There was about a foot or so of snow on the ground when we got to the house where the fire was reported. The lieutenant wheeled the engine into the driveway and we observed some light smoke coming out of the second story on the 'D' side of what turned out to be a multi-family residence.
As acting officer, I assembled the crew in front of the engine and decided to take a quick look before stretching a line through the snow. We entered through the front door and I took a peek up the stairs off to our right. Thick black smoke was slowly climbing its way down the steps towards us.
We went on air, masked up and headed up the narrow stairs. I held the thermal imager (TIC) while Jack carried the hook, Dave had the irons and Zack, a 19-year old kid just a month off probation, carried the water can over his shoulder.
When we got to the top of the stairs I put my face to the floor and couldn't see anything, visibility was zero. I took a look with the TIC to try and figure out what we were dealing with. The smoke was thick but it wasn't really pushing very hard. The thermal imager showed about the same density of white evenly distributed all around us although we detected little heat with our other senses.
We just knelt there for a few seconds, pausing to look, listen and feel for clues as to where the fire might be. Although we couldn't really tell what type of space we were in, a hallway or a living room or somewhere else, a second scan with the TIC gave me a hunch that the fire was directly in front of us. I gave a follow-up report to the IC over the radio and instructed Zack to open up the can on the ceiling and directly in front of us. What "bounced back" would give us an indication of whether or not we were getting water on the fire.
He pulled the pin, squeezed the trigger and gave it a short blast of pressurized F-500 suppressant. We could tell by the sound that we hit our target but that there was more to get. I knew the back-up line was coming up the stairs but it's always the fire you can't see that worries you the most.
I grabbed Zack by the shoulders and guided him towards where we thought the fire was as he didn't have the advantage of the thermal imager like I did, so he couldn't see anything in front of him. Sure enough, as we got almost right on top of it we could finally see open flame flickering up from the floor in front of us; and at what would be our waist line if we were standing up; and at the ceiling. I told Jack to take the window on the 'D' side behind him as Zack put water on the fire we could see. Jack and Dave then moved up along side us and vented the window on the 'Charlie' side of the house, releasing some of the smoke that had been plaguing our visibility.
It wasn't long before the fire was out and the smoke started to lift. As the room cleared, we could finally see that we were in a laundry area at the end of hall opposite the staircase. Our hearts dropped for a moment as we looked at some of the laundry that included t-shirts with our fire department name on them. Where were we, we wondered out loud? We soon discovered that one of our other young lieutenants had moved out of his parents' house and was living in this second floor apartment above his girlfriend's grandmother.
Fortunately, everyone had gotten out, no one was hurt and we minimized the damage by using the can instead of opening a line. It was a gut call based on experience and what we had in front of us, but it worked. We cleared the room of everything we could and salvaged all of the laundry that wasn't burned and did a little bit of overhaul on the ceiling before another crew took over to mop up.
Taking a breather in the cold air outside, another firefighter looked down at my feet and asked me: "How are those new boots you're trying out?" He was referring to the Black Diamond X2 Fire Boots I'd received as part of a test-drive just before they went on the market a few months ago.
I answered him with, "To be honest with you, I forgot I was wearing them."
The Black Diamond X2's are by far the most comfortable fire boot I've ever warn in my 30 years in the fire service. They're not the lightest but they feel light. Although they do — to say that they fit like a glove would not only be cliche' but just plain weird — unless you had really long toes and there were cutouts in the boot for each toe. LOL
I have flat, wide feet with arches that tear like a bed sheet when you're trying to make a make-shift cravat. That's probably the result of an incident that occurred around age 12 when I fell out of the cherry tree in our front yard (No, I wasn't raking leaves). I fell about 15 feet or so, and stuck the landing, so to speak. Then I bent my knees. You do the math.
Amazingly, I never broke a bone. I just drove my ankle down through my heel and everything else in my foot. I spent about two weeks shuffling around the floor in hockey shin guards before I could get up on crutches. That was fun. NOT!
The physical therapist tried to train me to walk on crutches but said that neither of my feet could touch the ground. Try that for yourself and let me know how that works out for you.
The best way I can describe my X2s is that they're built like an armored tank — with all the comforts of a luxury limousine. The high arch support is just what the doctor ordered for my maligned feet. The cool looking disc on the outside of the boot is not just a branded logo, it's actually an ankle guard — which came in handy as we were crawling up the stairs just like they taught us in the fire academy, with our feet to the outside of the stair stringers — the strongest point in case the stairs fail underneath you. As firefighters spend a lot of time contorted into strange positions, I can't tell you how many times I would have liked to have had an ankle guard on my other fire boots.
The boot shaft itself is a combination of Kevlar and leather but what makes this boot cool is the front face. The shin guard/tibia protector makes the X2 look like something Batman, The Terminator or Captain America would wear. But it's there for more than just show. It proved to be worth it's weight in gold as we crawled up the stairs and down the narrow hallway on our hands and knees. The ankle area feels like it's custom fitted to the heel of my foot and their exclusive Calf-Fit system at the top back of the boot allows the boot to stretch when you're putting it on but at the same time, fit like that glove I was referring to earlier when you're walking in them.
"The best way I can describe my Black Diamond X2s is that they're built like an armored tank — with all the comforts of a luxury limousine."
I think my favorite feature is the fact that there's no boot straps to pull them up by. That is, their pull-on system is built in-to the boot, not the traditional external straps that hang above or over the edge of the boot. You know what straps I mean, the ones that your pants get caught up on as you're trying to put your foot in the boot, forcing your pantleg to ride up uncomfortably for the entire duration of the call.
I've never written a product review before but overall I have to say that I'm very pleased with my new Black Diamond X2s. They're rugged and rugged looking, comfortable and form fitting. In fact, they're so cool and futuristic looking that I'm tempted to wear them on the outside of my bunker pants, but that too would just be weird!
So the next time you're crawling down a hallway on your hands and knees with zero visibility, try a pair of Black Diamond X2 boots on for size. And I recommend you take Zack with you also. He's young, but he's looking, listening and learning to be a good fireman too.
Stay safe. Train often.
Also on Tiger Schmittendorf …
- Thanks and Giving! – November 22, 2012
- Train Your Replacement. Bob did. Paul does. – January 23, 2013
- I do solemnly swear – October 14, 2013
- The roof is on fire! – October 28, 2013