Having served over thirty years in fire departments across three states, Gary R. Ryman brings a unique perspective to the firefighting experience. The son and father of firefighters, Ryman ignites the fire, smoke, blood and fear spanning three generations of the “family business.” He recounts his early days in upstate New York learning from his father, the department fire chief. He describes the blazes he battled with a career and volunteer crew in the crowded suburbs of Washington, D.C. He examines the mentoring relationship established with his son as they respond to the calls of a volunteer department in rural Pennsylvania. Overall, Ryman shares both the personal and professional turning points that define a firefighting career.
“Kitchen’s off,” Jerry, the assistant chief, hollered from the doorway between the living room and kitchen. We moved the line into the kitchen, making the hard right turn. Fire rolled across the ceiling above the kitchen cupboards. I pulled more line into the room and yelled through my face piece, “Get it, Mike.” He braced himself on the floor and racked the bail back, the straight stream again blasting from the black nozzle tip, pounding the fire and quickly pushing it back. A few seconds of water and the flames were gone. Mike shut the nozzle and we looked, as best as possible, through the smoke at where the fire had been.
“Hit that hole up there,” I told him. I was sure there was more fire in the wall and ceiling. If we got some water in there while waiting for more manpower and tools perhaps we could slow it down. The straight stream again thumped the junction of the wall and ceiling. After about fifteen seconds of water, I had him shut down again.
Now we could see smoke pushing from behind a full height cabinet in the corner. I crawled up to it and pulled the door open. Flames blew out of the cabinet into the room and up the wall. Mike heaved on the line and got around the now open cabinet door and killed these flames as well. Jerry handed me a pike pole and I smashed the kitchen window out next to the cabinet. Smoke was to the floor by this point, our visibility poor.
“Vent out the window, Mike.”
He opened the nozzle on a narrow fog, something he had practiced innumerable times in training, but had never done for real. He watched the smoke become entrained with the flowing water, streaming out the opening together. From beneath his face piece came the first words I’d heard him utter since we entered the building.
There was no further fire evident in the kitchen, so we pulled the line back to the living room. Hook still in hand, a few quick pulls of the ceiling revealed fire running in the channels of the heavy floor joists above. A good eighty square foot area was well involved. A few more shots with the hose line and we were in good shape.
My low air alarm began sounding. Mike still had plenty of air left, which I heard about in great detail in the days which followed, but I didn’t know any of the additional people now working the room. He had come in with me so he would leave with me.
“Lets go, I’m low on air,” I said. He followed me out the front door and onto the snow covered lawn. We both knelt down and removed our helmets and face pieces. Me and my son, together. I looked over at him as he stared at the house, just light smoke now coming from the top of the front door.
“Did you enjoy it?” I asked. He just nodded back to me, a satisfied look on his face.
I always thought it would be great to be there his first time inside, but never knew if it would happen. I had just gotten to live a dream. Emotions welled up inside me, flowing through my system. I thought I was going to cry. He wasn’t my little boy anymore.