Sunday, March 27, 2005

Firefighting ain't my game...

But it's sure fun to give it a shot.
I spent eight hours Friday in a modified firefighter academy, learning more about fire behavior and incident command than I ever have before and getting all suited up, oxygen included, and shoved in a 450 degree room. Fun stuff.

The first of the drills we went through is called the maze. You get all suited up in turnouts, boots, helmet and go "on air," ride an elevator to the third floor of the training tower, and exit into a pitch-black, debris-strewn room, filled with simulated smoke. It's such a shock to start breathing through a mask, but there wasn't any time to think about that. I had to hit the ground, crawl around (always to the right first), find a fire hose and follow it as it snaked through the room. And the hose goes two ways: to the nozzle (into the fire) and to the engine (away from the fire). Oops. I chose one way and crawled through, over and under a bunch of crap to the nozzle. Turn around. Back over the same 15 feet or so, which wasn't any easier, then into new uncharted territory. I got stuck once on my airpack, flat on my stomach, couldn't move either way for a second, nearly panicking. You have almost no sensory ability there - no sight, touch is muffled by gloves and the rest of the suit, all I could hear was my own breathing (which nearly induced panic several times). The only thing I had was thought process (which wasn't working all that well either): breathe, go slow, crawl, follow the hose, get the fuck out of there. The training captains cheated for us a bit, shining a flashlight toward the right path a couple of times and tapping my shoulder when I got stuck. Damn, what an experience.

Next was the "flash over" prop. It's basically a box-car looking metal box, one end set up about five feet above the other end. In there they light a fire, and you sit on the other side, well below "floor level," the only way anybody could surivive the damn thing, even in full firefighting gear. Then you wait, watching the fire getting bigger and hotter until the entire place is pitch black with smoke. There's a raging fire not 20 feet away, but flames aren't remotely visible. Then the fire gets hotter and hotter, until it "rolls over," the smoke gases swirling in on each other until the fire shoots back across the entire ceiling, right over your head. But you still can't see it for the smoke, only feel the heat bearing down in you. Then fire training captain doused the fire a bit to cool it down so it could built back up for another rollover. Again and again. Twenty minutes in this near dark chamber, 400 degrees, breathing oxygen through a mask wondering if there's any smoke getting in through a little crack. At the end the smoke had cleared enough that I could actually see the fire rolling over my head, thick dark fire that looked more like waves than flames. Incredible. The drill is to show firefighters what a rollover looks like, to teach them that any signs of such means to get the fuck right out of there, because next is a flashover, when the fire is so hot that anything in the room just simply combusts in a floor-to-ceiling wall of flames.

Next was the Dragon, a natural gas and diesel fire that reached 30 feet into the air. This was the only bit that was specifically different than actual firefighter training (save a modification or two). Three firefighters start walking toward the blaze, two holding fire hoses on a fog sream, a strong, misty spray spread as wide as possible. The streams basically act as a shield, letting the firefighters walk up right to the gas pipe and shut it off. We trailed in behind them, helping to carry the hoses on retreat. It's amazing, the fire is hotter for those standing around the perimeter than it is right up inside, just because of the water shield.

There's no way to describe the feeling of depending on this hose to put oxygen into a mask so I could breathe. After a while I just continually breathed because it was the only way I could be sure I was actually doing so. A long, slow breath in, then a long slow breath out, then again, no pause in between.

That was it for an exhausting day, a series of strange experiences, robbed of sight, thrust into intense heat and forced to function without having much of a clue of what surrounded me.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bookend Tucson

I’m 25 and Mike Ness is 42. I’m writing my way through several phases of a quarter-life crisis, he’s rocking his way through a mid-life one. I’m standing on the fringes, a good way back of the pit, nodding my head, while he’s at the center of it all, creating a frenzy and a sing-along, providing a couple thousand folks with a hell of a good time.
And we’re both a good bit removed from our last encounter.
I’d been in Tucson just a week, an 18-year-old college freshman, clueless but eager to soak it all up. I was a week removed from the only home I’d ever known, thrust into dorm life, with beautiful girls everywhere and absolute freedom. I was in a new place, a hoard of new friends already, and on Friday night, I was headed to see Social Distortion play, the first concert I’d even seen that didn’t involve two hours of driving.
Mike Ness was riding high, having turned years of recklessness into White Light, White Heat, White Trash, a thrashing good time of an album. He was hard-core as ever, threatening to beat some guy’s ass who tried spitting on the stage.
I was on one side of the cage in the (thankfully) all-ages club. There was a big group of friends there, mostly punkers from the old hometown scene, emerging occasionally from the pit, sweat-soaked wife-beaters clinging tight. Two pals thought to get the Rebel Waltz tattooed on their right arms after the show.
One of the pals joined me at the show last week, nearly eight years after the first time I’d seen Social Distortion.
Social Distortion has long been on the periphery of my favorite bands, a punk rock outpost for an otherwise country-folk centered music fan. At the best their songs are tight, anthematic rockers, sewn with rough tales of hard living and failure. On stage Mike Ness sells it all perfectly, his persona of hardened punk godfather easily believable as he sketches out in stage talk the places where his songs can’t go. What sounds at times like nostalgia is simply background information. Talk of hard drinking in a parking lot 20 years ago isn’t bragging or proof he belongs there; it builds energy on the way to the chorus: “Story of my life.”
And so goes the shows, so goes Mike Ness, and so goes his audience.
There was Story of My Life and there was Story of My Life, and eight years in between. I think we’re both better off for it.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Lo Siento

Five weeks is far too long a hiatus for the faithful readers of Catfish Vegas presents... and the staff deeply apologizes. We'll return with regularity and spare the readership from having to modify old folk songs in calling for posting.
That said, there's still the problem of not having a topic, but rambling has never stopped us before.
Ah, the television has relinquished a topic, and right in time.
It's selection Sunday, with teams looked up and down and slapped with a label predicting their likelihood of succeeding in a tournament. Our favorite sons are deemed to be the third best in their particular field of 16. And I don't want to talk about the game yesterday that stuck the 'Cats with such a "low" seed.
All I can say is I'm damn ready for some frantic hoops action.
That, and I'm going to sit on bleachers (or grass) in the sun Thursday, with a beer and a bratwurst and watch Major League baseball players tune up for the coming summer-long battle for a World Series.
This is the best time of the year for sports, with basketball coming to a close and baseball starting. I love the convergence of a new season's hope for one sport and the exciting playoff atmosphere of another. It's the inverse of October/November, when the Series heats up about the same time Midnight Madness kicks off the NCAA season.
Whether it's the first pitch coinciding with triumphant hoopsters hoisting a trophy or the first warm-up dunk colliding with a late-inning homer, the excitement draws me in. Watching one group of athletes open a season full of promise while another group closes out a season is incredible.