It's all about training. If someone has been properly trained, "going in" on a typical structure fire usually isn't a terrifying experience. For most people that is. There are some who are terrified at the door and cannot be trained out of that fear. Their issues are readily evident and they do not last long.
Most are exited and a little apprehensive. The apprehension is multi-faceted and has little to do with self preservation. The apprehension has more to do with not wanting to screw up in front of the guys and do something stupid or get someone hurt. Of course, no one wants to be viewed as a pussy or a coward, so there's that. Some are extremely exited, again a trait which can often be trained away.
For me, the first test came at a single family residence. It was mid-afternoon, I was the boot on E-222, a four man engine company. We got the call, loaded up and got en-route. Back in those days, a modern engine was one with covered jump seats and an enclosed cab for the captain and engineer. There was no air conditioning or intercom. The engine was loud enough that you could not hear the radio through the outside speaker, nor did anyone but the captain have an H.T.
My first indication that we were responding to a working fire was when the captain opened the sliding window between the cab and the jumpseat and shouted to the Sr. hoseman that we had smoke showing. The Sr. hoseman then shouted to me over the dog house that we had something. Yee-haw.
We pulled up in front of the house and saw that the front of the house was ripping pretty good. The captain ordered us to "Scott-up" while he did the walk-around. Back then, the SCBA were known as Scotts and were kept in the right rear lower compartment. Each Scott had it's own mask, one was not issued to each member as they are today.
Jim and I met at the rear of the engine and Scotted up, the captain did his thing and met us at the tailboard.
I don't remember the lay, but as the house was at the top of a long driveway, it probably involved a hundred or so feet of 2 1/2" followed by a bundle of 100' of 1 1/2". We had to stretch past a big picture window, which had long since been shattered by the heat and had flames blowing out of it. I remember lowering my head toward the fire, letting my helmet take the heat instead of my face.
We arrived at the front door, made sure we had enough working line flaked out and went in. I don't remember who forced the door or how, but I suspect that Jimmy applied a size 12 Chippewa to the door and kicked it in.
I backed Jimmy up, there was no way a guy with a few months on the job was going to get on the nozzle. We fought our way through the living room and into the kitchen/dining room, spraying and praying as we went. The squaddies showed up a few minutes later and began pulling ceilings while the second engine pulled a second line to the back of the house to handle some flamage that had slopped out of the rear slider. As I recall, there was no extension into the attic or to back half of the house. It was actually a decent stop.
At no time was I afraid, other than of screwing up. I had total trust in Jimmy, I absof%$#inglutely knew that he was not going to get me hurt, so there was really nothing to be afraid of. Structure Fire Control III was a really popular class at that time. It was fairly new, so it was being offered all over the place. I had attended it several times in the months prior, this instilled a great deal of confidence in myself, adding to that in my Sr. hoseman.
After it was over, my engineer Lurge the Scourge, came up to me and said that I had done well. I thanked him, then downplayed his compliment as all I had really done was bury my head in Jimmy's back and pull hose. Jimmy made all of the moves, I was almost along for the ride.
Lurge disagreed, saying that being able to lower your head into the heat and follow the Sr. man in was a test in itself, one that many on the scene watched and noted. Maybe so, but in reality it was all Jimmy. I relied on Jimmy just as much ten years later, when I made captain. Jimmy was on my crew as the Sr. firefighter.
It's funny, maybe I was too young to worry about some of the stuff that I worry about now. We didn't have RIC, emergency evacuation procedures or accountability policies. Radio traffic was minimal, the entire agency ran on two channels. We just went in and kicked ass. We were probably very lucky that we never lost anyone.
I miss the simpler methodology, that's probably a sign that it's time for me to go.
Thanks for reading,
a nostalgic Schmoe