As the radio crackled to life, sputtering forth the first clear transmission I could hear in several minutes, I stared at the black plastic clipped to my lapel in incredulity.

Shouldn't we move off this rickety-ass dock before th—


The fireboat brought my firefighting gear from hot and dry to wet and swampy in a mere second. My brain reminded me of standing on the bridge in front of Busch Gardens' Log Flume ride, when there was actually a railing to catch me as the water battered me back.

Instead, I was forced backwards onto the rotted strip of wood slatwork that had been weakened by time, water, and the embers drifting over the Washington Yacht Club. I heard the boards crack under my feet, and clutched my hoseline in the orange light of the boats burning all around us.

Image courtesy of Sgt. Wayne Nelson, BFC3 Aide.


I glanced at the clock.


Ugh, dammit. I'll never be able to stay up until the first man shows up.

As I prayed for the earliest possible arrival of anyone from the next shift, my half-closed eyes drifted up towards the computer monitor with our dispatch information on a fifteen-second refresh.

Aw, shit.

My stupored run to the watch desk smacked my head off the sitting room door—thankfully, my echoes of "everybody, everybody, marina fire at fifteen hundred M street!" had died down and my skull's buzzing had stopped by the time we all rolled out the door.

My midnight routine of donning my gear is pretty well burned into my psyche. I have, as I've mentioned before, awakened to the wagon lurching to a halt and looked down to find myself in full gear, helmeted, and with my hand already on the door latch. I guess we're here, wherever that might be. But this time I paused; I glanced out the window, struck by the large fireball reflecting off the glassine surface of the Anacostia River.

Engine 18 had already driven down a small hill that led towards the docks. I grabbed 250' of pre-connected hoseline, and my layout man grabbed another hundred feet that was neatly bundled into a hose rack.

The dock was just wide enough to allow us to squeeze past another company already operating a hoseline into what used to be a fairly sizeable boat. Three yacht-type things and a small speedboat were fully involved on our arrival, and we quickly discovered that pissing into them with our handlines was proving futile.

Image courtesy of W. Nelson

"We should just knock holes in all of 'em and let the river put it out!" joked an officer nearby. I sighed as a adjusted my grip on the hose and leaned into it. Well, I did say that I wanted something to do… but this is gonna take forever.

Suddenly, a solution arrived, guns cocked and ready to go.

"Fireboat to Ops, we're in position, opening up the line now."

Wait… what?

Either I hadn't been paying attention to my radio, or some officer hadn't been particularly talkative tonight, but all I knew was that the Fireboat and I were now directly facing each other—and I was sadly out-classed in weaponry.


A line of firefighters made our way back towards the main boathouse, lumbering up the gangway through sheets of water cascading down around us. Truck 7 had left a circular saw on the dock, and I grabbed it—I figured that the junior man on their shift probably wouldn't want to go fishing for it after it was blown of the dock.

We watched the rest of the proceedings from the relatively dry accomodations of a nearby lawn. After our Fireboat had knocked down most of the fire, we still had to go in and mop up a few stubborn hotspots, including the engine compartment of the speedboat (which proved to be a real pain in the ass to access because the fire had riddled the dock with holes). Nevertheless, the universe maintained a sense of humor: as soon as we had flowed enough water into the speedboat to "save" it… it promptly sank.

Image courtesy of W. Nelson


The sun was breaking over the horizon as we packed up and headed home. Driving back across the bridge, I took one last look towards the marina. All of the soot and oil and garbage from the fire was slowly making its way downstream, marring the surface of the already-dirty river. But despite the Halley's Comet of filth flowing under the bridge, it was still a beautiful morning.

I leaned my head back against the seat and closed my eyes, feeling the breeze cool my sweat-soaked clothes.

Man, I really hope my relief is here.


  • HAZ31MAT says:

    "Sadly out classed in weaponry" and the picture made me laugh out loud.
    Always good to see updates.

  • Harrison says:

    Well written, yet another great read/war story!

  • BH says:

    Three yacht-type things and a small speedboat were fully involved on our arrival, and we quickly discovered that pissing into them with our handlines was proving futile.
    Look, I know you don't make the decisions, but that excercise in futulity may have something to do with the absolute refusal of you Maryland guys (DC and the 'burbs, anyway)  to use anything bigger than an inch and a half.  Four boats going full-tilt is as good an argument as any for a 2.5", or even a portable master stream. 
    After a good night at the bar I could probably piss harder than a GD fog-tipped inch and a half. 

  • BH says:

    Sorry, I should also have mentioned that it was excellently-written and I'm glad to see you posting again. 

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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Interesting that BOA is from my home town of Steamboat Springs, and they didn't approach our Fire Department to do a field test or even let us know that they were working on a duty boot. Small towns are funny sometimes. Captain Scott Hetrick Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue
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As I read all the above I wondered "How does it work?" Are fire personnel asking for pledges from the public to be paid to this charity when the personnel have their heads shaved? The ad above was not clear to me. I will read it again. The charity is certainly a very worthwhile cause.…
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"For anyone who ever wanted to grow up and become a firefighter... from someone who did just that."
July 2011
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