The changing of the season and the leaves falling from the trees reminded me of an experience I had years ago. Initially it came in as a small brush fire. The middle of the night dispatch was accurate as far as it went. I rode the left well of the wagon as we made our way down New Hampshire Avenue, the siren needed only infrequently at this hour with little traffic to impede us.
As we made the left hand turn onto the side street, I could see the column of flames in the air. Not typically what you see from a brush fire, but it was obviously coming from the wooded section near the edge of the neighborhood, so I didn’t think much of it. Another left onto the dead end roadway, and we were there.
There was definitely a brush fire. Unfortunately, the center of the burning brush and leaves included a van, fully involved. At least the column of fire in the night sky was now explained.
I dismounted and grabbed the nozzle of the inch and a half trash line from the running board, and started making the stretch toward the fire. Paulie, one of the career guys, flaked the line out behind me. The driver put the pump in gear and charged the line. I opened the nozzle and moved in toward the burning van, killing the burning brush in front of us as I went.
Reaching the van, I directed the nozzle into the interior, sweeping the stream across the ceiling then whipping the nob around. The fire darkened and seemingly went out inside the vehicle, but looking down, it was now shooting out from under the van onto my boots and lower legs. It got my attention.
Backing up a couple of feet, I swept the underside of the van with the stream. Now the fire flared back up inside the vehicle. Paulie left to go back to the Engine and pull another line, while I continued playing ping pong with the fire.
He returned with the second hose and we worked the brush and van together. Moving toward the engine compartment, the stream hit one of the vans front wheels. Bright beautiful colored flames came off of it.
“Shit,” Paulie and I said simultaneously. It was magnesium, which was a bitch to put out with water. You typically used sand or a special extinguisher. We didn’t have either this night.
I looked behind me and saw that the engine officer, Lieutenant F, had seen the same thing. He had a length of three inch on his shoulder and the Humat valve in his hand as he humped toward the nearest hydrant. He knew the tank water alone on the Engine wasn’t going to cut it.
Paulie and I kept working the lines. We were trying to keep the fire underneath the van knocked down and away from the gas tank. The hydrant supply established, the lieutenant supervised and moved from line to line behind us. He was an old fashioned officer. No way was he calling for help for a small brush fire.
We attacked from two directions, hoping to end the table tennis match with the fire. I kept pushing it away from the gas tank while Paulie knocked it down in the van again. He could tell the gas tank made me nervous. I knew they seldom caused problems, but they also weren’t typically exposed to fire for this long.
“Don’t worry kid. If that tank goes we’ll be frigging heroes, and we won’t feel a thing,” Paulie laughed.
It lightened the mood, which was his purpose. Slowly we got control, and with the coarse straight stream, were even able to put out the mag wheels.
Then came the drudgery; draining and re-racking the hose. The sun began to rise by the time we were done. Back at the station, I collapsed into my bunk for a half hour or so until the day shift crew came in. Just the routine noise they made ruled out further sleep. Good thing I was only twenty and didn’t require much rest.
Yeah, the colorful fall leaves are a wonderful thing.