When Defreitas stepped out of the smoke house, the memory of flames was still visible in his eyes. "The heat is so intense you can't breathe," he said. "It's so intense that you can feel your air ... touch the air burning ... you stand up for like two minutes and you're dead, or you feel like it, at least."
Washing and Polishing in the Firehouse
Then it was time for the new guys to go into the firehouses of New York City, where, as Defreitas put it, they would find out that they were "lower than the firehouse dog" in the pecking order.
During the final weeks of their training, Defreitas and Hespe washed and polished 36,000-pound rigs, filled their tanks with 500 gallons of water, listened to lectures — and did the dishes. While it may sound menial, it's all part of the job according to 18-year veteran Frank Campisi. "I tell them, 'As menial as you think this job is ... nobody else is going to come in here and do it for you, or for us.' I said, 'This kind of shows us the kind of person you are. If we could depend on you here, then we can expect a lot of good things on the fire floor.'"
Waiting for the First Fire
In the firehouse as in the academy, it's all about the fire. And to the new probies, they can't wait. To retired firefighter Dennis Smith, author of Report from Ground Zero: The Story of the Rescue Efforts at the World Trade Center, that is what it's all about. "You train, you spend all of that time in expectation. And then all of a sudden you're there and you're confronted by what we call in the job 'the red devil.'"
The first fire is a baptism, but the mark of a true firefighter is consistency, bravery at all times, under all conditions.
"As time goes on, it will take that first job and then it will take the second and the third job," said Smith. "You know, if you're right there and you're consistent, they'll think well of you."