I joined the brigade just less than seven years ago. And while I’ve had a few moments of drama in that time – the earthquakes scarred a bit – without doubt my greatest night was when I rescued a dog. There are two versions of my dog story. There’s the one that is the truth and there’s the one I tell at the pub to impress women. I will tell you one of them.
It’s important to note that I actually have a bit of history with animal rescue. The first call I went on as a probationary firefighter was a cat up a tree – I kid you not. And the first call I went to as a fully-qualified firefighter was to a seagull that had tangled itself in fishing line and a power pole. So coincidental were these incidents that I began to think the animals of Sumner were becoming rather reckless: secure in the knowledge I would rescue them.
That was not the case with the dog.
The dog was a captive. He had been placed in a cage overnight (an apparently regular incarceration) as his owners slept. This was all well and good before the dishwasher caught fire. While the human beings, alerted to danger by the pitch of the smoke alarm, could rush from the house, the dog could do little more than curse his misfortune.
That’s where I come in.
It’s difficult to describe what it’s like entering a burning house. The flames are no real problem - you’re well equipped for that - it’s the visibility that really does you in. Your breathing apparatus gives you a face full of fresh air whenever you breath in – rapidly in these situations. The thick black smokes means visibility is very nearly nothing. It’s completely pitch black, hot and disorientating. And then there’s the matter of the dog to rescue.
I could hear him, of course, barking away at this terrible state of affairs but finding what I was now calling ‘the little fucker’ was very difficult. My partner was merrily putting water on the orange stuff while I was searching. As per the NZFS National Commander’s instructions I was making wide sweeps with the back of my outstretched hand and my front leg. Consequently the National Commander was responsible for me destroying the television, a laptop and every vase and ornament in what I was picking was the lounge. Still no dog.
Then the little fucker stopped barking.
That’s not a good sign, I thought as the National Commander put my sweeping front foot through a glass cabinet. But I doubled my searching efforts and subsequently the National Commander went quite berserk smashing everything that could be smashed and several things that may have ordinarily been deemed unsmashable.
Then the little fucker found me. I tripped over the cage and heard the dog whimper, which at least meant he was still alive. I picked him up, cage and all, and headed for the exit, which unfortunately meant I had to retrace my steps. Everything I had kicked, hand-slapped and bumped into was now banging against the cage and reverberating through the body of my smoky little friend. It was the dog equivalent of being quite pleased to be taken from Guantanamo Bay only to find yourself whisked off to Turkey to be tortured.
Then I was at the door, where the Chief Fire Officer was waiting. At which point he leaned in, grabbed the cage and darted to the deliriously happy family with the dog, who in the fresh air recovered rather quickly. In doing so, the Chief took the glory. All of it. And this is why I have to tell this story at the pub to gain the praise that is quite rightfully mine. In my pub story I change the name from ‘the little fucker’ to Lassie. I say that after pulling it from the inferno I administered it oxygen, gave it CPR and undertook some minor open-heart surgery. I also say that it was a Seeing Eye dog and that it was connected to its owner when I pulled it from the building.
I am yet to score by telling that story.