Fri, Dec 19, 2014 07:39
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Texas Firefighter | firefighter,

While fire fighters can’t be paid enough, about 90 percent of the firefighters in Texas are volunteers.    I salute you. 

Once I fought fires.

At 18, I worked as a volunteer fireman.

I didn’t have any training.  However, if I got to the station quickly enough, I got to wear the helmet, jacket and gloves and then go fight fires. 

Except a retired career fireman from the Fort Worth fire department, none of us had training except what we learned on the job. 

Our calls were usually grass fires and mesquite fires.  Fires were an excuse to leave whatever you were doing, race to the tin building that served as our fire station, pull on coat and hat. Then you jumped on either a traditional fire truck, or if you were late, jumped on and held on a small tanker. 

Then back at the station, the ice chest was opened and we sit around, drinking. 

The drivers were men in their 70s who hung around the fire station in their retirement.  One was too cautious a driver that maddened you with delays and indecision.  The other, a feckless driver, challenged your ability to hide your fear in front of the others.  

So, I fought a number of grass fires, mesquite fires and socialized with the old guys afterwards. A few young men or middle-aged men occasionally would join us, but jobs and families prevented those guys from making most fire calls.   Sometimes, a high school classmate would join me for the fun. 

But my last night as a fireman was when an auction barn caught fire.

I was on the first truck.  The rest of the firemen were ancient to me. We got the reckless driver and hauled out towards I-35, where we were astounded to see a glow in the night sky.  As we pulled up, we saw a well-known auction barn on fire as well as about 70 acres of pasture and a small wood frame house. The wind was blowing and shifting, the fire raged, and six of us jumped off the truck with backpacks while the driver and another guy drove up to the edge and started spraying from the hose.

The old guys and I ran heavy footed to the fire, and started pumping our hoses from the backpacks. These ancient devices held several gallons of water and weighed so much the straps cut into your shoulders.  You were motivated to hand pump the hose from the backtank onto the flames if merely to drop the weight on your back.  However, the spray that came from the nozzle was so weak it took quite awhile to empty the tank.

We sprayed on that conflagration with the effectiveness a bit more high than spitting. Yet  we pumped and pumped.  The smoke was intense, and the old guys began to wheeze and cough.

Yet we continued to work into a line of flame, pumping the water guns.  At some point, I heard one of the men scream, and we all turned.  We were completely surrounded by fire.

Suddenly, we were not guys out on a fun adventure anymore.  We were guys with tiny water pistols looking at fire in a new way.  It already was becoming uncomfortably warm.

“What’ll we do? What’ll we do?” screamed a retired butcher. 

For answer, I aimed the nozzle on me, and began pumping until I was soaked.  The other guys did the same.

Then I ran toward what I hoped was the way we had worked in, continuing to spray myself.  The others followed as best they could.

We made it relatively unscathed.  There was the usual amount of singed hair and eyebrows, melted boot soles, a twisted knee, and lungs full of smoke.  When we all checked to make sure everyone was back, we continued to move a more than respectful distance from the fire.

We stared at the flames. Another fire department showed up, and then another. We watched them fight, doing nothing.  By about 1 AM, about 20 departments had made appearances, but no real progress was made until the professionals from Fort Worth came in.

The old volunteers and I watched, and watched.  We knew we’d been through an experience. 

As the firemen from Fort Worth methodically controlled and doused the fire, they suddenly whooped and moved back.  They discovered a huge propane tank that sat near where the old voluteers and I had been encircled.

That was it.  I finally knew that I knew nothing about fire. 

The auction barn burned totally down.  The frame house burned totally down.  The propane tank did not blow up.

That was my last night as a fireman.  Even slow learners do eventually learn. 

While fire fighters can’t be paid enough, about 90 percent of the firefighters in Texas are volunteers.    I salute you.