while you just get to know: the tones come, the pager cries, the dispatcher speaks; controlled monotone, but somehow you know what the dispatcher can only guess.
So it is at zit-two hundred: that always is the time for the hard ones, it seems. Structure fire, house on fire, you levitate and dress in one inchoate motion; the moments between sleep and piling into the first-out unit are viewed through a temporal kaleidoscope.
Flat out and code three, you know there just won’t be enough time, and the flames which flare and glare out the gables confirm the sense. Hidden Valley Lane, too well named; one lane, steep, snow covered, and dead end to boot. Not a foot of flat ground on either side of the truck, somehow the porta-tank gets set up and hoses stretched. I flounder up the snow-covered cut bank, floundering yellow penguin sporting turnouts and a Scott pack.
First shot into the gables almost blows me off the porch; it’s 0215 and I forgot about nozzle reaction. Word comes that everybody’s out; we elect to make a run inside and tackle the fire from the second story. Advance the line through fire and fireworks; electricity popping everywhere then the white electric light goes, replaced by the glaring gold and blue of fire writhing out from the ceiling. Walls are rotten with fire; it gleams and curls at every crack.
Hot, very hot, smoke banked a foot down from the downstairs ceiling. Up the stairs, can’t see nothing; this is Stygian on steroids. Come morning I’ll discover heat-mottled blackness on my yellow helmet. Years later, the red mottling on my exposed neck will fade. Idiot. Next time, turn your collar up!
Then a lightning-flash blue; something very electric just blew. Meanwhile, I back down, check my Lightbox–it works, but moments before, held to my facemask in the smoke there was not even a gleam. We enter the garage: there’s an array of glass globes on a bench, each boiling with blue luminescent flame. Meth lab! Why am I doing this?
Glance left, and you see fire in the walls. Back out, back out; Ted has the porch roof darkened down but the structure is sodden with flame. Start to move for an external attack on the upper floor of the split level, and the whole thing flashes, just ‘whoofs’, bulges, and settles into a contented, hideous burning.
It won, we lost; we lost it. Saved the foundation; saved the fancy new Corvettes stuck behind the house. Dawn came on smoking charcoal; dawn came on my charred helmet; dawn came on my rust-red mottled and toasted neck. Next time, idiot, turn your collar up….