I value kindness most. I often find kindness in conflict with what I value second, truth.
I mentioned a story of revenge in my last post. What does revenge have to do with kindness?
Months after refusing to participate in the unsafe hose training drill, I was assigned to an engine company at a new station. The station also housed a ladder company. I was the lone woman at the station, but I felt—now more than ever, liked. I had stood up and done some good for the sisterhood and for my brothers. The training had been modified and because of me, we were all safer.
I began to wonder if some disagreed with my stance when we responded to a warehouse fire. The fire was small. We couldn’t access it because the fire was behind wooden boxes, piled on shelves close to the ceiling. My firefighter, Eddie opened the nozzle. I supported him from behind holding the hose (following OSHA standards- I realize this is a shameless jab – see part one). Eddie sprayed the boxes, unable to hit the fire. The fire accelerated. I suggested to Eddie that he direct the stream at the ceiling to ricochet the water over the boxes and let them onto the flames like a waterfall.
Eddie continued spraying the waterlogged box. The fire grew. Thinking he couldn’t hear through his mask I yelled, “Hit the ceiling.”
Eddie continued to spray the box. I reached for the nozzle to guide his aim. He turned his body and sprayed the box. The fire grew. My radio chirped. The chief requested a progress report.
“Eddie hit the fuckin’ ceiling,” I ordered.
Eddie continued to spray the box and finally the box dropped into the fire. The fire raged with new fuel. After the box was out of the way, Eddie couldn’t help but hit the ceiling Water cascaded from the ceiling and the fire went out.
I keyed my mike to give my report. “Incident command—Captain Moore. Progress report. Fire’s out.” I let go of the transmit button, looked into Eddie’s eyes and said, “Finally.”
Outside while we picked up the hose, I approached Eddie planning to give him the benefit of the doubt. “Could you not hear me in there?”
“I heard you. I know what I’m doing.”
“Next time, even if you know what you’re doing, follow my order.”
“Because you’re so good at following orders?”
He had a point. I didn’t like his point. I felt misunderstood by his point, but I did realize he had a point. I dropped it.
Our next shift we responded to a car fire. The car was parked next to a curb far from any possible exposure, but it was fully involved. The car glowed blue, black smoke spilled toward the ground and flames lit up the sky. Eddie retrieved the nozzle from the hose bed. I donned my mask and reached for the nozzle. In Eddie-like fashion, he turned his body to protect the nozzle and squeezed tight.
“We have plenty of time. It’s not going anywhere. I promise I won’t put out your fire. I’m just gonna hold it while you put your mask on.”
“I’m not putting my mask on.”
I had heard the machismo argument to not wear a mask for an outside car fire, but I also knew the science. Breathing in toxins from a car fire were survivable in the moment, but they would rest in your lungs and remind you of your stupidity later.
“Eddie, it’s an order. Put your mask on.”
“I know what I’m doing. I’m not wearing my mask.”
Eddie advanced close to the car fire, breathing in the toxic smoke and opened the nozzle.
When we got back to the station, I chose to approach Eddie with compassionate reason— kindness I thought. “Listen, you got kids. You need to wear your mask.”
Eddie didn’t argue. I interpreted his silence as agreement.
During the night I was awakened by lightning flashing through the dorm window. The boom of thunder and the pelting of heavy rain let us all know; we would be called out soon for a weather-related emergency. I drifted back to sleep. Next, I woke to florescent lights, followed by the squeal of the intercom.
“Engine 21 to wires down in the alley at 1740 Minnehaha.”
The driver parked the rig at the end of the alley, blocking traffic. It was just before dawn and sitting in the rig I couldn’t see down the alley. I donned my helmet and walked through rain along the alley and found branches on the ground. A potentially live wire dangled from the power line.
Speaking into my radio, I instructed Eddie to mark the alley with ‘Fire Line, Do Not Cross’ tape. The sun was rising, and I worried about potential homeowners coming from their houses to go to work. I instructed Eddie to stand guard on his side of the branches. The rain was reduced to a light drizzle. I stood guard on the opposite side while we waited for the power company to respond.
As night lifted and dawn fell, I noticed a silhouette cross the yard on Eddie’s side. When the person continued into the ally I peered through the branches and saw no sign of Eddie.
The silhouette approached the branches and I shouted, “Minneapolis Fire. We have a live wire, go back inside your house.”
The homeowner immediately did an about face and hurried inside. Someone knows how to follow an order, I thought.
The power company truck arrived and crept down the alley. I relayed my report to the driver, and he assessed the dangling power line.
“Yup, it’s a live one,” he confirmed.
But it didn’t matter. I would have been pissed either way. I searched the ally for Eddie and saw him sitting in the back of the fire engine. Now I was furious. His disregard of my orders put a civilian at risk.
I wrote Eddie up. Meaningless paperwork but I realized, his insubordination was becoming a habit and I needed to start a paper trail. I overheard him talking to another male firefighter who warned him that I was out to get him. Eddie put in a transfer and moved to a different station.
Eddie was well-liked and the guys weren’t happy about his transfer. He wasn’t exceptional in any way or super friendly or kind, but Eddie was one of the boys. Something I could never be. What happened next made me realize, no matter how extraordinary or friendly or kind I am—as a woman I will always be treated as less.
I was approached by the captain on the ladder truck.
“The guys decided—it’s not my decision and I don’t agree with it but you’re out of the clutch.” (A firehouse term for eating dinner together). He continued, “You don’t eat what we eat, and no one wants to make special stuff for you.”
I knew he was referring to the fact that I was a vegetarian, but I pushed it.
“The camaraderie matters to me. I’ll pay the full price and eat the sides,” I said.
During our next shift the customary dinner time had passed, and no one had started cooking. When I inquired, I didn’t quite get the cold shoulder, but shrugged shoulders felt the same. When my stomach started to grumble an hour later, I made a sandwich and ate alone.
Twenty minutes later pizza was delivered to the station. The guys crowded around the table for their pizza clutch. I scraped a chair across the floor and sat in the middle of the men at the table. I reached into the pizza box, grabbed a slice and picked off the meat—piece by piece. I took a bite of my cheese pizza and looked up at the quiet faces staring. I smiled and said, “Who wants my pepperoni?”
While we didn’t quite get to the revenge in part two, we are on our way. Part three brings us full circle. I hope you’ll be back next week for the conclusion of Chasing the Flash.
In the meantime, please add your comments below.
Have you felt dismissed or excluded because you’re a woman? What did you do about it and what do you think we can do to make our important voices heard? I’d love to hear your story.
The Fire She Fights by author Tracy Moore, a novel featuring four women firefighters, blazes onto bookshelves fall 2021. Find out more at Thefireshefights.com