Monday, May 17, 2010


The old man stood on his porch on a tree lined street in a town in Arizona and madly fired off a round from the 30.6 rifle he cradled in his arms.
Within minutes, South Tucson and Tucson Police surrounded his little white stucco house,
and believing that a group of snipers was inside, filled the house, and the old black man, with a number of high impact projectiles.
During the "battle" two Policemen, Sargents, Andy Garcia and Roy Garcia were hit by stray bullets.
Andy's wound caused an ugly scar, he was transported by ambulance to Tucson Medical Center.
Sargent Roy Garcia of the South Tucson PD., was hit in the spine, and paralyzed from the neck down.
The old man now lay on his back, cold and stiff on the pavement in front of his lawn, killed in the opening salvos of gunfire.
Al quesada and I were manning the Paramedic unit that night and were asked to verify the man's death.
"He's about as dead as he could be." Al remarked drily, after a brief visual exam.
"Poor son of a bitch," I muttered.
One of the cops looked down through veiled eyes, hand resting comfortably on the blue steel revolver on his hip, "Call a Meds unit for this worthless, former, piece of shit, fellas, let's go home."
I'd been with the Dept for almost 20 years, I'd experienced a lot of death and disaster, but this particular scene left a very bad taste in my mouth.
Chief Roquillo had watched the entire scene unfolding, his dark, handsome face impassive throughout.
After the ambulance removed the body his eyes were moist, "Christ, what a waste of human life." he said.
He looked at the Paramedic Unit, then at Al and I.
"Take it back to the corral, Men." He said.
Al backed the vehicle out of the driveway, pointed the wheels to the north, and gunned the engine.
Some of the crowd that had gathered looked in our direction.
I heard someone say, "Look at all the blood!" as he pointed towards the sidewalk.
We drove slowly back to the Station in the light of a full moon, the black asphalt street wet and reflective from rain.
A barefoot Mexican kid trotted paralell to our rig, splashing up glassy puddles as he ran, shouting and waving, "HEY Rescue! Hey Al, Hey Mike!"
Al clicked on the siren for a second as he waved at the urchin, who beamed back gratefully, his shiny, black hair streaming rain drops.
We'd been running calls all night.
A cold film of sweat covered my face, my uniform was blood-streaked and damp.
Al pulled the truck to the curb, an ancient, black crone laid on the sidewalk, struggling to rise.
Her white hair was in disarray as she lay propped on one skinny arm.
Al walked over to her and spoke gently, "Are you alright, Grandmother?"
I felt like I was in a dream.
From a small adobe hut in the blackness across the street, mariachi music brassily poured out into the night, mixed with muffled yelps and cries.
The old lady snarled, "Get away, leave me alone or I call the police!"
Next to the house emitting the strange sounds was an old market, made useless by a recent fire.
The rain brought out the smell of burned and blackened timbers, a sickly, smokey, dead odor.
The crone rose unsteadily, desperately clutching a wet paper bag which threatened to dissolve, exposing the green wine bottle within.
Al looked bemused as he returned to the rig and drove on.
He was the kind of Fireman that was moved by death and exposure to the daily grind of existence for so many of the poor in this little barrio in Arizona.
Thunder exploded in the distance, my window was down, the rain drenched my face, it felt good.
Al turned the corner and we approached the Station.
A small, foamy, brown river churned in front of the driveway as we backed in.
Al shut down the engine and I snapped off the radios as he climbed from the rig.
"Let's have some coffee, Mike," he suggested softly.
He walked around the shiny, red unit, opened my door lightly and rested a hand on my shoulder, "Come on, Partner."
I rubbed my eyes wearily, I felt old.
"Go ahead, Al, I'll be right in."
I couldn't get the eyes of the dead, old man out of my thoughts.
As I'd kneeled over him and looked into his staring, sightless eyes, I'd felt something, something that I couldn't verbalize.
I wiped my face with the back of my hand.
I was sweating profusely, techincally, I was diaphoretic.
I gazed through the windshield at the stall door, my thoughts drifting.

"Mike, wake up! Wake up! We have a call!"
I had dozed off in the cab, still belted in.
"I'm awake, Al." I groaned.
"Are you alright, Mike?" He looked concerned.
I shook my head, drops of perspiration flew from my face, "I'm fine, Al, let's roll."
I grabbed the Meds Radio microphone, "What have we got?"
I looked over at Al as he shifted the vehicle and rolled out into the still rainy night, "Structure fire, " he answered, "Wood Bros Hardware."
I keyed the mike, "Meds, this is Rescue four zero, we're out of service responding to a structure fire at 2229 east two ninth street."
"Check, rescue four zero, let us know when you're back."
"Ten four, Meds control" I replaced the mic and looked in the direction we were headed.
Even in the rain and grey, overcast sky , thick black clouds of smoke were visible.
"We're going to earn our pay tonight, Al." I commented, drily.
Al nodded.
Adrenalin was flooding my system, and I began focusing on what I'd be doing next.
Over the years I'd developed some techniques for dealing with fireground situations, most of the techniques involved ways of physically controlling the results of stress that assaulted the body and mind, while working inside of a building that has become a blazing inferno.
Within a few minutes I would be, once again, putting those techniques to the ultimate test.

Thick, black, smoke billowed in the distance, tinged with orange.
A steady stream of conversation and messages crackled over the Motorola radios, STPD, TPD, and both cities fire depts responding to what was obviously a large structure fire.

Adrenalin flowed as we pulled into Wood Bros Hardware parking lot.
Fire trucks were rolling up, gears grinding and billows of diesel smoke churning out behind them.

Hoses were being strung out and water cannon were being played onto the sections of the building where the fire had broken through. We drove to the Chief's car and I spoke to Ronquillo. “Chief, what's the situation?”

He looked immaculate in his white shirt and cap, “There's civilians on the roof,.... Al, you set up a first aid station, Mike you go with Frank Quiroz and get the civilians down.”
“Check, Chief.” I answered.
“Mate”, he jokingly responded.
Quiroz was standing a 32 foot ladder up the building's
side, I grabbed a turnout coat, helmet and pants from engine one and slung a battered looking yellow air pack on my back and followed Frank onto the roof..

It was a scene from hell.
Huge fireballs exploded from the roof fifty feet in front of us.
I looked into the flames and saw what looked like funnels of fire which sucked the oxygen from the air around us.

We ushered the two civilians onto the ladder, and as the last one clambered over the side of the building he yelled, “Don't fall through!” I looked back towards Frank and saw his yellow helmet level with the roof, then disappear in a puff of smoke.
I thought, “Shit, Frank lost his helmet.” Then it hit me, “Frank fell into the building!”
I realized that the roof felt spongy, a distinct feeling, a warning, remembered from recruit training, about the way a roof feels just before it collapses.
I ran towards the wall and “Crack!” felt my foot go through.
As if to defy terrible gravity I willed myself upwards, threw my other foot forward and felt it rush threw a new opening in the roof, as superheated air rushed out.

Like a cartoon character I ran through the air and with a gasp fell into the inferno below me, my hands dragging at the collapsing roof now above me, madly clawing at the wall as I plunged downwards.

As I fell I saw intense orange flame everywhere, I felt my flesh beginning to cook inside my fire suit.
Sometimes in life time slows down, as it was doing now.
I could feel hot embers in my mouth and then the orange flame changed to total blackness as I landed with a thud on the concrete floor of the building.
The heat was intense, I thought, “I'm blind, my eyes have been burned out!”
The pain was becoming intense, I thought, “Death should come quick. Or... maybe I'm already dead! Maybe I'm in Hell!”

Then I heard a scream. It was Frank.
I looked in the direction of the scream and saw a pinpoint of light in the distance, a window.
I struggled to my feet and ran, explosive sounds and wave of heat following me as I sprinted across the cement floor to the window.

Engineer Garcia was leaning into the window, hands stretched out as I grabbed his wrists and he pulled me into the  daylight.
Within minutes I was in the back of an ambulance, with Frank Quiroz, and being administered morphine.
I reached up to my face, it felt hard and deformed.
The pain in my body changed to numbness as my mind began drifting and my senses succumbed to the narcotic.