Tuesday, March 03, 2009

baptism by fire

i got the call around 1:45 this morning:

"ready for your first fire?" a seasoned gentleman's voice asked. it took me a minute to register that i was not dreaming myself into the plot of mission:impossible.

"yes!" i sat up with a start.

"meet me at the chapter at 2:30. i'll let you in the building for briefing."

a few months ago, i started paperwork to join the local red cross volunteer disaster action team. last week, team leader bob completed my initiation with: "we work every fourth week. our team is on call next monday through thursday, 6pm to 6am and friday from 6pm 'til monday, 6am. what do ya think? are you up for it?" i assured him i was, and naively imagined i would never be asked to fulfill this commitment.

now, at 2am accompanied by the sounds of nightlife in the city, i splashed some water on my face and said an audible prayer for protection and guidance. dressed in my bleach-and-peace-signed steel toes, leftover amerigarb, and red cross ball cap, i stepped into the cold and shuddered at the thought of a family standing outside, unprepared for the winter winds. at the red cross building, team leader bob and bre, the on-call operator, met me to discuss the situation at hand.

it turned out to be pretty low-key. the family involved was able to stay with relatives for the evening and had already made their way there. bob and i drove over to the empty house and examined the exterior: a few blown-out windows, some smoldering mattresses, and a power box disabled by the dfd. "electrical fire," bob explained. "started in the bedroom. no visible damage in the kitchen. looks like they were pretty lucky."

my mind raced as i inhaled the smoke-saturated air. what was i doing with a stranger my parents' age on a half-abandoned block in the middle of the night in the heart of detroit? what would it be like to wake up with a fire in my bedroom? i love campfires. i'd like to go camping sometime soon. is it weird that i want to climb in the kitchen window? gahl-ly! it's cold out here!

"it's a different city this time of night, isn't it?" bob asked, interrupting my thoughts. i smiled, stepped carefully around debris in the front yard, and climbed into the van.

"that's where i stay with my mom and dad," i pointed out on the way back to the chapter, feeling as young as i sounded. i crawled back into bed around 3:30 and said another prayer, giving God the play-by-play and thanking Him for gentle introductions. here's to a whole new chapter of firsts.

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