I’ve been attracted to fire from an early age, when Dad caught me trimming the lawn with a blowtorch.
“I don’t care if it is a controlled burn; you get your ass inside.”
Only recently, when firefighters trained in my area, did I see up close again my old flame.
Training took place at five houses condemned to burn because they were built sometime during the Mesozoic Era. The battalion chief, who oversaw the drill with a stoic air, Constantine at war, said they’d be using PSI to GPM the NFL ... they’d be burning stuff.
The men paired off for assignments: ventilation, support, and -- gulp -- lying face down in a house WHILE IT BURNED! That person was called the “dummy.” So it goes.
The captain’s face turned grim: “It is not macho to melt your helmet. Injuries do not impress me. I want you on your bellies.”
You can see why Prometheus, having stolen fire from the gods, was sentenced to have his liver eaten out daily while Mariah Carey songs played in the background for all eternity. And why did Prometheus take so much flak when, in the same book, we see fire-breathing dragons? Plot holes.
Some years after Prometheus, hippies would set fire to just about everything: draft cards, bras, dolls, several metric tons of controlled flora. And let’s not forget the tragic Keebler Elves Incident of '98: “What were we thinking, baking inside a tree?”
For these reasons and more, the chief shouted at his soldiers to man their positions around the houses. After ten minutes of bullhorn talk – like the guy at Jack in the Box reading back your order forever – the captain finally said, “Fire in the hole!”
I plugged my ears for an explosion, like the movies, as the Ignition Group calmly walked inside a house and dropped a flame on “class A combustibles” – haystacks, plywood, Mariah Carey albums. It smelled like camping.
I wonder if an incense factory ever burned down. The reporter would have to be conflicted: “And while this fire has caused millions of dollars in damage, the city smells terrific!”
A fireman photographer, Phil, waved me over to House Three, which awaited execution. Did I mention that the house next-door was on fire? I had that giddy feeling you get on your first kindergarten day trip, only this blew away the post office. Maybe we could do that next – blow up the post office.
Across the street, commoners gathered like moths at Lamps Plus. The fire truck blasted three times: last call for the firemen to get out. The dragon crackled and hissed, spitting cinders our way.
“Once it gets like that,” said Phil, “we just surround and drown. It’s all over.”
Until then, I always imagined that I could run into a burning house and save someone’s life. Now I’m not sure. I would at least have to know what kind of person it is – see a résumé or something.
Drills went on like this for hours until all the houses disappeared, dust to dust. The firemen retired to Gatorade and smeared charcoal on their faces every time they wiped. You have to admire people who, for our safety, put themselves in a position to die regardless of their plans for the rest of the day.
Constantine applauded his troops for a job well done. A few stayed behind to babysit the hot spots, which could smolder for days if left unattended. But don’t worry, Dad. It’s a controlled burn.