The week-long festivities that accompany Halloween at UNH include but are not limited to: men and women exposing an unnecessary amount of skin in hypothermic conditions, banana costumes, cow costumes, more bananas, Sean Astin and a prior last minute exodus to Savers.
I had no intentions of throwing together a last-minute costume for Friday night. I didn’t need one, in part because I doubt the Durham Fire Department would have taken kindly to a reporter rolling around in a clown outfit peeking through the windows of the fire engine. My journalistic intentions were simple; jump on board, take some chicken scratch notes, snap photos and leave the fire station to write the following story. My evening forecast changed, however, after shift Captain Nate Katz briefed me and asked, “Do you want to gear up like us and see how it really is?”
I guess I got to wear a costume on Friday night as part of Halloween weekend after all.
It was about 12:30 a.m. in the station and the night was slow. All the firefighters concurred that college folk were saving their energy for Saturday. My night had so far consisted of: getting gear, getting in and out of that gear and getting in and out of that gear again. I was expected to keep up with Katz, Artie Boutin and Barry LaVigne. I also had some Almond Joys, popcorn and Moxie from the vending machine, in addition to watching the Charlie Brown Halloween special.
I was getting an inside look at the unglamorous side to the job. It involves tedious two-system computerized data entry of demographics, and filing information on trucks, firefighters and locations. “This is everybody’s least favorite part of the job,” Katz said.
A call for a fire alarm finally came in later. My five-minute crash course in firefighting procedure hit me like the 290 pounds per square inch (psi) of water that blasts from a fire hose. My interview with Katz immediately concluded, and we stood up, made our way out the office and down the stairs to Engine-1 in double time. I kicked my boots off, jumped in the thick fire-resistant pants, pulled the suspenders up and over my shoulders, tossed on my hood and glanced over at LaVigne to make sure I was keeping up, as he told me earlier that he had never brought a reporter on a ride along before. I was keeping up. I threw on my reflective jacket with haste and jumped into my air pack, which was located on the back part of my seat in the truck. I buckled up and LaVigne and I rolled off to the Rosemary Lane apartments.
It took about three minutes to reach our destination in that beast of a fire truck. Once we parked, I unbuckled, gave my upper body a swift jerk forward to release the 30-pound air-tank, snagged my yellow helmet and swung the doors of the fire engine open to be confronted with inebriated party-goers, women in skimpy outfits and the smell of diesel wafting through the air. Boutin signaled me to follow him. At that point we were commencing our size up. His job, if there was a fire, would be to lay the hose line and establish water flow, but first we had to do a perimeter scan of the building, searching for any possible smoke, the activated fire alarm and any active flames.
No smoke, no fire alarm [that we could find] and no fire. I’m actually thankful about that. If there had been a fire, I would have been told to wait in the truck, out of the firefighters’ way. Though, I think my curiosity would have pulled me toward any possible fire, if only to get some good camera angles.
Earlier that evening, Durham Fire Department Assistant Chief Dave Emanuel told me that reporters have come for a ride along with them before, but with administrative changes the department has clamped down. I was lucky to get the opportunity, and it felt good being able to gear up and ride along with the Durham Fire Department. I can only empathize with a small portion of their job, however; getting in gear, rolling to a possible fire scene and having some situational awareness. These men and woman say they have one of the best jobs in the world. Why wouldn’t they? Firefighting is honorable and firefighters are generally looked up to as people who come to the aid of all, fearless when in the face of a blazing flame; they are community heroes. Even though I only experienced a sampling of the traits and skills and ideal values that a firefighter needs, I concur with members of the Durham Fire Department when they claim to have the best job in the world.