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A long day getting home, and a busy next day on the fire trucks!

By Andrew Pollack on 10/31/2003 at 08:31 AM EDT

Well devoted readers, time for some more fun fire stuff. Plenty of time for that Technical stuff later. My trip home was long, but otherwise fine. I was up at 7am in London and walked to High street in Kensington for shopping. That was a mistake, since what I wanted was tourist crap, not the kind of high end retail that the area is famous for. I got back to the hotel, worked in the "business center" for an hour then caught a car to Heathrow.

Of course, I left my rented phone in the cab, but fortunately had a receipt with the phone number of the company and for a mere 10 pounds was able to have the driver return with it. whew.

Once at Heathrow, the shopping was pretty good, I filled my take-home list and then some including some excellent cigars for the boys on the fire truck, then took the 7 hour flight home, starting at 6pm. Do the math here, and you'll note that this means I landed in Boston around 2am London time, then spent the mandatory hour getting through customs, baggage, and the car park. After a 19 hour day, I was looking at a 3 hour drive home.

The funny thing about having impaired reasoning, is that you don't make the best decisions. I drove. I have to say that I fought for every mile in terms of staying awake. Had there been traffic, I'd have been in trouble because my vision was becoming increasingly uncoordinated and 'jerky'. In hindsight, I doubt there was much difference between driving that tired and driving while intoxicated. In future, I will be as adamant about not driving overtired as I am about not driving after even a single drink. As I'd mentioned, the funny thing about having impaired reasoning, is that you don't make the best decisions.

Thursday, bright and perky hit with a bang and I ran all day at work -- running from one task to another. I was interrupted only by a "DESK BOX" (woohoo!) which means a big initial call resulting from someone reporting an incident of smoke or fire, rather than just an alarm sounding somewhere. It turned out to be a false alarm, but at least I got to drive around on the fire truck and make a great deal of noise.

Later that evening, our Engine company (Engine 1) was assigned to protect the citizens of our town at a bonfire for the football (American Football) team. I hadn't planned to go, but at the last minute the lights on the Heavy Rescue weren't working and they needed someone to bring the Ladder truck. That fell to me as the only one available with the clearance to drive that rig (the others who could drive it and had planned to be available that night were already on scene). When we got there, we set up the truck and used the 75 foot stick to light the "stage" area. The lights on the stick weren't angled for that, so I got to climb to the top of the ladder and re-aim them. Climbing a 75 foot long steel ladder (which sways and bounces as you get out toward the end) when it isn't up against anything is always a bit unnerving. Fun, but unnerving.

The bonfire was mostly uneventful. Nobody was hurt, we prevented the teenagers from getting too close (though they sure did try to kill themselves repeatedly). The only issue was that the 30 foot pile of pallets was stacked close to the edge of the park. When I saw that, I told the captain that I was taking a radio and walking around where I could watch the back of it. About 20 minutes into the burn, of course, I spotted a 4" area of fire that had got into the grass back there. The ground was pretty wet, but the top part of the grass was dried from the wind. I called for someone to bring over a water can (water in a spray can with air pressure). By the time it got to me, the area burning was about 12 square feet and spreading pretty quickly into the higher uncut grass. I knocked that down pretty quickly, but that close to the fire it was so hot that I had to drop back and put my gloves on so I could hold the water can. Later I also put on my gnomex hood over most of my face (under my helmet). That left only my nose and eyes exposed, so as long as I put my head down and let the helmet deflect the heat I could get as close as I needed. We had a few other flare-ups which we handled with the water cans or the Indian Tanks (backpacks of 5 gallons of water with a hose that ends in a pump nozzle you hold in your hands.

When the kids all left, we had a 5 foot deep (at the center) pile of hot coals. We put water on that, and waded into it (thank you new leather boots) and spread it out to just a few inches all around. After a thousand gallons, a great deal of steam, plenty of smoke (we all looked a bit black faced by the end) and some raking the officers were sufficiently satisfied that the fire wouldn't rekindle. That left just an hour or so of cleanup, getting back to the station (no, I did not take more than one try to back the ladder truck into the station, no it isn't scratched, and no it isn't quite straight), rinsing the trucks, refilling the engine, and putting the tools away. By the time I got home I was ready for a shower and bed.

At 3am when the Ladder, the Squad, and Engine 3 were called out for a CO alarm (carbon monoxide) I rolled over and hit the quite switch on the radio. Not my truck, not my problem.

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