Coast gear review follow-up: trial by fire.

“Well, shit, I guess we should mask up for this one.”

I could barely hear the Lieutenant’s voice from the front of the fire engine; with the Q siren, the air horn, and all the radio chatter from the first- and second-due companies, his voice was almost imperceptible.

A quick glance to the left out of the layout man’s side of the engine confirmed was I was hoping—that this detached, single-family home had already lit off. Smoke belched from the front door as a truckman forced the door open. We’d learn later that the fire apparently started in the basement, but for right now, all we knew was that we were about to have a really good night.

Sean expertly piloted the wagon towards 33rd St, SE—seeing that everything was blocked up from this direction, he spun the wheel at the last second to bring the engine on track to circle around and approach from the other side.

“Pull our own line; pull our own line!” the Lieutenant repeated; throwing his words over his shoulder; they fell onto an already-empty back step.

Aw, come on, Lieu—you know we got this.

I snagged the 250’ line from the rear of the wagon, shouting to Sean (and hoping he heard) that I was taking something off the back.

Well, fuck it. He’s a smart dude—he’ll figure it out. After all, when there’s a fire, “…ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Thwack, thwack, thwack. I threw several folds of hose off my shoulder in a rough zig-zag, counting on my layout man to clarify the squiggles of cotton I’d drawn on the ground. I dropped to a knee in the front yard, sinking just beneath the gray smoke pumping out of the front door and securing the nozzle squarely between my knees.

Mask, hood, helmet, gloves, go. The routine’s pretty well-ensconced in the lizard part of my brain, so it’s never hard to access—even without the adrenaline that was currently coursing through my veins. Into the front room we went, managing after what felt like forever to make it past the sea of reflective coats that always seem to be blocking the most efficient route for a hoseline.

Get… outta… c’mon… *grumble*… sonofa… I let out an exasperated sigh as I hauled on the hose behind me, trying to gain any amount of inches towards the orange ceiling I could see through the next doorway.

Minutes of straining went by, and my layout man and I gained a few more feet. I could already see one company ahead, looking like they’d make it into the room before us. Not yet resigned to our second-rate fate as the third-due engine, my officer and I started plotting how to access the next room without using the blocked doorway. Examining the first floor walls, we estimated that the majority of the fire in the next room was directly on the other side of this wall. Which means that this wall needs to have a big-ass hole in it. My Lieutenant went to work with his ever-present halligan bar, smashing between studs; I, on the other hand, didn’t have anything but a hoseline.

Or did I? I reached down towards my pocket to grab a set of cutters, pliers, anything I could use to bash through a wall without breaking my knuckles. My hand dropped down, almost intuitively, to the heaviest thing that was easily accessible: that flashlight I was testing out: the LED-powered, aluminum-milled monstrosity that I had turned on without thinking and had been lighting my way for the past few minutes. I had carried it with me on every alarm since I’d received it, eagerly awaiting the chance to really put it through the ringer (as you’ll see in the photos, I had jury-rigged the light onto an old radio strap with a hose clamp and some key rings).

Fuck it. Coast is gonna love my writeup on this.

I began slamming the flashlight’s front edge into the wall as hard as I could, tearing out chunks of drywall with each hit. Several times, I made jarring contact with 3/4” plywood screwed to the other side of the studs, stinging my hands and producing a loud crack I could hear over the din of the room. After several hits (and with the light still functioning well), I saw the doorway clear out.

Hmm. No sense in continuing this wall-breaching exercise if I’ve got a perfectly good avenue into the next room.

(I would learn later that one engine company had burst a section of their hoseline, rendering their presence useless; another company hadn’t pulled enough line, and were stuck just before the doorway with no more hose and no recourse.)

An engine Lieutenant was hunkered down just inside the room, asking in the most polite manner possible if “anyone in this goddamned fucking place” had a hoseline. Two hard taps on his shoulder spun him around to face me, where I waddled over with a nozzle and a couple extra feet of hose, looped into a circle beside me.

“That’ll do!” After pointing out several holes in the floor—the largest of which he had laid his halligan bar over—we settled against the wall and I opened the nozzle with a satisfying whoosh.

Here, there, and everywhere; the orange that had once sat atop us gave way to a humid gray fog that sank to our level. Several minutes later, it was all over, and I directed a slightly-wider fog stream out the back window to draw the smoke out.

I’ll have to admit that it felt damned good to get some water on a fire again. We run our medicals, we ride our ambulances… but we want nothing more than that irreplaceable, unparalleled, and undeniably satisfying feeling of going to a good fire.

And everybody's got time for that.


A few more notes about the flashlight that survived the treatment I gave it: you can see in the following photos that it took quite the beating; there's debris and soot coating it from front to back, and the lens area is filled with all manner of gunk. The photo below is immediately following the fire, taken while I was removing my gear beside the engine.

This is one bruiser of a flashlight; I’d highly recommend it with one tiny change: please make another model that has connection points both fore and aft, as well as a button just behind the head of the light (like where a MagLite sits); that way I can turn it on easily and sling it over my shoulder like a typical firefighting handlight without having to cobble together some parts to make a strap.

Oh, and the knife has held up extremely well, for all knife-related things I’ve had to do (as I said, it became my every-day-carry while at work, and I have had no problems with it. I even had it clipped onto the same leather strap that the flashlight was on, and it survived well without falling off or becoming damaged.

All in all? A damned fine job, Coast. I love the products… you should definitely send me more stuff to abuse!


  • Dave LeBlanc says:

    Gotta love firemen!    great write up brother.

  • Ray says:

    Damn, your writing makes me feel like I'm right there.

  • Mitja says:

    My god, I don't think any training can prepare you for such situations. Experiences come in very handy in situations like this.

  • scott says:

    You said you learned LATER that one engine had short stretched and one engine had a burst length but instead of figuring out what was wrong with the engine company in front of you during the fire your only concern was beating them to the fire room? Why not crawl up the line and see why they arent moving fwd? When they say " we dont have enough line" you advance your line fwd. Instead without letting any other engine company know, you breach a wall opposite the way the lst lines intended to advance and stick a line through and possibly pushing the fire back at them?? Sounds like all you were doing is playing John Wayne !!! Oh and the light thing isn't so impressive. Maybe I'm wrong but based on the picture you painted that is what happened

    • raisingladders says:

      Perhaps it was worded wrong. Yes, we found out while actually inside the house that they didn’t have enough line—sorry if it sounded like I only learned that in the after-action discussions. 
      And we never actually made it through breaching the wall. Had we done so, I’m sure we would have been able to evaluate the pros and cons of sticking a line through a hole we made. Sure, it’s not the most practical solution, but it was something to consider (and something to do while we were stuck behind the mass of bodies not moving forward). I mean, we had plenty of time; it was interesting to just play around a bit while we were inside, explore the first floor, etc.
      Curiosity, calmly looking at the situation from multiple angles, resourcefulness, and thinking outside the box. Sorry, Scott—but I think John Wayne himself would be proud.

  • Kyran says:

    This is an awesome story and just another reminder that you can think outside the box when called into emergency situations.  There's not a one size fits all approach when it comes to having the right equipment.

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