By: Lori Peace, Former Firefighter and Guest Blogger
I recently came across a diary entry from April 1987 describing events that would impact my life, although few were aware it happened.
I had been a firefighter in Kingwood, Texas for almost 4 years at the age of 24. While talking on the phone to a young Aggie [a student at Texas A&M University] who would later become my husband, the tones sounded for a structure fire, and I hung up. He later told me while I was hospitalized, that he had a bad feeling as I hung up; he thought something was wrong. He would be right.
While Bob, Mike [fellow firefighters] and I were in the attic of a two-story residence, a flashover occurred. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I remember tremendous heat washing over my body and all three of us immediately went down the attic ladder. Thank goodness we weren’t far from that ladder.
And yes, the flashover was just as it is described in all the firefighting textbooks. That, I can verify. I don’t remember much after that. I remember my arms in front of me, falling, my head and body striking something, which turned out to be the first floor. I remember hearing the horn sounding for a firefighter evacuation.
As I became more alert, I heard a voice and crawled toward it. Jeff [another firefighter] was yelling “Get out! Get out! get out!” I suddenly felt pain in my arm and told him not to touch it, that it was broken, and I walked out. The best news is that all of us walked out!
I remember lying on the grass and hearing discussion about my gear being burned, yet it was still on my body. I remember smells, some of it was part of my hair that had burned off, but most of it was from a burn on my neck (Protective firefighter hoods were just being introduced into our department and I wasn’t wearing one).
I remember chewing on a glove Joann [a medic] gave me and I was safe; I knew she and Mike [another medic] would take good care of me. I could also hear the voices of my crew so I knew they were safe as well. I have no memory of traveling to the hospital.
At the hospital, Dr. Carlisle was there, and he said I had dislocated my arm and he thought my burn was not as bad as they thought. I lied to my parents and told them I was all right. I didn’t want them to worry.
One of the nurses in the ER washed my hair so I wouldn’t smell it anymore. I can’t imagine her having the time to do that for somebody yet that’s one of the things I remember.
While hospitalized, a lot of students came by to check out my arm; it had swollen to watermelon size. I must admit it was pretty interesting to look at, but in hindsight I should’ve been more concerned. Fortunately, I did not have to be transferred to a burn center; the burn on my neck healed up nicely as well as my arm.
I was off work for two months and toward the end of those two months, before I was medically released, I took the College Station (Tex.) Fire Department physical agility test so that I could join in June 1987 and be near my Aggie.
The journey through the fire service had been an interesting one for me. I obtained the highest professional certification one can obtain in the state of Texas. I became a fire instructor, hazmat technician, and still teach at the fire school at Texas A&M where my grandfather, also a fire fighter trained. I’ve been to the National Fire Academy and earned a bachelor’s degree through a program affiliated with the National Fire Academy. All those I’ve known from 1983 to the present remain my brothers and sisters.
I want to encourage every one of you as you either reflect on your career in the fire service, or you’re looking forward to it, please know that it is one of the most remarkable journeys you will ever take. Public service, no matter what discipline you are in, is service from the heart. You make a difference. It is dangerous at times, but in those times when danger presents itself, rely on your training and instincts and always be there for our brothers and sisters who need our support.
As I read obituary after obituary of people who were my contemporaries, I suppose mortality seems to be more apparent to me now than it was when I was 24, fearless, “bulletproof,” and always in the gym making sure I remained as such.
I’m not sure why I decided to share this long story today, but I felt it just needed to be told. I have a great deal of gratitude and appreciation to those who were with me in the structure, my brothers and sisters at the fire department, and for so many who cared for me in my time of need. Simple things like bringing over food meant so much, and since I was young, I’m not even sure that I appropriately thanked everyone involved for all of their effort to take care of me. You are forever in my heart. You know who you are.