Tales from a tailboard fireman-good fires/good firefights

I read an article about our troops in war zones. It quoted a special forces major as saying, "It has been quiet around here; been a while since a good firefight." To someone not in the business of high adrenalin that sounds strange. How can you have a good firefight?

Among firefighters we look forward to a "good fire." A good fire to me is no causalities, either civilians or firefighters: a house or apartment fire that is put out by the first alarm company and for sure not a wildfire or grass fire. If a fire goes to more alarms it can become an all-night exercise fought from the outside with master streams. No rush of adrenalin; just a lot of work.

Grass fires/wildfires are heavy, hot work. You do not see the beginning or the end. You breathe lots of bad stuff, poison oak, tires, and the possibility of hazardous waste that was dumped in the fire area.

In my day, we had no breathing apparatus at wild fires, just a kerchief.

The other fires that are not "good" are fires that involve haz mat. We who were trained to go in and get the fire out were caught by the high toxicity of the new materials. One drop on your skin and you were dead or on a waiting list for cancer.

As with most old guys I long for that adrenalin rush of seeing the sky red when you pull out of the barn, being first in and getting water on the fire before anyone else. When we went in to fight fire we did it from the inside, we did not pour water from the outside through a window just because it was too dangerous to go in.

San Jose just lost one of our best: a great captain, union president and later a city council person. He fought for our rights and jobs his entire career and unfortunately saw most of his work being attacked by the politicians of today. We will miss you, John.

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