Fire In The Bay

Roger Clark
April 2022

Now that the TSA is in charge of issuing hazmat certification, the training is simply three steps. First, determine the nature of an emergency. Second, take note of the wind direction. Third, run like your life depends upon it, because it probably does.

Back in the early 1990’s, it was much more complex. First, you had to know what a package group was, how much it weighed, and who would get the first call after 911. THEN you were allowed to run for your life, even if your flipflops were already in flames. 

Hazmat training today is limited to climate change, racial diversity, woke political campaigns, and making sure you sign Alabama paperwork in red ink. It’s important, after all, to acknowledge every possible hazard with equal opportunities for chaos.

When I was a firefighter back in nineteen seventy something, we had our fair share of chaos. One of my early training missions was hosted by a crafty old native American fire chief, who taught us how to survive, prevail, succeed, and laugh. He did the first three with skill, education, and coercion. He did that last part with well-practiced pranks stolen from his time in the U.S. Air Force.

One day during a training mission, I raced to get turnout gear from my locker, but someone had replaced my turnout coat with one two sizes bigger. There was no time to search because trucks were already rolling out of the truck bay. With a graceless jump, I landed on the tailboard and hooked my spanner wrench to a handrail. 

One hand desperately holding my helmet on, we rounded the corner, my coat tail flying behind me like a large rubber kite. Someone said it looked like a parachute flailing behind the big red truck, but thankfully, no one on the street could see it was me.

 Sometimes the chief’s jokes would backfire, like when teaching a lesson on fumes. We were gathered in a fire station truck bay where the chief had set a large cardboard box on a table. I was watching from the driver’s seat of a crash truck as he placed a cereal bowl of gasoline on top of the box. 

A couple minutes into his lecture, he casually struck a match near the base of the box. Flames instantly shot up to the cereal bowl, which surprised one of the drivers, who lurched backwards and knocked over the table. That in turn caused flaming liquid to spray the front of my truck.

 Pandemonium broke out in the truck bay. As I tried to sit up quickly, my left hand hooked the air horn chain. The sudden noise within the truck bay was deafening, and it startled the chief. Fortunately, he could cover his ears. Unfortunately, he was still holding the burning match, which fried his ear. That set me to laughing the same moment he started howling. 

A few days later, during another training drill, I raced down the stairs from the dorm to the truck bay. The door to the bay was closed, but I could always open it on the run, and slide right through. This time, however, the door was locked.

Slamming into the door face first, the collision knocked a tooth loose and bloodied my nose. Fortunately, I was able to continue the drill. Unfortunately, the chief looked just a little more amused than he should have! It just proves that no one is safe around firefighters or truck drivers!

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean you’re not being followed.