Growing Up in Alameda: What front door?

Growing Up in Alameda: What front door?

Dave LeMoine

August 1969, 1:00 a.m.

My mind returns to my first structure fire. I am riding the tailboard with Moe Hale. He is extremely confident and anxious to get into the battle.

As I look ahead, with a mix of apprehension and excitement, I see a fully involved two-story house, with Pete Matulich silhouetted in the flames. Moe says, “Captain Steckler will have us go through the front door.”

I ask in a somewhat agitated voice, “What front door? You mean that ball of flame?”

The reply comes: “Yeah, no sweat.”

I think to myself, Who me? Naaaaa. But then I see Moe’s Brother, Bob Hale, crawling out of the building, steam rising from his turnout coat and a smile on his face. I then know that I am in the company of men of uncommon valor.

I love this job!

Back to reality, we’re through the front door and beating back the flames. This isn’t so bad, when you have a team like this. As the fire dies into darkness, my eyes haven’t adjusted yet from bright as day to midnight black. My Mag light’s beam doesn’t penetrate the darkness because of the dense smoke; it seems more like a penlight than the floodlight we need in here.

I’m on all fours crawling, groping, throwing things out of the way, feeling for people (hoping not to find any), then into closets, under beds, behind doors. Where are they? Maybe they’re already out. Then, as if a light switch has been turned on, the room clears of smoke. Is it a miracle? No, the truck crew must be on the roof chopping a hole. Now that’s fun!

I think my favorite thing in life is to be sitting astride the ridge of a three-story Victorian at 2 a.m., axe in hand, smoke rising from the great hole we just opened, floodlight almost blinding as I gaze down from my perch to the street below. Firefighters look like ants running and pulling hose in all directions. Muffled yells come from inside the house as they find and are attacking the fire. No better place to be. This job has given me a real purpose in life, and I get paid for it. Thanks, God.

The fun is over, with 2,000 feet of wet, dirty hose to roll and pick up. The adrenaline is gone. I’m soaked from head to toe, but our spirits are high. Again, training and teamwork take control. The mood is light; tension from the sometimes-long wait between fires has been relieved.

Back at Station One, everyone joins in to reload the engine with dry hose. The truck’s equipment is cleaned and returned to its rightful cabinets. Hey Cap, we can go back in service!

A warm shower and dry clothes feel great. I'm so relaxed. Daylight is breaking in the east. I could go back to bed, but most of the guys are in the kitchen talking and laughing about old George, Crash Cannon and Harry (Sea) Bass, or the gracefulness of me falling over a 2-1/2 inch hose in the middle of the street.

Pete Matulich says, “We thought you were a klutz, but now we’re sure.”

My reply: “Oh yeah, I’ve seen most of you on your face a time or two!” I guess I’ll finally get some sleep at home today.

“Attention all stations!”

Here we go again.