By Raul A. Angulo
The word hero seems to get attached to every good deed these days. I was reading in the paper where a person who helped start a soup kitchen for the homeless was called a hero. There are lots of benevolent and humanitarian “good deeds” being performed every day, but they’re just that–good deeds. They have nothing to do with heroism. Labeling every good-deed doer a hero cheapens the word. What are we supposed to call someone who does something deserving of the status? A real hero? A superhero? Does that mean the regular hero is not quite a real hero? To me, a hero is someone who puts themselves in danger and personal risk–pushing themselves to the limits to successfully save a life. It should not be confused with courage. You can be courageous without being heroic. But you can’t be heroic without being courageous.
Stairway to Heaven is a story of courage and heroism. When the Burleson (TX) Fire Department asked me to write their story, they said it was a spectacular rescue. After I read the page-and-a-half narrative of the incident report, I thought to myself, “Okay…I’m not quite seeing the spectacularness here.” A worker got stuck at 760 feet above ground in a communications tower and the firefighters went up and rescued him (I’m simplifying it here). It wasn’t until I spoke to the incident commander and interviewed all the rescuers involved that the real story unfolded.
As each firefighter told their story, my jaw dropped with disbelief as they explained each obstacle they encountered. First, it was the heat, then the height, then the time of day, then the wind, then the weight, then the darkness, then the physical exhaustion and muscle fatigue! This was information that wasn’t in the incident narrative report. At the end, I asked, “Well? Did you save him?” They answered, “Heck yeah we saved him!”
After the interviews were over, I spent days going over my notes visualizing and trying to relive what these guys went through. It was an incredible story. I kept asking myself, would I be able to do what they did? Would I have the strength and endurance to see this mission through? I would like to say yes, but I honestly have to say that I don’t know if I could have done what these men did. It wouldn’t be because of fear–I would die trying; I just don’t know if I would have made it.
In Stairway to Heaven, I tried to capture the human drama in words. Now, with the bonus features, you can hear the radio transmissions between the rescuers and the ground crew, and view extra photos that did not originally appear in Fire Engineering. These recordings add a new dimension to the drama that took place 760 feet above the ground. To fully understand and follow the dialogue, you first have to read the entire article (CLICK HERE) so you know who the players are and the sequence of events. In listening to the recordings, you can come closer to experiencing precisely what the incident commander and these firefighters were up against. There was nothing to see (it was in mid-air at night and 40 mph winds made it difficult to communicate). All they had to go by was what they heard.
Spectacular isn’t always flashy, playing itself out on the world stage for everyone to see. This rescue took place in the dark. No one on the ground could see it. This ‘spectacular’ happened inside the human spirit. The only ones who witnessed it were the five men in the tower.
Not every firefighter story of courage and heroism takes place in a burning building. This one took place in a communication tower. But their success was a result of tapping into every ounce of courage and strength they were able to muster from within their heart and soul while their bodies were telling them to quit. We will never know how we will act in a situation like this until we’re faced with it. Most of us will go through our entire career without being tested so severely. As firefighters, we recognize a different standard than civilians do when someone truly performs an act of heroism. These men did it. Their story is inspirational and needed to be told.
From left to right: Firefighter Dallas Fowler, Firefighter Gary Sansing (Crowley FD), Bill Buchanan, and Matt Moseley of Burleson Fire Department (BFD). Photo courtesy the BFD.
Lt. Lozier is debriefing with Firefighter Dallas Fowler. Photo courtesy the BFD.
Lt. Jeremiah Lozier, FF. Dallas Fowler, Firefighter. Matt Moseley, and Firefighter Bill Buchanan. (Gary Sansing not pictured). Photo courtesy the BFD.
End note: Below is a YouTube helmet-cam video of a professional tower worker climbing a 1,768 foot communications tower.
RAUL A. ANGULO is a 33-year veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Co. 6. He is a national author and instructor on fireground strategy and tactics with firefighter accountability and company officer development. He has written on numerous subjects for Fire Engineering and authors the monthly column “Tool Tech” in Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment.