Flames and Smoke Visible is the true story about a veteran fire fighter who was injured on the fireground. While in the hospital, he is compelled to consider what it means to be. What emerges from his remembrance of things past is a lean and eloquent book about brave and honorable fire fighters who possess the mystery of knowing how to face the living and the dying. Their valiant stories are filled with understated wisdom and humility about the beautiful and dreadful things encountered on the fireground.
As David Willson, author of REMF Diary: A Novel of the Vietnam War Zone, writes: “With the authority of experience as a professional fire fighter, D. S. Lliteras has written an authentic and entertaining book . . . a beautifully written, riveting account about this profession that is not only a first-rate entertaining book but also a book which informs, instructs, and allows the reader access to the human heart.”
D. S. Lliteras is the author of fourteen books that have received national and international acclaim. His short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous national and international magazines, journals, and anthologies. He lives in Montgomery, Alabama with his wife and author, Kathleen Touchstone.
CHAPTER 1: First-in-Engine
CHAPTER 2: Rescue Thirteen
CHAPTER 3: Hose Packing
CHAPTER 4: Emergency Room
CHAPTER 5: Fill-Ins
CHAPTER 6: Car Fire
CHAPTER 7: Fire Chiefs
CHAPTER 8: School Inspections
CHAPTER 9: Delivering a Baby
CHAPTER 10: Pay the Cook
CHAPTER 11: Kitchen Fire
CHAPTER 12: The Safety Officer
CHAPTER 13: Salvage and Overhaul
CHAPTER 14: Room 225
CHAPTER 15: The Fireground
CHAPTER 16: Kevin Brooke
CHAPTER 17: Grocery Shopping
CHAPTER 18: Breakfast
CHAPTER 19: Twenty-one Day Cycle
CHAPTER 20: They're Not Aliens
CHAPTER 21: Ladder Truck
CHAPTER 22: A Gentle Nut
CHAPTER 23: Acting Captain
CHAPTER 24: Korsakoff's Syndrome
CHAPTER 25: Wrapping the Hydrant
CHAPTER 26: Meatloaf
CHAPTER 27: Signal One
CHAPTER 28: Protocol
CHAPTER 29: Third-alarm Fire
CHAPTER 30: Hard Sleepless Night
CHAPTER 31: Fill in the Holes
CHAPTER 32: I'll Take Care of Dana
CHAPTER 33: False Alarm
CHAPTER 34: Tragic
CHAPTER 35: Acting-driver
CHAPTER 36: Tailboard Fire Fighter
CHAPTER 37: Ankle Deep in Water
I am a fire fighter—that is, I was a fire fighter for the city of Norfolk, Virginia. I am presently retired and I am an active member of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Local 68 (AFL-CIO). And the day that changed my life was the night the brass hit and woke me up around 3 a.m. at Fire Station 15. The dispatcher announced a 10-1 house fire at an address located in the Ocean View district of Norfolk.
As soon as I swung my legs over the side of my bed and stood up, I knew there was something wrong with me. I was not right. I was not myself. In fact, I collapsed during that incident and was transported from the fireground to a hospital in an ambulance.
Suddenly, that night, I was on the other side of my occupation.
That night, I surrendered to a darkness of some unknown length of time. Enough time, however, to have the four top ranking chiefs of the Fire Department appear at my bedside in a hospital's emergency room.
"Damn," I said when I woke up. "Am I dead?"
I heard laughter and reassurance. I saw smiles and concern. Then I realized that I was going to be alright.
That incident was the catalyst that later inspired me to write Flames and Smoke Visible—to write about what it means "to be."
Every person at some time or another asks what it means to be. What does it mean to be a son, what does it mean to be a mother, what does it mean to be an adult, a nurse, a soldier.
Fire fighters by necessity must enter homes in order to save lives or property. They see people at their most vulnerable—what does it mean to be when a person's privacy or dignity has been compromised?
A fire fighter sees more death and destruction than the average person. Asking the question—what it means to be—is almost inescapable. What does it mean to be when a person has survived a fire but has lost all of his possessions? Our possessions are an extended version of who we are; they define a person—at least in part. In the aftermath of a fire, all that may remain is the skeleton of dreams—the charred remnant of a work of art or a child's toy. What is it to be without an irreplaceable Bible that chronicled generations of a family's births and marriages and deaths. What is it to be without the treasures that trace a person's past.
Fire fighters are often present at that moment between life and death—what does it mean to be when you are dying; what does it mean to be when you are no longer, because even in not being there is still being in having been.
And sometimes it is the fire fighter himself who survives, thanks to the labors of the men and women he works with. I am such a survivor. And I had to ask myself the question, what does it mean to be when you can no longer do the job you love?
In answering that question, I had to look backward at who I had been. These are some of the
stories as I remember them.
I also had to deal with the present and part of that present was spent in the hospital sharing a room with another man—a man who had no memory. He could only live in the present—and even that was a confabulation. He was nineteen one moment; he had a son nineteen the next. Yesterday he had been Egypt; tomorrow he was going to be a race car driver. He could describe events in vivid detail. Although he was a tragic case, he at times exhibited an infectious sense of joy. What was it to be a person with no memory, no past, no future, and only a fictitious present?
A fire fighter has many opportunities to ask that question—what does it mean to be? Perhaps they ask the question more than other people, but they have no more answers than anyone else.
Everything in the book is factually true. The time sequences, however, have been compressed and altered for structural and dramatic purposes and the names and places have been changed to protect the identities of those involved in the incidences that I have written about—fire fighters and paramedics, police officers and arson investigators, citizens and victims. In the final analysis, this book is a remembrance of things past with the flaws that all remembrances are vulnerable to.
I loved that life on the fireground. And I loved having worked with all those professionals who safeguard our streets. They are my people—fine people, who place their lives on the line every time they are on duty to protect the citizens of this nation. It is a war that is waged every day and in every city of this country—a war that is generally ignored by most citizens until they are directly involved in it. Until then, those of us who are employed in public safety are taken for granted. And, I suppose, that is a worthy testament concerning how well we do our jobs, which is also as good a place as any to end this introduction.
D. S. Lliteras