My second entry, the fire that changed me, in more ways then others.
Slight word of warning though, this is not a happy or funny story, but it is a key moment in my life as I will explain along the way, and I changed the name of the family because of privacy reasons.
Christmas eve 2007, just before 7pm.
We were just having dinner, making jokes , just the usual firehouse banter.
And just before dessert, tones " Engine 4534, Engine 4530, Ladder 4550, Battalion 4595, structure fire, restaurant Oriëntal Garden Northstreet 32, Arnemuiden"
That was all we got at first, we knew the adress, it was a Chinese restaurant we sometimes stopped to get food, it is located in a town nearby, and we were all asuming that Mr. Ling just burnt his food again.
We rolled out code 3, expecting that we would be stood down before we even left the street the fire station was on, I was number 1 today, the nozzleman.
The Lt. called us en-route, then dispatch gave us all an update "Confirmed structure fire, called in by the owner and multiple callers"
We got silent and made sure our bunkers and SCBA were properly secured and closed.
Then the radio came alive and then the words echoed in the cab that haunt me still to this day "Engine 4534 to all responding units, persons reported" that short message made the whole crew silent. the only things heard were the 2 tones and the rumble of the engine.
We all knew this was going to be a bad one, and looking back at the events that were unfolding, that was a major understatement.
The responding battalion chief immediatly made a 3rd alarm, which is highly unusual, and a bad omen, that and when we turned onto the highway to Arnemuiden, we saw a orange glow coming from the heart of the town. .
Then our Lt. radioed in that we were a few minutes out, and the Captain of the 4534 came on "4530 from 4534, you guys hurry, we need all the water we can get on this fire, the restaurant is empty, but the 4 children of the owner are still unaccounted for" his voice sounding both scared and unsure, something you would not expect from a man with nearly 24 years expierence as a firefighter.
My blood became as ice in my veins hearing that, I saw the color drain from the faces of the 3 others in the cab, men and a woman I trust with my life.
We came on scene, and our Lieutenant ordered me and my buddy to lay down a low pressure line, so we did, as the 4534 was focussed on the rescue as the owner and his wife confirmed their 4 daughters were still inside, and they only had 2 high pressure hosereels out and weren't advancing into the structure as the flames were already rushing out on the 2nd floor where the family lived.
We had the 2 inch attack line ready faster then ever, but it felt like hours, before I opened up the nozzle and a stream of water found its way into the door opening where the staircase was, and we could advance a little bit.
Step by step, we could advance, with 2 lines and 6 guys, enter the structure, up the stairs, and then we were stopped by a wall of fire on the landing, and it became worse, the heat more intense then anything I've ever expierenced, my SCBA visor started to deform, so was the visor on my helmet, it started to droop down, and the embers that were falling onto my arms burned into the suit, and started to hurt.
Then I felt a tug on my harness, we were pulling out, and that was the single, most heartbreaking decision we made, because we knew, those missing kids could not be far.
Hurt and gutted, we pulled out, the guys from the ladder were trying to gain access via a window, but also hit the wall of fire that stopped us.
A 4th alarm was given and units from the whole county came to the small town, hoping they could make a difference.
Several other rescue attempts were made, but all without success, my buddy and myself were ordered to go defensive, as our gear was too damaged to go with the assisgned interior crews, also as I later found out, my forearms and hands were pretty burned up by the fire.
We gone defensive, and after 3 hours, we could bring the fire under control, but the structure was too damaged by the fire, so we could not start a recovery operation.
We stayed on scene all night and morning, and it felt unreal, a lot of us started to tear up, hugs were given, we talked to eachother, trying to make sense of this situation.
Normally, we would have a friendly competition and joke with the other crews, but those moments, we were one big family.
We were relieved from duty by the B-shift crews, after I got my hands and arms checked out by the on scene ambulance crew, back at the station, I threw away my bunkers and helmet, as they were too damaged, and reminded me what had happened the night before.
We talked with eachother and the traumatic incident support team, and bit by bit, we came to the realisation, that we did what we could, but still it felt like we failed.
Sleep deprived and shook up, we went home, just to go back to Arnemuiden a few hours later, as we wanted to be there, when the on scene crews brought out the 4 bodies of the owners daughters, for me personally, I was there to have some form of closure, I couldnt save them, but I could help bring their bodies to the waiting hearses, so they could have a proper funeral.
In the weeks after, I was struggeling mentally, I used every form of help I could get, but I could not find rest, I barely slept, and just wasen't myself.
So I decided to help my mom on the attic, and in a big box, I found my old Lego fire sets, and I thought "Hey, I could get some cash for that" So I started to assemble the sets.
And without knowing, I found peace in building, I could collect my thoughts and have a good think about what had happened, and sure enough, 3 or 4 sets further, I literally fell asleep on the floor.
So I kept building, and I was starting to come around, feeling much better, although the fire left a huge mark on me, and I even thought of resigning, also from the 25 guys from Arnemuiden's Volunteer FD riding Engine 4534, 12 left the fire department as they could not cope with what happened.
But I had my Lego to keep me (some form of) sane, and wandering over the internet to look for Lego fire trucks, I stumbled upon MOCpages, and found the builds of the founding members of the LFC.
Guys like Tom D, Paul B, Matt J. and many others.
That was the start of an adventure that is the Lego Fire Community and Studdsville Fire Department.
And I'm still thankfull for the guys and gals I've met from all over the world, some of which have become close personal friends.
See you next entry!