As I sat back on my haunches and double-checked the Velcro on my collar, I heard a familiar whoosh coming up the stairs behind me. A second later, the nozzle struggled to wrest itself from my grip as the hose filled with water.
I could feel the metal and plastic appliance digging into my side as I made my way up to the landing. I rounded the corner, and any thoughts of heavy gear, tired legs, or the stinging sweat in my eyes were quickly drowned out by the orange glow in front of me.
Thirty degree pattern. (It's mine.) Whip it around. (I want it.) Vent the window. (Get some.)
I was able to remember the basic principles that had been drilled into my head for weeks; unfortunately, the normal mantra that I usually heard in my psyche was constantly interrupted by my desire to head into the fire.
Like an off-kilter metronome, every rational "tick" was accompanied by a driven, teeth-gnashing "tock." Fortunately, I kept myself in check enough to not go crashing headlong into everything, and I was able to take my time (somewhat impatiently, I'll admit).
We knocked down three rooms of fire during my stint at the nozzle. Each time, the fire was tamed quickly in a blast of sparks, and we progressed to the next room. As we were backing out, the first room had "lit off" again, and so needed to be knocked down a second time. My crew crawled into position, and I was told that we could wait a second or two before knocking it down.
We three recruits stared at the enemy, marveling at the heat and light bouncing all over the room. (It's kind of amazing how much energy a couple of stacks of wood can put out. Can you imagine an entire room full of furniture and shit?)
With a last foosh, I circled a stream of water around the fire and put it out.
Backing out of those rooms, I found myself slogging through dirty water on my hands and knees as I struggled to drag hose out of the hallway. My joints hurt, my back aches, and my body feels like a mid-rare steak (slow-cooked and sunburnt over 48 hours, of course—and we've still got much work to do).
As I pulled my helmet and mask off outside, my engine company was gathering around so we could all congratulate each other on what we thought was a job well done. Between the jostling shoulders of my "officer" and my "layout man," I saw the instructor who had gone in with us. He flashed me a quick grin punctuated by a thumbs-up, and I realized that we were rightly celebrating, albeit short-lived.
"Get this fuckin' line back on! Let's go!"
"Ah, shit. Come on, Six. Party's over." We grabbed sections of hoseline and headed towards the wagon.
We were not made a stronger engine company, nor were we made a smarter engine company; but several good performances today had certainly made us a more proud engine company—and pride, it seems, is one of the most important things we can learn here at the Academy.