Sometimes, the job is more important that your fears. How you respond is your measure.
I’ve never made a secret of the fact I don’t like fire. I could never understand why a guy would leave the police department and join the fire department.
The argument was always something to the effect “At least I don’t have to face off with some knife/gun welding screwball”.
Yes that’s true, but you can talk to the screwball, you can’t talk to fire. It won’t listen. But it was part of the job. Police officers are expected to respond and act.
It could anything from a VW Van on fire while coming down the Pali. Those vans had a history of catching fire with the rear mounted engine, but usually not while driving. Most often it was parked in someone’s carport, they were “working” on it, and the whole house burns down with it.
That one was simple, radio for the fire department, take out the fire extinguisher, and try to keep anything else from catching.
Then there was the run down old building on Nuuanu Street. I came upon it as the fire was just getting started. It was known to be vacant so it would have the usual homeless persons, junkies, and maybe even a hooker turning a street trick, as occupants.
When I walked up it was just started and I knew someone had to go in and check to see if any of those occupants were present. Since I was there, it was my job. So I used my radio to report the fire and went inside.
It was a three story building, wood, left over from probably the early 1950’s. It had housed any number of stores and the last incarnation was a curio shop that had specialized in faux-oriental art. It had been there for years because the building owner and the store owner were the same guy. It was run at a loss for tax stuff.
The flames were coming from the top floor down, had started to burn the second floor when I had found it. I went inside, staying low, and checked the first floor and didn’t find anyone there. Smoke was heavy and acidic and there was no way I could get to the upper floors but I had to try. I tried, but couldn’t get up the stairs.
The first fire company was arriving when I came out. The building was fully engulfed by then and really all the fire department could do was let it burn and keep the adjoining buildings from catching fire.
An ambulance had been dispatched, usual for any fire call out, for victims or firefighters, so the EMT’s gave me a quick check out, a couple of breaths of oxygen, I gave a verbal report to the sector supervisor and returned to the station to start the paperwork. It was later determined the fire had been deliberate but it was never determined just who had started it.
The next one was on S. Beretania Street right where the Kapiolani and King Street meet. There was an old one story residential building just past the intersection and I was returning to the main police station when I “observed” it was burning brightly. Again, it was uninhabited, but you don’t know until you check.
Again, the radio, the blue lights, and away I go. The building wasn’t fully in flames when I stopped, and was raised about two feet off the ground by pilings. I got as close as I could and dropping to my stomach I did my best to look under the flames for any indication there was anybody trapped or trying to get out.
There wasn’t. But it was my job to be as sure as possible so I kept looking.
The fire crew showed up and took over and I continued on to the station to start paperwork just like the other fire. And just like the other fire, my first stop was the locker room where I changed my uniform. It was bad enough the uniforms had smelled like smoke, but I changed because I had pissed my pants in fear, both times.
That’s correct, I am so afraid of fire, I would piss myself while forcing myself to go in and look for victims.
I went in, because it was my job.