Years ago I was assigned to station four. This station houses a engine and an aerial ladder truck. I was driver and operator of the engine, and my good friend Rick was part of the aerial's three-man crew. Late one night, we responded to a house fire close to our station. Heavy smoke had already filled the large structure, with flames showing on the main floor. The upper floor was a seperate apartment. My Captain and hoseman attacked the fire, while two of the aerial truck crew started searching the main floor for victims. An important rule of searching for victims is not to go in alone. But rules cannot apply to every fire. In this situation, there was a possilility that people were upstairs. Also, the third fire engine and the rescue squad were still enroute to the scene. Rick quickly made his decision. Wearing an air mask, he went up the outside stairway and entered the second floor area alone. With heavy smoke cutting all visibility, he had to crawl on hands and knees, searching by touch. This, of course, takes a longer time. As he neared completion of his search, he became disorientated. Being lost in heavy smoke is not rare in fire fighting, and I can assure you it is very scary! Remembering his training, Rick found a wall and started feeling along it for a door or window. Soon afterwards, the warning bell on his air tank sounded. My friend knew that he now had only five minutes of air left in the tank. He also knew that a horrible death awaited him if he couldn't find an exit.
For approximately three more minutes Rick followed the wall, entered an opening to another room, and followed that wall..... still feeling around for a way out. He shouted for help, even while knowing his muffled voice would not be heard above the noise of the truck engines, breaking glass, etc. He crawled on, now feeling the burden of total panic descending upon him. And he prayed....first for God's help, then for God to watch over his wife and child. At that moment, Rick's hand came upon a fire hose lying on the floor. Elated, he followed it out of the house..... To safety...... To life!
After the fire was over, and we were picking up our gear, Rick told me what had happened. He said he was glad one of my handlines was up there. He knew that otherwise he probably would have died next to that wall, looking for an exit. I told him that I was glad he found it, but explained that it was someone else's hose, as both lines from my engine were laid to the main floor. I jokingly told Rick I would help him find whoever took it up there, and he could then give that person a big hug! Upon checking with every firefighter at the scene, we learned that since the fire had been confined to the main floor of the house, No hose line had been laid to the upper story!
To this day, Rick and I know a hose surely Was laid to the upper floor of that house...though not by mortal hands!