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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: B-Shifter by Nick Brunacini

Brunacini begins this book with a description of the 1960’s fire that almost killed his father, a captain at the time, working a diner fire. They were making an interior attack and making good progress. The roof had been ventilated, the windows smashed to move the heat out, when the Battalion commander arrived. He loved to direct traffic so after ordering the arriving ladder trucks to pour water (8 tons a minute) on the fire from above, and without waiting to find out where the truck and engine companies were he went off to direct traffic.

As we all know, heat rises and all that water forced the heat and smoke back down into the building and on to the firemen working below. In those days, breathing apparatus consisted of filters over the nose and mouth that would routinely get clogged with soot and debris which would then get wiped off and a modicum of breath could then be taken in. His partner pulled him out technically dead, no pulse. Fortunately an ambulance was on scene (this was one of the changes the almost dead fire captain made when he became chief -- have the fire department take on EMS responsibilities.) They stuck in an airway and got him revived on the way to the hospital. Nick’s father, Alan, became one of the best respected fire chiefs in the country making many changes. He was one of the first to study fire science and brought about numerous safety changes, this in a profession that was resistant to any kind of change. (Giving up horses to pull the wagons was a battle and for years captains insisted on washing the fire engines’ wheel before backing into the station as they formerly had been covered in manure.)

Firefighters have always been deeply conservative and resistant to change. In fact, the old saying goes that George Washington was head of a fire company and when he left to go somewhere told his deputy not to change anything. George then died before he returned and they refused to change anything since. There’s real competition to be the first on the nozzle since putting water on a fire is a real rush. Most calls are medical ones, often to the same lonely people with morphing ailments, so the firefighters often long for a good structure fire. “Firefighters will search out and fight over a nozzle much like Bulls sniff out and fight over cows in heat. Bulls do it because their biology programs it into them ; firefighters exhibit these behaviors because at the very core, we are self-destructive adolescents”

It’s an often humorous book but he often writes beautifully about the job. Each fire has its own personality. Most structure fires are hot and smoky with little to no visibility. You generally don't see much flame. If the immediate fire area is vertically ventilated before you actually find and extinguish the blaze, the smoke and heat rise up and away. This makes for a very beautiful fire. Sometimes you can see all the solid fuel vaporize into gas. Sofas, chairs, wallpaper, children's toys and everything else in the fire area retain their basic shapes, but their surfaces radiate an aura of transparent energy finished with a blue shy blush of flame. Nature is one serious bitch. Especially when the water pressure from the hose disintegrates a burned body.

Very enjoyable read.
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