“We’ve got to get out here,” I called out.
“Yep, it’s time to go.” We got the hose turned around and I felt the pull as we advanced in the opposite direction. And then it happened – I fell, tripped over some unseen piece of detritus.
The thermal imager dropped a few feet in front of me, the black and white screen the only thing I could see. I crawled towards it, grabbed it up. I patted the ground all around me, feeling for the hose, but it wasn’t there.
“Eric, hold up a minute,” I called out, but no response came back.
“Fuck!” I thought to myself, “I can’t see a damn thing, I can’t feel the hose, it’s hot as hell down here and my air is getting low – I’m so screwed.”
For a split second thoughts of death seeped into my brain, of never seeing my wife and son again, panic started a slow crawl down my spine and up my throat.
“Get a hold of yourself, Ben, you’ll never get out of here by freaking-the-fuck-out,” I told myself, and the words of my instructors Jerome and Kevin and even Nick, standing somewhere outside, who’d been with me in class, came back to me – find a wall, tap a way out.
The brain is amazing when it can focus on a task – find a wall, check — actually my helmet found it first as my neck crunched back from the impact. Follow the wall, one direction, think… which way did you come in? This way, OK go…
“Where the hell is Ben?” I heard Eric, somewhere, far away. “He was right behind me, where the hell is he?! BEN!”
My knee found the hose first. “Follow the hose out” came Jerome’s voice.
“I’m right here,” I hollered back as I crawled up the stairs and saw my crew standing above me.
“That was scary for a minute,” I said to Eric as we headed over to the rescue truck to change our air-tanks. I sat down on the edge of the tailgate.
“You got a smoke on ya’, man?” I asked Eric. Eric always had smokes on him.
“You gotta start remembering to bring some with you, man,” Eric said as he handed me one, and we both lit up and sat in silence for a second, fresh tanks on our packs. We finished about the same time.
“You ready to head back down there?” I said to Eric.
“Yep, let’s go get it, man,” came his reply.