Friday, March 27

Fire Fly Chap. 2 Part 1 "Origins of the Hero Myth"

            Fate has a way of laughing at our plans that isn't funny at all. Six months at work went by smoothly as I improved my firefighting skills when Mother called and informed me Dad had a stroke.
            I’d had gotten used to responding to emergencies at light speed but I held my breath as the news sunk in, feeling parlayed.
            I immediately booked a flight even though I don't like airplanes. It feels so unnatural to sit inside a big noisy metal tube hurtling 500 miles an hours at 38,000 feet, but it was the quickest way to get back home.
             I rushed to the hospital imagining the worst. Worried about how to comfort Mom, I frantically searched the waiting room, then spotted her familiar mop of curly brown hair from behind and rushed over to find her knitting calmly. It was her way of dealing with stress.
            “I'm sorry this ruined your upcoming birthday,” she apologized in her usual practical manner. Mother had been raised a Jehovah's Witness so didn't think much of holidays but Dad and I did.
            “Never mind that, how's Dad?”  I asked, forcing her to put the knitting down in her lap.
            The stroke was minor she told me, but sadly, it had ruined his gift of speech. He could talk but it was so painfully slow, he lost interest. Getting him to physical therapy was a trial.
            “Dad, you need this to get better,” I confronted him, but he crossed his arms like an obstinate child and refused to budge from his favorite chair when I tried him get him in the car.
            I recognized his stubbornness, we were different yet so alike.  I looked like a younger version of him minus his tortoise shell glasses; the same square face and dark wavy brown hair.
              The therapy wasn't the problem, it was my presence at home. I took two weeks off from work to help Mom run the hardware store and seriously considered quitting to care for him. I had no regrets about the decision, his health was more important. Dad, however, made it clear my quitting was out of the question.
            “I'll make you a deal,” I said as I knelt down next to him and took his small hand in mine. He tried to pull his hand away but I held it fast. “You go to speech therapy and I'll return to work --deal?” I fixed my gaze on him. He fidgeted in an attempt to say something but gave up in exasperation.
            “Deal. Go now. The world. Use your strength.” He squeezed the words out slowly, I didn't understand his meaning and frowned. He shook his head and repeated himself, his gaze reaching into me for greater comprehension. Then it dawned on me, he knew.
            I discovered my true strength when I was seventeen. My friend Pete and I got a job loading fifty-pound bags of grain from a conveyer belt to a palette for transport. Although average in height and on the lean side, I could keep up with the football jocks working to make some extra money. As we got into a rhythm, a friendly competition developed to see who could load the most sacks. By lunchtime the other guys were sweaty and covered in dust, their hair plastered to their foreheads. I was barely winded.
            “You're pretty strong for a skinny guy, Archer,” one of them commented with a tinge of jealousy. Pete was equally winded as we traded secret grins.
            Pete was privy to my special skills and we laughed about the contest later while getting our daily ice cream cone. We took a shortcut thru Mr. Rivers' property and passed by his tank-sized Edsel parked near the barn, when Pete stopped me with a hand. Looking around he challenged me to lift up the back end of the car. While holding the cone in one hand, I reached down and took hold of the trailer hitch with the other and lifted it until the rear wheels rose off the ground. Satisfied with the results, I gently set it down. We giggled and continued on our way.
            I looked at Dad and knew he was right. I returned to work where I could put my strength to good use and cover it up for I knew the world was not ready for my gift of flight. 
            But apparently people were beginning to notice something odd in the air. It started with the fringe media stories of a flying man. Most of it was bullshit of course, but some of the reports were true. When a blurry photo of me in the air near a forest fire showed up in a tabloid I grounded myself for some time.
            The path to revelation became serious one lazy day off while I sat on the couch eating a second bag of potato chips and read the Sunday paper from cover to cover. There was an interesting article in the magazine section: “From Reality to Myth". At one point the author  touched on the outlandish stories of a flying man:
            One can brush off such stories as imagination run amok like crop circles and
            UFO's, but the stories persist despite attempts to debunk them. Not only do they
             thrive, but they become harder to explain away with each new report.
            Damn, I had to either stop flying altogether or eventually be exposed. I let this idea sink in, and read on.
            It's a modern urban myth that refuses to die because the fanciful is preferable
            as the truth is often simpler and not as flashy.
            A hundred years ago people didn't believe rocks fell out of the sky,
             when they continued to do so, it was seen a sign from God.
            Now we know they're meteorites, a phenomenon stripped of mystery.
            There is a grain of truth in every mythological story. They grow to fantastic
            proportions to fill the human need for inspiration. The flying man myth is just
             another variation. After the dust of confusion settles, what is the truth of such             speculation and where does it leave us?
            The hairs on my arm stood up in attention. I contemplated my abilities in a new light. I looked at the byline--Victoria Ball. I made a note to read more of her stuff and clipped out the article to post on my kitchen corkboard. The more I looked at it, the more tempted I was to meet her. How would she react to the fantastic?
            The debate was buried under work through a long, miserable Winter followed by weeks of cold sogginess.
            “Great, maybe Spring can finally get started,” Darryl groused with palatable relief when the rain stopped just as we jumped into the engine for a run.
             The first floor of a townhouse was engulfed in flames when we arrived and we worked quickly to keep the fire from spreading to the building on one side still under construction.
            Rueben and I checked on a woman sitting on the stoop of a house two doors down. She was put on oxygen to deal with smoke inhalation, while a man was brought over with burns on his hands. Their injuries were minor, it was the rapidly spreading fire that was a concern. The woman pulled off the oxygen mask.
            "Where's Penny?" she asked the older man in a panic.
            " She's not with you?" he accused wide eyed.
            Oh Shit, this was not a good sign. Just as we realized the grandchild was unaccounted for, we heard a shout from the second floor of the burning building.
            A young girl at the window yelled and waved her arms as smoke tried to swallow her.  We scrambled to get the ladder in place, but there was a swamp of mud below the window.
            "The ladder will just sink in that muck," Fabiano railed at the complication. There was little time to deploy the aerial ladder and there was no way to enter the building from the first floor.
             I could easily fly up there, I thought and for a moment I forgot myself, until I remembered the news crew and spectators watching from across the street. I spotted a large piece of canvas covering some heavy construction equipment; I grabbed it and got three more guys to hold onto the corners.
            “You got to be kidding?” said Fisher, not sure this was the time to employ a firefighting cliché.
            "You got a better idea?" I retorted.
            We crowded beneath the window and with her grandmother shouting encouragement, the six-year-old girl climbed onto the windowsill twelve feet above and jumped. Everyone held their breath as her small body hit the canvas and it collapsed slightly from the impact. A moment later she stood up, a bit wobbly, and was quickly smothered in her grandmother's hug.
            I'll be damned--it worked. As I gazed at the cheering crowd I did a double take when I saw Pete among the faces. He stared at me with his typical challenging expression.
            A grinding noise caught my attention, and in the next instant I opened my eyes and realized I was in bed at the firehouse. Phil's high decibel snoring that had awakened me. I sat up slowly and looked around at the shapes of other firefighters sound asleep in the dim light of the dorm.
            How strange and disturbing. Did that really happen? What was Pete doing there? I was wide awake and confused as I contemplated the remarkably vivid dream. I usually don't remember my dreams so I knew this was important. Unable to sleep I rose quietly and went to the day room to make some notes and remember Pete.  

Fire Fly Chap. 2 part 2 "The Origins of the Hero Myth"

           For years I had suffered my uniqueness in silence until the fourth grade. Excited with the first week of school, I was walking home, playing with a super ball. When I bounced it too hard and it ended up in the gutter of a nearby house, I stopped in frustration. I really liked that ball and wanted it back. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, I quickly flew up, grabbed the ball, and landed back on the ground. I heard a screen door slam, and turning back I saw a boy walking quickly towards me.
            “Hey that's a neat trick,” he said as he caught up to me.
            “What trick?” I asked, feigning innocence.
            “How you flew up to get that ball,” he replied, pointing to my pocket.
            I realized no one else could fly after getting a weird look once from a friend when I mentioned it, but the burden of hiding, had grown heavy, even after the careful realization that everyone had a secret to hide. But the desire to confide in someone usually vanished quickly at the thought of being exposed. The boy continued to walk alongside me in silence for two more blocks.
            “It's okay, I won't tell anyone. Superheros have to keep it a secret. Superman and Spiderman do,” he pointed out. I stopped walking and stared at him in a panic.
            “What are you talking about” I said, playing dumb.
            “I'll show you,” he replied, gesturing for me to follow. Curiosity overrode my paranoia.
             We returned to his house--the one with the ball-snatching-gutter--and he showed me into a house overflowing with books, shelves of them everywhere.
            We threaded our way to a room at the back of the house to his bedroom library. I was unfamiliar with the world of comics but he had an extensive collection and an encyclopedic knowledge of the origins, history and powers of each caped and masked superhero. Pete invited me to come by anytime and once again promised to keep my secret.
            Pete Galway was only a year older but was the wisest eleven-year-old I’d ever known. He  was a head taller with a tangled mess of blond hair and freckles that multiplied in the summer sun. His mother taught literature and his dad was an anthropologist. They endowed him with endless fascination for the world; Pete seemed to know everything.            
            As our friendship grew, I was glad to have someone to share my secret and he thrilled to be my spiritual sidekick. Vicariously enjoying the moments when my quick reflexes peeked out as I dodged snowballs in neighborhood battles or won at track meets. Encouraging me to test the limits of my flying and acted as lookout when I snuck off near dawn for quick lessons out in the country, standing guard with a whistle.
             I had no interest in the fantasy world of comics however, I was too grounded in reality to take any of it seriously.
            The only hero I emulated was my Father. He was fair and honest with everyone, teaching me to judge people by their actions and not their appearance. I remember when he came back to the store one day after lunch with a portrait of Martin Luther King tucked under his arm. He hung it on the wall with the photos of Gandhi and John F. Kennedy. The reason for this addition was a crude comment at the local cafe by a Mr. Ivers about a Vietnamese family that had recently moved to town.
            "Son, people may look different on the outside but we are all the same on the inside," Dad informed me gravely. Ivers refused to shop at Dad's store after seeing the new photo.
             I repeated Dad's observation to Pete who considered the remark deeply as he gazed at the sky.
            “It's a start,” he conceded.
             Pete came to realize I had no ambition to be a scientist or engineer like his comic book idols, and took it in stride, but deep down hoped I would change my mind. Over the years he continued his attempts to convince me I was more than an average kid, but I dismissed the idea.
            “You have a gift to share with the world and a personal mythology to realize,” he told me as we walked home from school after his first driving class.
            “You sound like your father,” I retorted, and he smiled at the comparison. The highbrow analysis was a bit much for me but there was no stopping Pete.
            While my parents taught me to always be considerate of others out of simple kindness, Pete taught me the deeper consequences of altruism. I never gave it much thought because it brought on too much brooding, which I was never good at. He handled big ideas with ease, while I squirmed at the need for such lengthy contemplation.
            “A hero is someone who acts out of concern for others. He gives his life to something bigger than himself. Superheroes are the same. They are wiser, using their intellect and reason to solve problems like others, but it's their morals that make them extraordinary. You need to read the classics, dumb ass,” he said, giving my shoulder a playful shove.
            “Yes Herr Professor,” I returned with the right  amount of sarcasm, shoving him back and knocking him off his feet.
            That summer was spent getting lessons from him on the hero business as we sat at the edge of an isolated pond surrounded by a dense wooded park of mature oak and poplars.  Insects flitted over the green water as a current stirred in the slight breeze. It was the ideal place for contemplating the wider world.
            The idea of being a superhero dispensing justice had a certain appeal. God knows I wanted to bash in the faces of the bullies at school, and the evil twins next door could use a good drubbing, but what good would it do? They aren't going to listen to Pete's version of reason either.
            “I can't see myself as some kind of supercop meting out judgement,” I answered to his latest argument.
            “There are other ways to use your special skills, and you don't have to do it alone,” he advised. Here comes the sidekick pitch again, I thought with an inward groan.
            “I know you don't like the structure of working within a unit but it can offer you the kind of discipline beyond individualism,” he went on without missing a beat. I turned and gave him a frown of irritation.
            “Would you please use words a fifteen-year-old can understand,” I pleaded.
            He laughed and explained why I preferred the one on one competition of track compared to the team dynamic of basketball.
I liked making decisions on my own but that wasn't entirely true when I gave it more thought. Sometimes I wished others would make decisions for me. I wanted to do the right thing but it wasn't always clear or easy. I guess that's what Pete was trying to teach me but my stubbornness got in the way.
            Such camaraderie meant revealing my abilities to others and I wasn't ready for that, if ever. Being a loner made it easier to avoid. I got up to stretch out, raising my hands high over my head and my jeans damn near slipped off my narrow hips.
            “Yeah well, I guess I can put these weird tricks to use some day I suppose.” I really wanted to drop the subject.
            “Some day you will be a hero, whether you like it or not and I'll be there to say I told you so.” His loyalty left me speechless. Pete paused and gave me the strangest look.
            “What?” I asked, his stare making me uncomfortable.
            “Nothing.” He shrugged.
            Phil's snoring broke my reverie once more. I went to the bathroom to douse my face and the emotions the memories stirred up. What's the point of having these abilities if I can't use them?  I desperately wished I could talk to Pete.
            I was shattered when he and his father were killed in a car accident when he was barely eighteen. I heard the news while at the school library and stared out the window, seeing his house in the distance looking empty and forlorn in the dull gray light of the snowy landscape.
            I lost my best friend and my childhood in the same moment. It was the first time I had encountered death. Once again, I was alone.

Monday, March 16

Fire Fly Chapter 1 "A Good One" Part 1

Pittsburgh is a riot of color in autumn, the oaks and maples competing with the brightest, wildest display possible. The day was as sunny as my disposition when I arrived at the Friendship Station. I stood before the two-story yellow brick firehouse with a sense of adventure and anticipation. It had taken two years of college, a stint in the National Guard and one year of probation as an EMT and despite all the romance and warnings, at 25, I was ready.

The building had three bays with an engine, a truck, and the chief's car. An engine is a pump and hose equipped with basic medical, whereas a truck is a big toolbox on wheels with a ladder. The trucks did more at fires and handled specialized rescues. I looked at the shiny vehicles with envy.

“Hey, don't be getting any ideas about old Betty,” A heavy-set fire fighter greeted me as I stood at the entrance gawking.


“I'm Phil, Betty's chauffeur.” He offered a big calloused hand.

“Neil Archer reporting for duty,” I said and we shook hands. He seemed amused at my  probie manners.  

“Come upstairs and meet the captain,” he said, leading the way. Phil's suspenders kept his pants in check against a girth that threatened to pop the buttons off his shirt. He had a buzz cut dusted with gray framed by bushy sideburns that matched plump eyebrows above hard blue eyes.

The rest of the crew were out back playing basketball in a makeshift courtyard. I could hear their banter thru the open window as I entered the captain's office. The captain leaned out and called the guys in to meet me. While we waited, he explained the operation of the station in a cordial but no-nonsense way. He was a lean man of about forty five, with thick black hair and a neat mustache. 

“Transfer document please,” he said as he held out his hand. I pulled the official papers out of my small briefcase. The captain looked at them intently.

“Driver’s license.” Again, with his hand out in expectation. That was odd, I thought, frowning.

“We had an impostor try to pass himself off as a probie a few weeks ago” he explained. Okay, that was even odder. He narrowed his eyes as he regarded my I.D. Then asked me for my social security card followed by my union card. As the scrutiny became more bizarre, I wondered if my library card was next.

“I'm going to have to ask you to remove your pants,”  The captain demanded. 

“What?” I balked, with eyebrows raised.

“It's either that or I pat you down for hidden weapons,” he shot back.

I had been stationed in Hazelwood, one of the toughest neighborhoods and it was not unusual for a few guys to be armed. I started to unbuckle my belt and was about to drop my pants when I heard snorts of laughter and turned around to see the rest of the crew breaking up at the sight of me--pants in hand. I had been warned this company was known for their originality with pranks.

“Captain Fabiano. Welcome to Company Six,” he said, shaking my hand with vigor. The others completely lost it. I pulled myself together to shake hands with him and then the others who stepped forward to happily introduce themselves. The crew was a mixture of young and old, black and white, a progressive thing in 1984.

“Alright men we got a new girl here and I want you to go easy on her.” Fabiano smiled as he gave the standard introduction. The guys answered with snickers and bobbing heads.

“He will be with Rueben, Darryl, and Fisher.” The captain pointed out the three crew members of the pumper engine that was also the medic unit.

“Not another EMT,” someone muttered, earning him a sharp elbow in the side from Fisher.

Fisher was a mature man with a milk and coffee complexion and a widening gut but moved gracefully as he gave me an enthusiastic tour of the place. Fisher was the driver for the engine and had a second job as a taxi driver so he knew every street in the city. 

“You train with Chief Gordon at the academy?” Fisher asked, sizing me up.

“Oh yeah the Spike, God that man was fierce,” I replied. He was the top instructor at the Bureau Training School. Fisher shook his head and laughed.

“Ain't that the truth,” he said.

He showed me to my locker where there was a piece of white tape on the door with “Asshole” written on it. 
“That was for the previous guy,” he apologized, and quickly yanked it off.

 Aside from the technical stuff, one of the most important lessons learned at the academy was that a company is part frat house, part military unit. Guys just hanging out one minute snap to a strict command structure the moment the alarm sounds.  The instructors taught us to control ourselves under stress, get along with others and show the right spirit. I guess there were high expectations of me after the last guy.

“What was that crack about another EMT?” I asked, jerking a thumb toward the day room. 

“Oh that's just Kaz," he said.” He really didn't get along with Mister Asshole, but don't worry--he's a nice guy once you get to know him," Fisher assured me. I nodded vaguely, stowed my stuff, and padlocked the door. Fisher watched me with interest.

“Gear used to get stolen all the time at the other firehouse,” I explained.

“Don't worry about that here,” he said. “This neighborhood is richer, safer--and whiter,” he added out of the corner of his mouth.

No kidding, that's why I jumped at this opening. I went from the chaotic front line of a battlefield, where it was not unusual to be shot at or have bottles and bricks thrown at you, to the bucolic officer's club in record time.

I spent the rest of the shift getting to know the guys. Mariusz "Kaz" Kazinsky was tall and ruggedly handsome with wild reddish blonde hair. He turned out to be as nice as Fisher predicted, although it took me some time to get used to his rough humor. My fellow paramedic Rueben Ehler showed me the engine. He was a little taller than me with curly brown hair and sharp brown eyes. One of the first paramedics hired by the bureau, Rueben heartily approved of the training I got from Roscoe during my probation at the other company. 
Darryl Haines, the youngest, sat in the back of the rig with me. He reminded me of the singer Lionel Richie: thin as a rail with neat frizzy hair and glorified peach fuzz for a mustache. He was as quick on his feet as he was with a comeback, I liked him immediately.

I grew up in rural Illinois and the crew found my small-town manners highly amusing. I didn't do drugs or smoke, and drank only moderately. I barely even swore and addressed elders with “Sir” and “Ma'am” so they dubbed me 'Boy Scout'. We settled on a night out at Kelly's Bar, a favorite haunt of the gang for my intiation, where Phil regaled us with tales of his early days.

 Phil was old school: he didn't need any sissy breathing apparatus. It was a badge of honor to emerge from toxic smoke and hawk up black phlegm for days. He spoke nostalgically of the days when guys didn't ride an inside cab but jumped on the tail board and held on as the trucks screamed around corners. The first company Phil worked with didn't even have an aerial ladder, they caught people with canvas. He also had no tolerance for “darkies or broads” in the bureau. Everyone ignored Phil’s rants because of his seniority, but he was a hard man to like.

When I had joined the bureau, Pittsburgh firefighters had a bad ass reputation and fought fires with a swagger that risked their personal safety. The bureau, with its new budget, could no longer afford the risky attitude and the new guys found it unattractive. 
While the unions and command argued with the city over funding, the firefighters  grumbled about having to pay for tools, gear, and groceries out of their own pockets.

    Even though trucks and engines work together on a fire, there is a clear line between the two crews and they can be territorial about their jobs and equipment. I discovered there was no room for promotion as a paramedic but there was as a truckie, who saw more action at a fire. That's what I wanted, but it meant  ‘crossing the floor’, so I bided my time, proving I was experienced enough before requesting the transfer.

Fire Fly Chapter 1 "A Good One" Part 2

Part 2

Any ambition I had of fixing the world when I became a firefighter evaporated from the sheer overload of daily catastrophes. In the first two months of my probation, I saw every kind of human calamity. Fires that consumed homes in minutes, drug overdoses, and multiple gunshot wounds from gang fights.

 The fading steel industry was still a cause for gruesome maiming by heavy pieces of metal in the machine shops or death from molten slag slopping out of crucibles.

I adjusted to long shifts, sleeping in a dormitory with the other guys, and learned how to come fully awake in 30 seconds in the middle of the night at the alarm. I thought I handled the stress pretty well until the first time I saw a burnt body. I had nightmares for weeks. Some things you can never unsee.

The shift was 24 hours on followed by two days off, that sounds cushy but you may get little or no sleep during the shift. Even in our quaint residential location there was no shortage of calls to keep us busy. After fininshing paperwork and checking equipment, I used my spare time drawing in a sketchbook while others played basketball or hunkered down in big comfy chairs watching TV.

Darryl was washing the engine one day with the radio on in the background when Phil entered the bay.

“Change the fucking the station,” Phil complained. He hated rock and roll.

“Hey it's KISS,” Darryl said cheerfully, demonstrating a few smooth moves to the Michael Jackson song. There were constant arguments over musical preference and Darryl enjoyed baiting Phil.

“Yeah, well kiss this jagoff,” he shot back presenting his large posterior to the upstart. We were laughing at the banter when the alarm sounded.  Darryl snapped off the radio and we listened to dispatch. Everyone rushed to the vehicles and pulled on their gear; we were out of the firehouse in seconds. 

 “Watch out, coming through, look out!” the engine and truck sirens scream, unlike the mournful wail of an ambulance. We hoped it was a 'good one' and not a false alarm, which wasted time and made us unavailable for a real emergency.

 Another company was already on the scene of a fire that had engulfed a two-story paint mixing plant, which meant lots of hot zones where potentially dangerous chemicals had spilled. Brown canvas hoses cluttered the pavement, puddled from all the water sprayed on the smoldering structure. Smoke billowed from broken windows.

“All hands working,” the battalion chief called over the radio, meaning everyone pitches in. The air was chilly and I felt grateful as I pulled on an extra pair of heavy leather gloves I got from Dad. 

 I dodged a chunk of burning debris blown off the roof by the wind as I trotted to the rear of the building where I discovered a barred and locked gate over a door. I hate those damn things. Nice for security but guaranteed to trap someone inside because of the double-keyed dead bolt. If you don't have the key handy, you're screwed. I braced myself, took hold of the metal door with both hands and with one hard yank pulled the door free of the hinges and the lock. When more crew showed up, I commented on how lucky it was this door was busted. 

It turned out to be unnecessary as there were no people inside, thank God, the toxic fumes would have killed them. The foul air smelled like a mixture of turpentine and burning tires.

I went out front and stepped over the hose Fabiano and Fisher aimed at the angry fire visible between banks of viscous smoke as thick as drapery. One of the Captain's jobs is to stand behind the nozzle man and direct him.

“Easy does it. Move in closer. Keep the stream on the ceiling,” he shouted over the loud hissing of the water.

Deep down firefighters enjoy the thrill of putting out a good fire and the opportunity to control the nozzle like a child with a cool toy. Fisher enjoyed it even as he struggled with the strenuous work.

I stepped up to support the line. The pressure from the powerful hoses puts considerable strain on the arms and can knock you off your feet and takes two or more to hold them. I hauled the hose along easily. We knelt down to stay out of the lowering smoke as we inched toward the doorway. I backed off when I was ordered to help ventilate the roof. 

 As I headed out, I saw a guy from the other company stagger out of thick smoke, fall to his hands and knees and retch on the sidewalk. It's not unusual for firefighters to emerge from a fire with black smoke stained faces, snot running out noses and teary eyes. It's also not unusual to see these same guys light a cigarette later on. Go figure. 

I climbed the ladder to the roof of the building next door to join Kaz and Mike.

“Looks like a good one, Boy Scout,” Mike commented. 

'Iron Mike', the tillerman for the truck, was as intense as his blue eyes and knew the temperament of a fire better than anyone. We knew we were safe whenever we were with him and I tried to affect the same fearless attitude he had. Kaz and I climbed over the five-foot ledge of the taller building, poking holes in the surface with long metal poles to release the hot gases. 

“Watch your step, this bitch is a mean one. If the roof collapse’s, it’ll drop you in the fire,” Mike shouted a warning. Sure enough, a moment later a section gave way. Instinctively, I grabbed Kaz and leapt back to the other roof, a good ten feet away, where Mike reached out to help. We scrambled to escape the smoke and intense flames that shot up where we had just been standing. 

The fire shifted from manageable to defensive in an instant. After pouring on thousands of gallons of water from multiple hoses the classic building ended up a total loss, which was a shame.An hour later, the fire was finally knocked down. The first company stayed behind to pull down ceilings and walls in search of hot spots. Firefighters want to make sure a fire is dead when they leave so it doesn't light up again.

We returned to the firehouse in time for a quick shower before dinner. The hot water felt good after the chill of the day and washed away leftover adrenaline. When I walked into the dining hall Iron Mike was regaling the crew about our brush with the fire.

“Man, Boy Scout couldn't get away from that hole fast enough. He practically flew to the other rooftop,” he said with excitement. I froze at the statement until I realized he was being dramatic. 

“That's not the only hole he's run away from,” Kaz added to bawdy laughter. Firefighters are known for exaggeration and black humor to ease the stress of harrowing work. The guys began discussing dinner.

“Whose turn is it anyway?” Darryl asked. Not Kaz we hoped. The handsome charmer was good at many things but cooking wasn't one of them. Phil had been banned from the kitchen long before I arrived for reasons no one would discuss. Everyone looked forward to Captain Fabiano's turn because he would bring homemade Italian dishes from his mother. If we were feeling rich, we would order dinner from Pato's, the Greek restaurant recently opened next door.  Everyone in unison turned to me.

  If there was one sure way to endear myself to the guys this was it. As part of my ‘bachelor training’ Mom had taught me how to balance a checkbook, do the laundry, and to cook.

“Well, I do have a killer meat loaf recipe.”