Book Excerpt: ‘The Fire She Fights’
Ruby has been assigned to Minneapolis Fire Station 7 for three months when she finally responds to her first house fire
Based on true events, “The Fire She Fights” highlights the women who pave the way for gender equity in the fire service. The novel opens with Ruby, one of four fictional characters. Ruby has been assigned to Minneapolis Fire Station 7 for three months when she finally responds to her first house fire.
By Tracy Moore
Every rookie is granted one first fire, and Ruby would be ready. She climbed into the back seat of Engine 7 and rechecked the level of air in her tank. She snapped the air bottle of her self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) into its bracket. The station lights flickered. Fire tones vibrated through the station in six loud blasts. Her heart rate quickened.
Tyler, the driver of the rig, stepped up and into the cab. Ruby searched his face for a hint of whether he thought this was another false alarm or an actual fire. He smiled and said, “Don’t get too excited, rookie. It’s probably just someone burning leaves.”
Hector got on the rig next with one hand through the sleeve of his fire coat and the other holding a cup of coffee. He sat next to Ruby and pulled the straps of his tank over his shoulders. “Or the whole city could be on fire,” he said.
Ruby barreled off the rig and into her boots. She pulled her turnout pants over her hips and climbed once again into the back seat.
John, the captain, took his place at shotgun. He pulled a cord hanging from the ceiling to activate the apparatus doors. The rubber protecting the bottom of the massive garage doors scraped on the concrete as they separated like a stage curtain at the start of a play.
The engine raced down Franklin Avenue. Ruby caught her reflection in a store window. The red lights swirling above her, and the wail of the siren matched the pride she felt as a Minneapolis firefighter.
The engine made a right turn onto the parkway. A curtain of smoke closed across the landscape. The undeniable odor of a house on fire was the final precursor—Ruby’s first firefight had arrived.
Tyler drove through the smoke and stopped on the far side of a two-and-half-story stucco home. Black smoke poured from the eaves. Ruby’s eyes widened, reflecting the flames licking from the first-floor window. The fear of not being enough and the anticipation of proving herself flashed like flint striking steel.
She hurried to the back of the rig to retrieve the tank line. With the hose draped over her shoulder she walked alongside Hector across the lawn. A woman dressed in a puffy robe ran toward them and screamed, “My babies are in there!”
Ruby fought the urge to rush in. She knew her primary task was to ready the water, making a rescue more feasible. She spread the hose on the lawn leading to the doorway. The nozzle jerked as water entered, stiffening the hose.
Hector shouted through his mask, “Don’t worry ma’am, I’ll get your kids.” He turned to Ruby. “Wait for John while I do a quick search.” Then he disappeared through the smoke-blackened doorway.
Ruby pulled back on the handle of the nozzle, clearing air from the line. A stream of water spat across the sky. She closed the nozzle and dropped it to the ground. Radiant heat grazed her face.
John joined her at the entry and bent for the nozzle. She covered it with her boot, remembering the warning in rookie school to “never give up the line.”
“I’m just gonna hand it to you,” he said.
Hector stumbled out through the front door. He peeled his mask from his face and dropped to his knees. Ruby looked for the kids he had gone to rescue. Instead, three soot-covered kittens clutched the arm of his fire coat. Another clung to his left shoulder while the one peeking from his side pocket bawled like a fire engine siren.
John lifted his chin. “The pied piper of kittens.”
Ruby had regarded Hector as gruff and unapproachable. With fire on his heels, as the savior of kittens, he appeared heroic and almost tender. She pressed her mask to her face, donned her helmet and retrieved the nozzle.
John pushed on Ruby’s back and together they stepped through the smoke-framed door. Smoke banked down from the ceiling, creating darkness like a midnight void of moon and stars. She peered into the blackness, listening for the muffled crackle of a hiding flame. Squeezing the hose between her bicep and ribs, she took another step.
Fire rolled over their heads. Light blasted into the room like the crack of thunder on a clear day.
“Don’t let it get behind us,” John yelled. Ruby forced the nozzle handle back, directing a powerful stream of water on the flames gathered at the ceiling.
“Hit the fire, not the flames,” John shouted.
She slammed the handle closed. John nudged her into the fire room. The furniture and window frame were reduced to ash. The floor glowed. Heat raged. Ruby sank to her knees, straining for cooler air, even as the force of the hose pushed her up and forward.
The fizz and pop of fire amplified. She tracked the rolling flames down from the ceiling to where crimson cinders pulsed at the floorboard. She pulled back on the trigger, dousing the floor. The fire flashed, fell, and transformed into gray smoke. Light poured through a burned-out window.
Ruby turned toward John and raised her gloved hand for a high-five. Instead of slapping her hand, John cupped her shoulder and pointed to the door. She dropped the nozzle and headed toward the exit. Lights from fire rigs on the curb flashed through the windows, reflecting two eyes shining behind the kitchen trashcan. Ruby swept up the stray kitten and tucked it inside her coat.
Finding Hector in rehab, Ruby joked, “Hey Catman, you missed one.” She reached inside her coat and pulled out the gray ball of fur, humming Batman’s theme song.
The affection she had felt for him flattened. She shot back, “It’s a compliment. It’s like Batman, except you’re a cat.”
John slapped the back of Hector’s coat, loosening lingering smoke. Through a cough he said, “Like Catwoman, but for a dude.”
Ruby smirked, Finally, I’m fitting in.
About the Author
Tracy Moore served as a Minneapolis firefighter and captain for more than 20 years. After earning a master’s degree in public affairs, she interviewed her female firefighting coworkers. She combined and dramatized the stories to create four fictional characters to craft the novel “The Fire She Fights.”