Essays: Kiss of the Dragon

Written March 1994

by Kenneth Lea Barbalace

Screaming a deafening blood curdling scream my pager comes to life. The tone of a fire pager isn't that wimpy beeping of other pagers, it is an obnoxious sound that pierces the ears. To be waken up by one in the middle of the night is enough to scare the living hell out of anyone, especially on nights like this when the volume is accidentally left on full.

"Attention Company A and standby engineer, we have a report a boat fire in the 3300 block of HPR, Engine 1 responding." My pager chirps once it's finally finished screeching.

"Damn boat fires, why bother? It'll be burned to the water line by the time we get there," I grumble. Rolling over I pull my blanket tight around me and plow my head deep into my pillow, trying to ignore the pager.

"The boat is on the land side of HPR right next to a mobile home," it chatters.

"Oh, Shit!" I exclaim, sitting up. Stumbling around my room I get dressed and head out into the night on Voyageur.

Upon arriving at the fire hall, I ditch my bicycle in the apparatus bay and don my fire gear. Having barely caught the second truck, I buckle into the driver side jump seat as it screams out onto the city streets. Even with Engineer Scotty driving, it takes forever to get on scene.

Finally, Engine 7 comes to a stop. Forcefully leaning forward, I pull the air pack on my back free from the jump seat and jump from the cab. After adjusting the straps of my SCBA, I report to Incident Command.

"Yogi, Greg, mask up then take the hose from Jim. Work in between the boat and mobile home to cool that end wall down. The backup team will keep you cool with water from their hose. Be careful, there is considerable fuel on board the boat."

Only a path a few feet wide separates the engulfed boat and the end of the trailer. With Greg in the lead, we carefully work our way between them, cooling the trailer's wall with generous amounts of water. Quickly extinguishing what little flame spread there is, Greg turns our efforts to the 25' Bayliner roaring behind us.

Flames rage through out the entire hull of the vessel hungrily devouring everything and growing stronger by the moment. From a box built over the tongue of the mobile home, we work our way onto the dive platform off the stern gaining a position from which we can battle. Thick black smoke and massive flames obscure our view of the deck, but that doesn't matter, because we know where it is. With the full force of our hose driving straight at the deck, we begin to rein in the fire inch by inch.

Only stubborn flames beneath the deck remain. While Greg continues to hammer them through holes in the deck on the port side, I watch the glowing on the starboard side grow.

"GREG," I yell pounding him on his right arm. "Oh Greg!" I repeat continuing to pound. "Greg!" He begins to swing the hose starboard-- too late! In an awesome show of power the dragon roars to life engulfing the boat in a giant fire ball. Flames wrap around our bodies. I try leaning away from the flames, but they still reach.

Enthralled, I wave my arm in the flames that wrap around it. Is the fire an illusion? I can see it but it doesn't burn. I try to grab it but it's not there. The dragon kisses my mask with its flaming tongue--intoxicating.

Suddenly, the dragon disappears below the boat's deck, as Greg sweeps the nozzle in front of us. I am snapped from the trance.

"We need foam," I yell at a firefighter on the ground below.

"What?"

"FOAM! We need foam!"

"What?" Jim again yells back not able to understand me through my air mask.

"FOAM! F..O..A..M.. Foam. We need Foam!"

He looks at me puzzled for a moment then replies elatedly, "Oh, foam I'll be right back."

Greg sweeps the nozzle back and forth, keeping the fire away from us, while we wait for Jim's return.

"Get off the boat--they're beginning to foam," Jim yells upon his return. We don't have to be told twice.

No sooner have we landed on the ground, then foam begins to float from the sky. Coating everything including us in a white blanket, the foam quickly begins extinguishing the fire.

I look back at the boat where the dragon sleeps under the thick blanket--fascinating.

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Started 10-22-1995

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