Funny thing that just about all firemen (and pyromaniacs) have in common, we all love fire. You would think a firefighter would hate it, after all we have dedicated our lives to fighting the beast, but love it we do. As crazy as it seems, to us, there’s nothing more fun than running into a burning building to fight a fire.
The fascination seems to start early in life and unfortunately; most of us began the love affair with a match of our own. Almost every firefighter I know has a childhood tale about that day he accidentally lit the (fill in the blank here) on fire. For my dad it was the living room sofa; apparently he thought the best way to put out a burning newspaper was to shove it under the couch. For my friend it was his father’s garage (OUCH!). For me it was my neighbor’s clubhouse.
We had the best intentions in mind on that cold Colorado day, but as we all know, good intentions and teenage boys don’t always add up to the best of ideas. We worked away inside our freshly constructed clubhouse, slathering the walls with a fresh coat of beige, and we noticed that it was a bit too chilly for the paint to dry. We put our heads together, made a quick trip to the barn and before you knew it, we had ourselves a nifty little stove built out of a coffee can and PVC pipe.
O.K., in hindsight using PVC for a chimney wasn’t the best choice, but not to worry, the place burned down long before it ever became a problem.
Anyway, we filled the can with leaves and branches, careful to keep the extra kindling away from the potential flame, then we struck a match and threw it in. One match after another went into the tiny opening we’d fashioned, but we could not seem to produce anything more than a candle sized flame.
After a few moments, frustration set in, and we both decided our stove needed a little boost. Another quick trip to the barn and we had just what we needed. As I neared the clubhouse, I slowed to steady the paper cup full of gasoline, (after all I did want to be safe!) but despite my best efforts, I bumped the cup when I ducked in the door, and that was all it took.
I can still remember the trail of flame flashing to the foam rubber and kindling we had so “carefully” stacked in the opposite corner. We both tried to stomp out the growing fire but it was no use. It spread across the floor then crawled up the wall. We both looked at each other then burst out the tiny door to make our escape.
Now there is some good news, we lived in the country, which meant the closest building was about fifty yards away. Unfortunately no close buildings meant no close water, so the race was on to put the fire out before it could reach the cottonwood trees looming high above.
I went for the hose. I yanked it from its hook on the house and sprinted for the flames, but before I closed half the distance, it jerked me from my feet like a dog reaching the end of its leash. I scrambled to my feet and tried to arc the stream over, but it fell short, barely touching the fifteen foot flames. All hope was lost. Then my friend rounded the corner carrying his horses feed bucket and hope recharged my panic once again. We filled it up and he raced to the fire. Water trailed his every step and by the time he made it to the inferno he managed to throw about a teaspoon onto the flames. Apparently the bucket, riddled with holes, was more fit to hold grain than water.
It was our last shot. He dropped the bucket and backed to where I stood, watching in awe as the flames grew ever higher. It licked at the treetops, teasing us with the possible catastrophe, but in the end, they were little more than singed and only the birds were the wiser.
Despite having firefighters for fathers, neither of us thought to call the fire department, so we were lucky it burned itself out before it did any real damage. We worked like dogs for the rest of the day, wetting the pile down (with a less leaky bucket this time) and getting rid of the evidence.
We hid the half burned plywood in the shed and buried the blackened remnants under the trees we almost destroyed. I don’t know if his parents ever got wise to what happened, but I mentioned it to mine many maaaannny years later, and they said they never had a clue.
So while you’re out there watching your kids (or the great BIG kid) this fourth of July, pay attention. Be careful. Keep them and everyone around them safe. My friend and I got away with our little adventure uninjured, but many do not. Keep a sharp eye, you just might have a fireman in the making, and if you do, keep them away from the matches and gasoline.