Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Crossing Borders...

Firefighters and cops. So many similarities, yet so many differences. I know, I know. Firefighters and police officers are supposed to be rivals and all that crap right? Well, sometimes you just have to forget that stuff, jump in, and get your hands dirty.

I signed up to be a police officer, not a firefighter, but when I was a Reserve Officer (many moons ago), I stumbled upon an apartment fire. It was something like 1:00 in the morning and there was nobody so much as farting in this apartment complex. Nasty black smoke was pouring out of the back window of a first floor apartment. I got on the radio and hollered for the fire department. Then what to do? Stand there and wait for them to show? Nope.

This complex had a secured heavy wooden door and I had no code. If there really is some divine being up there, he / she was watching that night, because I pulled on the locked door.... and it opened. I threw one handcuff around each side of the door handles to keep it from closing all the way and made my way to the apartment that was on fire.

If you have never worked around a structure fire, you never realize just how dynamic it all is. I pounded on the door with the butt end of my flashlight, and while I waited I looked down at the bottom of the door. Little wisps of black smoke literally slithered out from under the door, then they pulled back in. It was kinda freaky, like watching Harry Potter or something. After a second or so of such daydreaming I remembered why I was there and pounded the hell out of the door again.

Just as I was preparing to put the old size 12 to the door, it opened. A black cloud slid out of the apartment and washed over me. I have never felt so much heat at one time. And there is this woman, standing inside the door in her bathrobe, looking at me. I yelled at her to get out of the apartment. She said "I have to get my husband out first" and started to turn around. I grabbed her by the sleeve of her bathrobe and pulled. She fell on her behind and rolled backward onto the landing, cussing me up one side and down the other. I told her to get out into the courtyard and stay there.

I started yelling "POLICE! YOUR APARTMENT IS ON FIRE! GET OUT NOW!" as loud as I could while I was choking on the smoke. I squatted down to look under the smoke and see what I could see. The smoke was so thick, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Then there was this little space, about 18 inches from the floor, where it was totally clear. The underside of the smoke was rolling around like it was alive, but underneath it looked like everything was fine.

A pair of slippers started walking across the living room, but not quite toward the door. I yelled to come toward me and the slippers altered course toward my voice. As soon as the slippers walked out of the apartment I realized they were actually attached to a man.

Once I was certain all of the occupants were out of the apartment, I turned my attention to the surrounding apartments. That's when I realized there were four other officers already clearing them. I never even knew they were there before that moment.

The fire department showed up and watered down the apartment. They climbed in from the balcony on the opposite side of the building and started putting water on the kitchen, promptly blowing the kitchen window glass out of its frame and onto my head. When they were done, I saw what caused all that smoke and heat. A toaster. One lousy, stinking toaster. It had somehow shorted out and burned the underside of the cabinets above, then the flames went up the outside of the cabinets and onto the ceiling. All told, there were maybe 15 square feet of actual burn damage. But because of the smoke damage, the entire apartment was uninhabitable for months.

On the other side of that coin, we had a fire department Battalion Chief follow a stolen car a while back, and detain the driver until we arrived. He didn't have to. He could have put it out to us then kept on driving.

There will always be inter-service rivalry, but in the end, it all comes down to what is best for the public we serve. I will cross that border again.

We just roll like that.


TheBronze said...

Very true!


USAincognito said...

Amen! :)
Up here where I am at, many police officers are also volunteer firefighters. One local town's PD and FD actually share a building. It is great when both work together! :)

Joel said...

I suppose it's probably not original, but every year our town has a fund-raiser football game between the firefighters and police called "Guns 'n' Hoses."

Liz said...

It seems to me that sometimes you don't get along with someone because you're to much like them. Maybe that's why there's the rivalry. Most of us are hard charging adrenaline junkies.

I've been a volunteer with a fire dept (but I was an EMT, that whole smoke and flames thing isn't for me). The Medics sure had a good relationship with the troopers. They had our backs when our seizures patients turned out to be drug-crazed and we had theirs when they got hurt. I think the rivalry is stronger in the cities because I never saw it in Alaska.

sash said...

Atta boy! EMS (system I'm in) is famous for being (stupidly) at war with the PD and FD. I for one absolutely do NOT agree!