Tales of the 7th Battalion 15

Big Ones

Of course in Detroit there were other battalions in the Fire Department. It seemed like each battalion had its own character and reputation. When I first came on the department the 11th Battalion used to have a low fire load. Most of their work was fighting field and brush fires. You could always spot a 11th Battalion man because the hair was usually burnt off his legs near the ankles. On the west side the 5th Battalion was known for great Firefighters. The 5th was the home of the famous Squad 4. During my time it was known as the Polish Squad. They were always welcomed at our fire scenes in the 7th Battalion. The City of Detroit is bisected by Woodward Avenue. There was always competition between the East Side and the West Side Firefighters. We called the east siders the boat people because they lived close to the river and Lake StClair. There were some damned good Firefighters on the East Side but it was hard for us West Siders to admit it. In mid city was the 9th Battalion. The following story was given to me by retired Chief Greg Pearn.

It started out as a typical day at E-21/L-28. Wild! It was hot and humid. In the evening, after training and chores, we younger guys had a super water fight. Our bosses, Captain (Iron Mike) Purcell and Terry Brown (an Olympic ice skating barrel jumper) ignored the action going on around them. The rest of the crew consisted of the senior men, Tony Amato and Bill O’Grady, me, Ron Rightler, Joe Karey, and detail Dan Bevins along with Chief’s Aide Ralph Williams. It was typical warm day in the 9th Battalion and was just cooling down at 11 pm when the run came in. On arrival flames were coming out the 3rd and 4th floors of a 6 story apartment building. Everyone was working and there she was on the 3rd floor, barely visible through the smoke, a lady in a night gown. O’Grady spotted her and yelled for me to follow him up the aerial ladder. By the time we got there she had disappeared from the window. Bill O’Grady slipped in and found a very large woman almost unconscious on the floor. I had just stepped in the window when he asked, “Top or bottom?” Seeing some fairly skinny legs for a big woman and the most enormous breasts I had ever seen peeking out of her nightie, I chose the bottom. I thought I pulled a fast one on the cagey veteran. I was sure of it when he groaned picking up the top half. I think he was swearing at me. My leg portion was pretty easy. We got to the window and I went out dragging her legs as I went. Bill followed and we started down the ladder. Her knees were in the crook of my arms and I was facing her. My partner was scooting along on his butt one rung at a time. It was almost comical watching him trying to control those 40 pound melons on his half of the victim. We were making good progress when the wind kicked up. What happened next I would not wish on anyone. Her gown blew up and to my horror the Black Forest appeared before me. That wasn’t so bad but the terrible odor that followed was overwhelming. I started to gag and almost lost my cookies. Looking up I saw O’Grady smiling. He found it very amusing. I will never choose the south end again. We got her down but she was screaming something about her baby. I went up the ladder in record time. It was a good excuse to get away from her. A baby in that inferno was in trouble. I could hear the Squad and Engine knocking down the fire but they were creating more smoke. O’Grady was with me as we re-entered the room. We went left and found nothing. We went to the right feeling with our hands and again found nothing. Near a doorway was a rug. Feeling the rug I discovered it was medium sized furry dog. He was out cold, overcome by smoke. It was going to be a problem getting the limp 30 or 40 pound animal in position to be carried down the ladder. I had a brainstorm. I opened my fire coat, put the dog inside, re-buttoned my coat and started down. I was now able to handle my axe and still have a good hand hold on the rungs of the ladder. I was making great progress but I could feel a stirring in my coat. With fresh air the dog was starting to come around. His head was sticking out of my fire gear just bellow my chin. A few steps from the bottom the woman started yelling Baby at the top of her lungs. Baby responded by trying to get out of my buttoned coat. Unfortunately for me she scratched me deep and often before I was able to free her. It was quite a sight and I could see O’Grady still smiling. I bear those scars to this day. I had some explaining to do when I got home and Nancy saw those marks. Bill O’Grady told her the whole story years later when he was doing some plumbing work at our house. He told her we got a commendation for our efforts. I never knew that!

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"Fire Horses" book authored by firefighter R.J. Haig.


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