Uh… either we're extremely dehydrated and exhausted, or the headless fireman from the Sleepy Hollow Fire Department is haunting the burn building. Either way, it's probably time for us to go.
"I haven't seen you run the line yet. Switch with him."
Sergeant Paulson turned abruptly as he realized that I was part of the next group to go into the burn building with him. Based on the number of instructors on any given day, each recruit group usually goes into their evolutions with the same one or two instructors. The groups, however, had been switched up today… and so this was the first time Sgt. Paulson was there to babysit us.
I pulled the crosslay onto my shoulder, shrugging apologetically towards the guy who was supposed to pull the line. As we approached the doorway, we took a spray from above; the previous engine company was flowing water, and a quick torrent of near-boiling dirty water washed over us.
"Shit. Ah, whatever, I needed to clean my gear anyways."
We were able to squeeze a quick laugh in before the officer running the command board outside shouted at us to go.
Careening through the doorway, three recruits furiously threw hose all over the entry room in a somewhat organized layout pattern before kneeling to mask up.
Just as I clicked my regulator in and reached down to grab the nozzle tucked securely under my knee ("Don't you ever let go of that damn thing!"), I heard a hissing grow louder behind me. I pulled the bail back just a hair, just enough to let the air out; sure enough, a furious spit of water came roaring out seconds later.
Sergeant Paulson went charging up the stairs, with two of us only steps behind him. The third man stayed briefly at the landing, frantically feeding hose around the corner so that we had enough to make entry and hit the fire.
As soon as my foot hit the top step, I dropped to a three-point crawling position and hugged the nozzle to my chest. With what looked like jet-black ink sloshing around the floor, I made my way to the corner and turned to wait for the rest of my crew. Fortunately (and not particularly suprisingly, either—I had one hell of a great crew today), they had all made it inside the room with me. My attention turned quickly back to the fire, and a nod from the Sergeant was all it took.
Two quick circles of water blasted out in front of me, and the roaring red turned to a dull orange as steam began to mask the pile of pallets.
There were no windows in the room—nor were we hydraulically venting out a window—so the steam banked down on top of us and brought us to a slightly more hunkered-down position.
"Back it out!"
Copy that, sir. My calves were feeling particularly toasty as I sat on the floor (I wore shorts under my bunker gear today), and none of us could see shit. Futilely wiping my mask with my glove in an attempt to clear the moisture from the surface, I dragged the nozzle towards what I felt was the last known position of the second man in. Not thirty seconds later, we were dragging hose out and walking down the stairs for the last time.
Only until we hit the bright light and fresh air of the outside world did we realize that we were really and truly done with our live burns.
We were whipped. All these days had thoroughly exhausted every recruit, as well as all the instructors. They're some hard-asses, there's no doubt about it; but even the best need a break every once in a while.
It was a fantastic couple of weeks; it's something I've never even come close to experiencing before, and I wouldn't trade any of my memories or any of these pictures for all the money in the world.
One more day of housekeeping stuff at the Academy before graduation; and then we are officially no longer recruits. It's an inspiring thought, being this close to graduation; this morning, we were beat to hell, half-asleep, and trading Advil around like cigarettes in prison. However, the second one of the recruits called us together and started screaming some encouragement, we found the energy to bring it together and all bellow in proud unison.
Another lesson I've learned: when you feel like shit, and you're whipped, and you think you just can't go on any further—that's when it's time to gather strength from your brothers, put your man gloves on, and do your fucking job.
Dig in, baby; it's been a long ride, and we're only just starting.
Feeling nostalgic already,
A special thanks to N.D., who kindly offered to
do my dirty work today and was in a great position
to take the majority of the pictures you see here.