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Posted on: September 2, 2020

My Experience in Firefighting

Blake Brandenburg

Final in a series of stories on the Fallon/Churchill All-Volunteer Fire Department.

By Blake Brandenburg

I was picked up by the Fallon-Churchill Volunteer Fire Department on May 13, 2015. 

It was an unusually cold evening, and I was wrapping up a double-header as a coach of one of the Fallon Youth Baseball Babe Ruth teams.  

As I was packing the team gear into the equipment bag, the then-Fire Chief Ralph Hamman came into my dugout and asked that I meet him in the clubhouse of the baseball field. Ralph was a coach of the team that I had played against, in the first game of the evening. We had gotten into a rather heated discussion regarding a call that was made on the field during that game. I agreed to meet with him in an effort to squash any hard feelings that either of us may have had. 

I followed the Chief into the clubhouse, at which point he asked me to close the door behind me, which led me to believe that the argument was not over. Immediately, Ralph began apologizing and stating that the call should have gone in my favor, and he didn’t wish any hard feelings to continue over the matter. I said it was a well-played game and a difficult call to make on the spot. 

After several attempts to leave the clubhouse, Ralph continued to stall me, and at one point I asked him ‘Ralph, what are we doing here?’ It was late and I was cold, tired and hungry. Ralph’s continued efforts to stall me began to circle questions in my head, of which I could not answer, and it began to get a little awkward. 

Shortly thereafter, I could see reflections of red and blue flashing lights in the dimmed clubhouse, immediately followed by loud blasts of the air horns of the ladder trucks and fire engines. I looked at Ralph and asked: ‘what’s going on?’  He had a large grin on his face and replied with ‘I think you have somewhere you need to be.’  

I excitedly blew out of the clubhouse door, bound over the short wooden fence and immediately noticed veteran firefighters rolling hoses off the front bumper and stacking a set of turnouts in front of me. 

It didn’t take a degree in rational thinking and problem solving to determine what was about to take place: I was about to get soaked! I began emptying my pockets of items I didn’t want ruined (phone, wallet, etc.) and handed them to a friend and fireman standing nearby.

My instructions were to quickly put on the turnouts. But once my hand touched the gear, the bales of the nozzles were opened. I leaned into the pressure as much as I could, but the stream of the hoses was overpowering, knocking me into and over the gravel. 

As soon as I could catch a break, I gained my footing and began to reattack the task of getting the turnouts on. It didn’t take long to realize that the turnouts were sabotaged. Boots were inserted into the trousers backwards, the sleeves of the bunker coat were zip-tied closed, making it nearly impossible to execute my task. All the while, the engineers were giving the air horns short blasts, bringing to the attention of everyone leaving the ball field parking lot the dance that I was performing in the gravel.  

Once the firefighters were satisfied with hosing me down, they asked that I put on a kid’s plastic fire hat, to finish off the ensemble. When I did that, I was met with applause, handshakes and laughter, though the laughter had begun long before. 

I was soaked from head to toe, and I was wearing three layers of clothing to endure the night’s cold weather.  But my initiation had just started, as we all piled into the firetrucks and headed back to the firehouse for more fun.

That night was the start of lifelong friendships, and the beginning of a brotherhood. It was welcoming, coming out of the Army and the brotherhood of combat was something I was looking to replace. The Fallon-Churchill Fire Department is the closest thing that could replace that void.  

We face things and perform tasks that many people are incapable of comprehending. Every call we go on, is the worst day, or the last day, of someone’s life and we volunteer to deal with that. When the pager goes off, any time of day or night, no matter what you have going on or are going through, we go.  

We get out of bed, we leave family dinners and gatherings, we miss pieces of Christmas and Thanksgiving, anniversaries, kids’ sporting events, and more to provide a service that is second to none in the great state of Nevada. No volunteer fire department comes close to us. 

It’s a proud membership to be part of, and I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done in the last five years.

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