By Michael Morse
We’re returning from the repair shop, driving through the West End on our way back to the North Main Street Fire Station. I’m in the tiller cab of Ladder 4, sitting on top of the world and watching it go by as we roll through the roughest neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island.
Litter flies past us as we weave through the tight streets. Boarded-up houses, rats, abandoned cars, fire hydrants open and running on some street corners leaving pools in the dirty streets for the kids to play in. Coney Island whitefish float to the top of the puddles, and the kids kick them to the curb and keep on playing. It’s hot in the tiller cab, ridiculously hot, the plastic bubble windows are behind me, slid to the open position so a little breeze blows by as the ladder truck roars by.
I’ve got a little speaker in the tiller cab, but it comes in loud and clear:
“Attention Engine 8, Engine 14, Engine 3, Tower Ladder 2, Ladder 6, Special Hazards and Battalion 2, a still box.”
I scan the horizon and see smoke rise a few streets away.
“That’s Engines 8, 14 and 3, Ladders 2 and 6, Special Hazards and Battalion 2, respond to 123 Hanover Street for a reported building fire.”
Lieutenant Crowley keys his mic from the officer’s seat some 40 feet in front of me.
“Ladder 4 to Fire Alarm, we’re on Superior, smoke condition on Hanover.”
“Roger Ladder 4, respond with the companies.”
The breeze in the tiller cab blows my hair back as we pick up speed. I turn the wheel left as we turn right, then right as we turn left. The fire building comes into view.
I’m getting ready to follow the chauffeur’s lead and put the giant truck into a tiny spot, knowing Lieutenant Crowley has already begun sizing up the scene and is busy scouting the perfect spot. Before we get to do it, though, Tower Ladder 2 and Engine 8 roar onto the scene, the engine company passing the ladder, which is already lowering the outriggers as the officer and one of the firefighters leave the cab and force the front door. The other two get into the tower and begin their ascent as the firefighters from Engine 8 stretch a 1 3/4–inch line from the rear of their truck and follow the ladder company into the burning building.
Flames shoot out of the windows on the third floor. We position our vehicle for secondary roof access, put on our gear, load up with tools, and go in. Engine 14 is on the hydrant, Ladder 6 is busy with a primary survey of the fire floor, and we are assigned to do a primary search on the second floor. Special Hazards arrives on scene with Engine 3. The chief takes command of the scene and the battle is underway.
It takes all of 15 minutes to put the fire out. It had started in a bedroom, got into the walls, spread to the loft, and was ready to go through the roof prior to our arrival. Flashover was imminent; even without the fire, it was hot enough up there to flash. It never had a chance. We pulled ceilings and chased sparks for half an hour or so, finding hot spots and making certain the fire was completely out.
I walked out of that house during one of the worst heat waves on record. The temperature was 104 degrees at noon, when the fire started. It must have been 200 degrees inside.
I had a flashback when I walked out of my house today, into the first cold air of winter, and remembered how cool that 104-degree air felt after getting out of the loft.
They say once a firefighter, always a firefighter. There’s nothing like the some cool, fresh air to make you feel alive.
Michael Morse, a Providence (RI) Fire Department member for 22 years, writes about his experiences as a firefighter on Engine Co. 2, 7, and 9 and Ladder Co. 7 and 4, as well as his time on Rescue Co. 1 as a lieutenant and Rescue Co. 5, where he is currently captain. He lives with his wife Cheryl seven minutes from his station, which, fortunately for him, is “worlds away.”