I sprint into the station and as I’m kicking off my shoes I hear the thunderous footsteps of the other guys barreling in to get their gear. I pull up my burnt, black bunkers, button up my coat, strap my helmet on my small head and jump into Rescue 17. As the sirens begin to screech I suddenly go deaf. I can only feel my pulse palpitating in my ears. We pull out of the station, and I see cars part like the Red Sea when they encounter the red flashing lights of the fire trucks. I sit in silence as we speed out of town.
Suddenly, a familiar smell burns my nostrils. It’s a whiff of burning wood that makes me think of a campfire. I imagine my family sitting around roasting hot dogs and making s’mores. I like that smell. I finally snap out of my coma and look out the window. The smell of a campfire quickly diminishes and turns foul when I see where the odor is actually coming from.
When we arrive on scene, I help get equipment out of trucks. I grab tarps out of Engine 1, hoses and connectors out of Engine 2, and spare bottles out of Rescue 17. After I hook up hoses and begin to spread out the tarp I hear my name being called. I look up and see Chief waving me over. “We need more bottles and packs!” He must have seen the confusion twisted into my face because he then said, “We can’t reach it. We need to go in.” Despite the knot in my chest, I do as I’m told.
One by one, I pull the bottles out of the truck, lug a pack over my shoulders, and stumble my way back to the blue, crinkled tarp. The guys start coming over to get ready and then I see him. “No,” I whispered to myself. When RJ reaches me, he puts a pack on and says with excitement, “I get to be at the front of the line.”
“Please be careful,” I manage to sputter out. He could sense the fear that began pulsing through my body. I see a smile and a twinkle in his eye.
“These guys would never let anything happen to me. I trust them with my life.” The sincerity in his voice makes me feel somewhat optimistic and I manage to smile back. I turn on his air tank and watch him walk away and line up. He looks back and through his mask I see the slightest wink from his big, gleaming, brown eyes as he enters the house.
Fifteen minutes pass. I turn to look back at the house, and I can feel the heat on my face. There is an orange glow bursting through the night around the house. It’s almost pretty and comforting like my warm bed. A burst of smoke breaks me of my trance. It’s coming from the roof. The roof begins to sag and is getting worse with each passing second. After I point it out to our assistant chief all I can do is wait. Wait for my boys to walk out of that house to safety. Five more minutes pass and they’re still not out. “Brad, what is taking so long? The roof is going to collapse any minute!”
“They’re on their way.” There was uneasiness in his voice as he looked back at the house and called over the radio for them to pick up the pace. It goes lower and lower and lower. I think I see a shadow in the doorway but it’s too late. The roof is collapsing.
Everyone starts running toward the house to pull their brothers out of the fiery furnace. I don’t realize what I’m doing until I feel hands holding me back. I’m kicking and screaming wanting to get to the house. Boiling tears roll down my face as I watch debris being pulled off of them. As guys are being helped away from the hell I see one person being carried, he’s unconscious and bloody. I see them take off his helmet and mask, it’s RJ.
I shoot straight up in bed sweating and panting. “It was just a dream,” I say with a sigh of relief. As my breath calms and my nerves ease, I lay my head back down on my soft, plump pillow and snuggle back under my blankets. As I close my eyes I hear the scream of my pager. I jump out of bed and realize this isn’t a dream. This is my crazy and twisted reality.