*A Fire Inside*
There are many horrible ways to die. I know because I’ve seen more than a few. I would have to say that the worst or one of the top 10 worst would have to be fire. I know. I was in several. I will say that being trapped in a small space waiting to burn to death by far ranks at the top of my “I never want to do that again” list.
The winter of 1986 was a winter that I will not soon forget. It was the winter I suffered frostbite on my feet and the winter I almost burned to death in an Armored Personnel Carrier, an M113. We had been on a winter field training exercise for over two weeks. I had suffered frostbite in both my feet because the M113 I was assigned to drive had no heater. There is nothing like riding around for days in a freezing cold metal box to suck the life and heat out of your body. My squad was miserable. Then things changed for awhile.
My squad leader was buddies with another NCO. When the other NCO learned we had been without heat for 2 weeks he graciously loaned us an old Coleman stove. It looked like it had been through a couple of field problems but it did provide heat and we soon learned to love that old beast, for a time at least.
On one of the last nights of the field problem we all decided to sleep in our M113. It was common for drivers to crash in the driver’s seat which generally speaking was not that uncomfortable. Four of our other guys stretched out in the back on the benches and floor. We had managed to get some decent sleep that night. I think we slept for about 4 solid hours.
I awoke early in the morning the next day feeling quite refreshed but still a little sleepy. I turned around in my little hidey hole of the driver’s area and surveyed the main compartment. All of my guys were snoring away. My eyes wandered a bit until they focused on the dim light of the Coleman stove burning quietly away. I seemed to be mesmerized by the flame and the warmth it cast upon my face. This dreamy state seemed to last for hours but I’m sure it was only minutes.
In this early morning trance I watched the flame flicker and dance while enjoying the heat that old ratty stove was putting out. Fire has an evil mind of its own. After the flame had danced and swayed and lulled me into a hypnotic stupor, it started to dance sideways. I watched in awe and lust, like a lonely soldier watches a stripper in some country so far away from home. But the evil little flame knew what it was doing. Dancing and swaying, it lulled me further into its hypnotic spell. When I was hooked, it turned and ran.
Time stopped as my hypnotic stare turned to shear terror as the flame danced its way over the edge of that old stove onto the bench. The bench. The bench was where the old heater core had set the day before. The bench where now laid the open fuel line to the 300 plus gallon fuel tank 6 feet from my head. Hypnotic trance gave way to shear terror in a nanosecond. Fear gripped me like falling into the Arctic Ocean in the middle of winter. The flame seemed to feed off of my terror. I was paralyzed. I couldn’t get my mouth open to scream, but trapped in my brain I was already realizing I was seconds away from burning alive and I was screaming. The bench was now on fire. My buddy’s socks were on fire. I remember wondering what he was going to put on his feet now that his socked were all burned up. The flame didn’t wait for me to figure it out. It kept dancing and growing. Next it was on my buddy’s sleeping bag and I was imagining his feet starting to get hot when I realized I had to do something. I was not going to let the fire burn my buddy. Suddenly the slow motion frames stopped. I broke the trance and the flame knew it. Time jumped to light speed and the fire began to race across my buddy’s sleeping bag trying to get to his face.
I exploded out of my blanket and dove for the opposite end of the inside of my 113. To this day I don’t know how I got over everybody and all the way to the opposite side of the trac without hurting anyone. IN a split second I had pulled the fire extinguisher off the wall, mount and all. With the wall mount dangling off the fire extinguisher canister I gave the now raging fire, everything that little bottle had. I remember feeling like I was trying to spray a baby bottle of milk on a forest fire. I remember the trigger bending under my fear laden grasp as the white fog tried to choke the flame to death. As quickly as it started it ended. With the fire out we scrambled out of the smoke filled trac with only the clothes on our backs. We stood there waiting for the smoke to clear. My hands were now trembling uncontrollably. I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled out my smokes to calm my nerves. With my trusting Camel hanging out of my mouth, I sparked my trusty old Zippo. Suddenly she was back. That little flame was back dancing so seductively right in front of me like she had never left. The burns on my hands and face kept me from falling into the trance again. Seeing the flame suddenly caused my hands and face to burn like a blast from a coal furnace. The pain was intense. I let go of the zippo. Time passed oh so slowly. I watched the zippo in free fall. The flame danced with all her heart seemingly to plead for one more chance. For her, this day, there would not be another chance. The second the lighter hit the fresh fallen snow she was gone. The burning didn’t stop and the shaking was racing through my whole body at this point. I turned and walked away as best as I could.
Behind me another soldier picked up the still warm lighter and
brushed off the snow. Like an alcoholic reaching for another bottle, he
sparked the old Zippo. The flame danced to life immediately, as young
and sexy as ever. She danced and the soldier felt time slowing down….
All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright © 1996 - 2009 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.