The Job of the Forcible Entry Team



Hunts Point

Neighborhood: Bronx, Outer Boroughs

Autumn has arrived and the cooler air has dampened but not ended the fires of this years “Summer Offensive.” Somewhere the trees are changing color but here in Hunts Point it has been one of those days.

We’ve already caught more work on this day tour than any company outside the ghetto will see in six months and the smoke we’re now smelling ain’t from chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Engine 94’s boss comes up on the radio, Engine 94 to the Bronx, 10-75!

Turning into the block we see 94 stretching their line into a five story tenement. As we stop in front of the building I unass the rig to size up the fire, there are no flames showing but we got smoke pushing out from four closed windows on the fourth floor. The Lieutenant, Big John and I are Ladder 48’s forcible entry team and we run past the engine guys as they climb the stairs beneath the burden of their hose line.

We reach the fire floor well before the engine and go right to work forcing the door.

The job of the forcible entry team is to get the door open, crawl in and search for the location of the fire and any trapped victims. The public hallway instantly fills with smoke as we pop the door, drop to our bellies and crawl into hell. Searching in this apartment is accomplished by feel because sight is non-existent, nothing and I do mean nothing is visible. With all the windows closed, the fire has smoldered a long time producing an extremely heavy smoke condition right down to the floor.

To put it another way, you couldn’t see shit! …and the heat is extraordinary, to stand upright here is an instant trip to the burn center. Our team splits into three to cover the flat faster and my search leads to a crib in a back bedroom.

Getting to my knees I reach over the railing and sweep the mattress with my gloved hand discovering what I did not want to find, a limp silent baby.

Hollering I got a kid: I drop again to the floor and backtrack to the door where the engine guys have started to advance their line into the apartment.

They stop and allow me to crawl across their backs and into the public hallway where I get to my feet and race down the stairs heading for the ambulance that’s hopefully there. It’s a tiny baby.

I hold the head in my left palm, torso on my forearm. His arms and legs flap wildly with each step I take as I perform one-man CPR on the run.

Word has reached the street and as we exit the building a cop grabs my arm and points to an ambulance waiting at the intersection.

Cover the mouth and nose, don’t blow too hard, two fingers compressing the chest, oh fuck live, please live. Reaching the ambulance the baby is taken from me and for the first time since exiting the building, I am aware of the huge crowd that is watching these events unfold. The clutch to my brain is slipping: I can’t get it into gear. Immobilized all I can do is stare back into the crowd and then I lock eyes with a girl of about ten.

Today I can still see the little hairclips attached to her cornrows.

She’s terrified: her eyes stretched open to the size of silver dollars.

She begins slowly backing away then suddenly turns and runs into the crowd. I want to run after her and tell her, BUT I DIDN’T DO IT ! Instead, I head back to the fire, there’s still work to do there. As I pass, a cop hands me the helmet that I didn’t even know had fallen from my head and asks with great tenderness,”Are you OK buddy?”

Yeah, I’m OK.

Re-entering the building, I hear the word come over someones radio, the kid didn’t make it.

I sit alone in a corner where no one can see me as the tears start.

Yeah, I’m OK.

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