Tales of the 7th Battalion 17

Passage to Hell

The alarm came in at 9PM. I was the boss of Engine 33 that day. Central office said there was a man trapped at the stone and gravel facility located near the Rouge River and Dix Avenue. It was a dark winter night with a pallor of industrial smoke from the Ford Motor Company coke ovens hanging over the area like a dirty ground fog. The challenge of Firefighting is facing danger under trying circumstances in a time frame of urgency. This turned out to be one of those incidents where a man’s life was at stake. City administrators and their running dogs, the budget bean counters, never seem to understand why response time is so critical to the success of fire operations. We were on the scene in less than three minutes.

We pulled our rigs, Engine 33 and Ladder 13, through the gates where the guard was frantically waving as he directed us to an area at the rear of the facility. We stopped between two enormous piles of what looked like mountains of gravel or slag. On reflection it was probably slag from the steel making plant at the Ford Steel Mill which was located nearby. A guard pointed toward a passageway that looked like the entrance to a mine. He was yelling for us to hurry. I moved with my men down a dimly lit corridor that looked like it came out of a Frankenstein horror movie. We could hear muffled screams and cries for help. The descending passageway leveled out after we had traveled about 50 yards. What we encountered was an appalling sight. There was a cage hanging over a wide moving conveyor belt. The cage was made of heavy duty steel. It resembled the devices used in medieval times to encapsulate criminals and hang them near a road so the King’s subjects could see them die a slow death. The cage we came upon also contained a human being.  The duties of this worker was to stand at the top of a hole and feed chunks of frozen gravel to be dropped into this cage where two suspended blow torches would melt the ice and drop the stone onto the conveyer belt to be transported to a rock crusher. He had fallen into that hole.

This guy was in bad shape. He was jammed into the cage upside down. He looked like a contortionist with one arm twisted around behind his head and his legs bent and packed into the confined space of the cage which was the size of a 100 gallon barrel. His face was crammed tight against the steel bars and his eyes were wild with pain and fear. The blow torches were burning his flesh. We quickly knocked the torches down and attempted to get him free. I was able to talk to him and assure him we would get him to safety as soon as possibly. I radioed for Squad 4 to bring in the Jaws of Life. It took almost twenty minutes to get him free. He was in terrible shape when he was transported to receiving hospital. My judgment said he would die in the hospital. I guess that is why I was a Firefighter and not a doctor. The guy was a tough bird and survived. He was back to work in six months. He came by the Fire Hall and thanked us  for saving his life. Most Firemen will just say it is nothing special. It is just part of the job but in their hearts is a sense of pride knowing they saved a life facing difficult odds. It is what makes the job so gratifying. I have been retired for 16 years and I still smile when I think of that guy.

"Fire Talk" Archives

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


Home PageAbout the BookFirefighting LinksAbout R. J. HaigPhoto GalleryTrail of the FirewriterFire TalkCop Talk