Last night I was thinking about the extremely cold winter we have been having here in Northern Ontario and decided to share this story about fire and ice.
I am a fire and police dispatcher and was working a midnight shift a few years ago when Thunder Bay Fire and Rescue responded to a fire vandalism call. Upon arrival, they noticed a fire across the street in a vacant three-storey building.
"We made an attempt to do an interior attack and we found the fire to be far more advanced," said Thunder Bay Fire and Rescue Chief John Hay. "We regrouped and did an offensive attack of the building. The building is old and had a huge fire load in it."
The destroyed building was vacant, but was once a bar. Most area residents know the location as the former site of nightclub 777." (source: tbaynewswatch)
When I finished work that morning, I thought about running home and getting my camera gear and heading to the fire scene, but after I nearly froze my face off walking to my little green truck in the parking lot, I decided against it. The -38° C (-36⸰ F) was enough to take your breath away and slipping into a pair of well-worn flannel pajamas was far more appealing.
At the time, I was taking an on-line photography course, so when I arrived home I turned on my computer to see what my next assignment would be. As luck would have it, we were to take images that would depict certain words like loss, grief, devastation, love and respect by taking photos with no written words, people or animals in them.
I knew exactly what I needed to do and the last thing I did before leaving my house was crack open a few feet and hand warmer packets and throw them into my boots and jacket pockets. I knew they would help save me from frostbite.
Surreal is the only word that could possibly describe what I saw when I got there. The sun was just starting to rise and the streets were eerily quiet and empty. The only noise I could hear were the fire hoses that were pumping massive amounts of water on what was left of the three-storey building. Although the firefighters had were no longer there, they still had a couple hoses hooked up to some hydrants.
As daylight approached, I continued to wander around the area trying to find a a good angle to take pictures from. Finally, a security guard came up to me and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I wanted to take pictures and asked him where my best vantage point would be. He pointed to an area and said "stay behind the yellow tape and good luck". I swear I heard him say "crazy lady" under his breath as I walked away.
Until then, I never had a desire to own ice cleats. The entire area was completely covered in ice and when I tried to get closer, without crossing the yellow tape, of course, the more slippery it was.
I spent about an hour or so taking pictures. Most of the time my hands were bare because it was difficult to operate my camera buttons with gloves on. Luckily I had thrown some packets of hand warmers into my jacket pockets and every once in a while I would stick my hands in and hold the warmers until I could feel my fingers again.
Eventually I knew it was time to leave, as the risk of frostbite was far too high. The cold was unbearable and the tears that kept running down my face had now formed small ice crystals on my scarf. My hair that was peeking out from beneath my toque was completely white with frost.
Just as I was trekking back to my little green truck, a fire truck arrived on scene and I decided to stay just a few minutes more. Although I knew the photos I had taken were suitable for my photography assignment, they lacked the human element and fell short of showing the real warriors - the firefighters.
I spent a measly hour or so outside and found it unbearable. Firefighters spend endless hours in these conditions. During a fire like this one, their gloves, their clothing and their gear get wet and when it freezes they are completely covered in a sheet of ice. Not only are they doing very labour intensive work, they are also at risk of frostbite and even hypothermia.
Recently I spoke to a firefighter pal of mine, Paul Penna, after a house fire. I asked him if he was okay, as the temperature outside was unbelievably cold. He said he was chilled to the bone and that he was going for a sauna to try and warm up. He was completely covered in ice and compared himself to a glazed donut.
Our firefighters work in horrific conditions to protect us and our property by fighting, extinguishing and stopping fires. Does the word hero come to mind? So, if you know a firefighter or bump into a firefighter, please take a moment to thank them. Let them know you appreciate what they do.