A Fire In Five Minutes

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about being bold. As in, stepping in and helping someone in danger. I have a few experiences like that, but the one that sticks out the most (and is the least graphic) is when I fought a fire in my neighborhood. It was a few years winters ago, but I can recall it clearly. I was playing Street Fighter III when my uncle came barreling through the room.

“THERE’S A FIRE NEXT DOOR!”

As he ran for the phone to call the fire department, I dropped the controller and made a beeline for my shoes. I needed to get out there, and fast. I couldn’t see the fire directly from where I was standing, but I could already smell the smoke. It was close. There wasn’t time to look. Okay, I thought. it’s the weekend. Someone has to be home! I bolted for the nearest house and desperately rang the doorbell. I pounded on the door, yelling for help. A few heart-pounds later, an older man answered the door.

“What’s wrong?!”

“The house is on fire! Over there! Help!

My neighbor grabbed his extinguisher and sprinted across the street. I didn’t join him just yet; I knew we would need more people. So I went around to more houses, banging on doors, begging for help. Luckily, a few neighbors were actually home. We all met in front of the fire – it was still limited to a single room facing a back alley – and let the extinguishers loose. I’m not sure how effective it was – none of us had any fire fighting training – but it was certainly better than just standing there and watching the place burn down. Given the proximity of other buildings and trees, the fire would’ve spread across the neighborhood within minutes. I noticed a side door was open, so I ducked inside to make sure there wasn’t anyone trapped. There was nothing but searing heat and smoke. When I heard the sirens, I ran back out onto the corner and waved the fire trucks in the direction of the blaze. I returned to the front lines and kept my extinguisher going until the water started flying.

As the professionals shunted me aside, I focused more on keeping people organized. As a precaution, my power and gas were turned off. I guided the workers to the breakers, answered their questions, and paid close attention to everything they told me. The temperature was just below freezing, so the house was going to get cold really fast. I didn’t want my family shivering and huddling in blankets as night fell. So I kind of hounded the workers and made sure that everything was getting done as quickly and accurately as possible. I’m sure they thought I was annoying. Just as we were lighting candles – very carefully – the lights came back on. Everyone was too shaky to cook anything, so we all opened a can of beans fell back on the microwave. The stench of smoke and burnt wood choked the neighborhood air for days, but that was fine. The house and people next door were safe, and so were we.

The time between me putting down the controller and the fire department arriving was less than five minutes. But in that tiny stretch of time, I moved and thought faster than I’d ever done before. I didn’t even realize until an hour later that I had been standing in subfreezing temperatures in only shorts and a t-shirt. I had been too focused to even notice. Adrenaline can do funny things to you. I don’t know how much I helped, but I did everything I could. And considering that the house is still standing, I guess it was enough.

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Daily Prompt: Safety First, Or: Hanging On In Thailand

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt focuses on safety. Or rather, the lack thereof. Despite evidence to the contrary, danger is not my middle name. However, it’s something with which I’m all too familiar. My neighborhood is bad, even for this city’s – one of the worst in California’s – standards. Robberies, shootings, muggings, drug dealings, and yes, even murders happen with alarming frequency. You know all those TV crime dramas that are so popular? Yeah, it’s not so fun when you actually live in those places. It’s most certainly not safe to go for an evening stroll, and it’s not much better even in broad daylight. My morning commute starts (there’s still a bus and subway ride to undertake) with a nearly two mile trek through this urban wasteland, complete with the unspoken understanding that there is a high chance of me not reaching my destination. You’ve probably heard the term fight or flight. It’s an instinctive, physiological response to perceived threats. Everyone has it, even you. While most would assume that I’m flight – it’s easy to dismiss a quiet bookworm – experience has taught me quite the opposite.

I don’t fear death. Most people – especially men due to outdated gender expectations – simply state that as a form of false bravado or confidence. It’s nothing but silly posturing. For me, it’s not about bravery, mental stability, or even a lack of self-preservation. I’ve understood and accepted my mortality for years, because I’ve faced it directly. I’ve come within seconds and inches of dying a few times. I could regale you stories of fighting a house fire, weathering storms in the Sierra Nevadas, nearly falling from the peak of Gibraltar, or nearly freezing one winter night in Le Métropolitain. I’m not sure if it’s because death is stalking me, or I’m just too foolish to avoid it.

Remember the photo of a sunset I posted a few weeks back? That was taken one fine evening in Phuket, Thailand. The rest of the week there wasn’t nearly as glamorous. I was in Southeast Asia just in time for the start of its monsoon season. If you’re from California and think El Niño is bad, you haven’t seen anything. The downpours are relatively brief, but they’re strong. People have to scramble for cover because an umbrella just won’t cut it. It was like that for most of my trip in Thailand. But one morning, the clouds parted just enough that it seemed okay to explore the neighboring Phi Phi Islands.

Yeah, you can see where this is going.

The cruise itself was great, though a little bumpy. I was in a speedboat alongside a dozen or so other tourists. It wasn’t crowded enough to be unpleasant, and the drinks were free. The islands were absolutely gorgeous – you’ll see soon enough – and everything seemed to be going well. We had just finished lunch and cast off for the next island, right on schedule. But suddenly, the world turned dark. It was like something out of an apocalyptic movie. A glance at the sky revealed something far more real; we had sailed practically headlong into a monsoon. The crew scrambled to assemble the the overhanging tarp, but they didn’t get to it fast enough. Within seconds, everyone was drenched to the bone. It wasn’t pleasant like taking a shower, it was like being sprayed by a fire hose. People slipped and stumbled as the waves churned. A child was huddled near one of the front seats, wailing. The thunder roared. The waves swelled and knocked us around. The boat was nearly on its side, and I was feebly clinging to a railing. I managed a peek toward the island swaying in the distance. It was too far. Too far to swim. I am going to drown here. I’m not going to make it out of this alive. I’m not sure if it was the realization or the seawater that gave me the chill. I just closed my eyes and didn’t let go.

I’m not sure how long it lasted. It felt like hours. I didn’t dare take out my phone with all the water around. But eventually the waves subsided, and the torrent of water gave way to sprinkles, then tropical sun. I opened my eyes. Everyone was still there and drenched from head to toe. I couldn’t stop shaking. My legs didn’t want to work. All I could do was just sit down and breathe. Eventually we managed to get the boat back on course and to the next island, where we wearily stumbled off into white sands and the warmth of the sun. It didn’t take long to dry off, but we stayed on that beach for quite a while. The trip back was fine, but I never went out on the water there again. Photographing sunsets seemed better for some reason.

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