At the baggage claim area, I gather up my luggage and my firefighting gear bag that seems to weigh 300 pounds. You mean I have to lug this huge bag around all week? As I step out of the terminal to catch the rental car bus, the heat smacks me in the face like a jealous girlfriend. Whoever told me this was supposed to be a ‘dry’ heat should be here today. An oven is dry heat too, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit my fat butt in one. The sign on the bus said the outside temperature is 105 degrees. It may be hotter here than in Georgia.
College Station is bigger than I thought it would be. Nice restaurants are all around. We check in our hotel and start ‘hydrating’ as our Chief had preached to us the entire month before we came out here. He also said “You must hydrate with water, beer doesn’t count!”
Sunday morning we get up and have a late breakfast (except the goober that ate the 5 pound steak. His stomach still hurts along with other things) then we head over to the Brayton Fire Training Field to register for our classes. There we get a student manual that’s about 6 inches thick. I have to know all this stuff by Friday? And I have another 50 pounds to lug around with my 300 pound gear bag? There’s also talk of a test. Crap. I forgot about the test.
Oh yeah, and we hydrate. With water.
Sunday night back at the hotel, we grab a light dinner then off to our separate rooms to bed. Nervous and sleepless, I lie there thinking what is tomorrow going to be like? What have I gotten myself in to? I’ve heard some great stories about this training and some horror stories too. I toss and turn, but finally get settled down and relaxed. Crap, now I have to pee.
As we arrive at our first fire project, we get to know our fellow firefighters in our section from other industries. We introduce ourselves, share a little about our background and fire experience. You start to think to yourself, “How good are these guys? Should I be intimidated? Can I trust them?” The two guys sitting next to me don’t even speak English. Um, I’m not really sure, but I don’t think that is a good thing.
The Instructors begin the class with the lecture about the project and I quickly realize these instructors are the real deal. They are experienced and know what they are talking about. They are from all over the world and have seen and heard a lot. They describe the importance of safety on the field and the heat related issues, such as staying hydrated. They say the fires will be very large and as long as we work together as a team we can put them out.
Rumors quickly traveled the field that, already this morning, some rookie firefighters from a foreign country watched as the first fire was lit, then screamed some unintelligible gibberish and ran off the field because they were shocked and frightened out of their minds (we later found out, it wasn’t a rumor at all, it was a fact).
My stomach is now turning flips and making strange sounds. I’m not sure if it is nerves or that three-cheese, three-egg omlette I had for breakfast.
Ok, here we go. The talking is over. We get geared up and ready to go. My heart is thumping out of my chest. This project, or prop as they call it, is three stories tall with 100 ft. columns on each end and pumps and valves everywhere. The instructor lights the fuel which seems to be leaking from every single nut and bolt out there. The flames roar and shoot about 300 feet into the air with smoke rising an additional 300 ft. higher. More fires erupt at other props behind me, and all around me. I look around and the whole fire field is on fire. The whole state of Texas seems to be on fire. Stupid me, I forget to put my face-shield down and the heat from the flames stings my face and is unbearable. Red-faced for two reasons, I quickly flip it down and get ready.
|Bobby Brown is the center firefighter in this photo of the Industrial School 2009.|
|Courtesy of Vegas.com|
As all hose teams advance in, the lower level ground fire is quickly under control with foam (but not completely out). We start up the stairs, and I’m thinking, shouldn’t that fire be all the way out before we go up? Are we sure we have enough water? Can’t we stay on the ground? Does anybody want to change places? This is a mighty small stream of water I’ve got here and there’s a lot of fire ahead of me. As we top the stairs, there is fire in all directions. Like a large flame-thrower, a stream of fire knifes straight toward us. My water nozzle pattern holds it back…so far. Thank God for water.
The instructor yells at me to do something, but I can’t hear him because of all the high pressure fires leaking from all these valves. There must be 50 valves leaking. He makes eye contact with me and signals me to step closer. Wait, what? CLOSER? Is this guy insane? If I get any closer I’m gonna be the largest flame broiled steak in Texas. My shoulders are already getting very hot through my bunker coat. Another hose team line has come upstairs to assist us. I look over at them and steam is rising off their jackets. This is getting a little unnerving. The instructor yells again for us to move closer to the leaking valve.
Carefully we back down the stairs, and with everyone on the ground floor, we roll up all the hoses and clean up. There’s high fives all around and appreciation everywhere. Everyone is proud and we all have a sense of accomplishment. Our confidence level just went up 100 percent. THAT was really fun! We take our gear off and grab some water, hydrate, and take a short break. Now it’s time to move to the next project.
|Instructor 1081 Exterior, |