It Was Dark In There! No…Really!
By Jim Kuiken
After I got off of active duty with the Marines in January 1977, I headed back “home” to Boise Idaho. I’d been raised as an Air Force brat (my dad, Gerrit Kuiken, who married my mom when I was about two or so was career Air Force), and we never lived anywhere very long, but we always claimed Boise as our home of record. I’d actually been born there (as was my brother) at St. Luke’s hospital.
When I first got there, after a short stint in various odd jobs and a year or so as a State Correctional Officer, I finally got my dream job as a Boise City Firefighter / EMT. My father (Bob Rose) was the Deputy Chief there, and his father (Earl Rose) had also been a Boise City Firefighter…so I was a third generation Boise City Firefighter.
Even though I was young and strong, and a seasoned Marine combat vet, it was not easy to get on the Department. The written exam was brutal, but they were trying to screen out a lot of folks, because they had over 300 applicants for 3 jobs. And a lot of them were former or current Firefighters trying to get on with Boise – one of the biggest departments around.
After the exam I ended up being one of 30 picked to undergo the physical test and screening. I had actually tied with several of the top scorers on the written exam – all of us got 100%, but that didn’t really matter…everyone who made it to the physical test started even all over again. The only use for the written exam score after you made it to the final step was to break any ties on the physical test.
During the entire application, examination and testing of the applicants, Bob, knowing that I was applying, made sure that he had nothing to do with that hiring cycle so no one could accuse either of us of any wrongdoing. Also, since we both had different last names, no one knew that Bob and I were related anyway – and neither of us told anyone.
If I thought the written exam was tough, that was nothing compared to the physical test and screening. It lasted several hours (most of the day), and was completely exhausting…carrying 75lbs of hose up and down 10 stories while in full turn-out gear. Going into hot, flaming, smoky rooms on your hands and knees, breathing through your mask and looking for a 150lb dummy to evacuate and carry out. Pulling 75lbs of hose – tied to the end of a rope – hand over hand up a 5 story exterior wall, lowering it back down hand over hand (no sliding it through your gloves), back up the 5 stories, and back down again…destroying your arms, shoulders and upper back… And on, and on… The test is a long story for another time, but in any case, I was completely drained about half-way through the day, and it took all of my determination and drive to just keep pushing through the rest of the day. Like all good physical tests, it was much more mental than physical…unless you’re someone like the Hulk.
Finally, I got the word that I was one of the three that got hired, and started my training. After months of training, I was finally at my first station, and still, as the rookie, went through a lot of additional training and some good hearted harassment…all part of a Firefighter’s life. I was in heaven!
I’d been to a few house, car, and grass / field fires, etc., but then it came. We were lying in our bunks upstairs when the beeps and tones started sounding, and one of them set off our station’s bells. By the number of beeps and tones we could hear, we knew they were calling out several stations – it was my first big fire! Nervous and excited, I jumped out of the bunk and ran to the pole, slid down and stepped into my turn-out gear, jumped on the rear running board of the fire engine with my hand through the leather strap, and we were screaming out of the door, sirens blaring. It was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and we could see a glow as we headed downtown…it was a commercial fire.
It turns out that it was a multi-story building, with a bar on the ground floor. Someone had emptied the trash into a can, but didn’t see that there was a smoldering cigarette, which lit the fire. Since no one was there, the fire got out of control, and as best we could tell had burned most of the first floor before it set off any alarms.
The Battalion Chief was directing the Fire Engines to various locations, we were pulling hose, hooking in hydrants, and putting on our breathing masks. My Captain directed me, as the rookie, to be the nozzle-man on the hose team, and we went in through the back door, crawling forward because there was so much smoke that you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. That was lucky, because about half way in, while looking for the fire, my hand met open air instead of floorboards and I almost fell through the huge hole that had burned through a large portion of the floor.
We worked around the hole, and then I saw it! If you can see anything in a smoke-filled room, then it’s probably fire or a “hotspot”, so I hit it with a stream of water from my hose…and it seemed to shoot up and away, out of sight! I’d never seen anything like that in any practice fires, but I just kept working until they pulled us back – the fire was out.
We’d been in there for a long time, and we were tired and coughing, and started rolling up hose when I saw Bob Rose…the Deputy Chief…and he was not happy. Since it was a major fire, he’d responded, and was now talking to the Battalion Chief, still mad that someone had hit him in the back of the head with a full stream of water, almost knocking him over, and blowing his white (supervisor’s) fire helmet right off his head down into the big hole in the floor, right into the middle of the fire still burning in the basement, destroying the helmet… I couldn’t tell if he was madder about the helmet, or being hit in the back of the head with a full stream from a fire hose…
In any case, it really had been dark in there… I kept my mouth shut, and rolled my hose.