He sits on the tailboard of the engine taking in deep breaths. Steam pours off of him and bystanders, though curious, give him a wide berth. He has a vacant stare, eyes red, exhaustion etched on his face.
Around him activity is taking place as orders are given, hose is repacked and the media takes video and still images. Red is the dominant color though among the people gathered there are numerous African Americans, both in gear and staring at the building looming overhead. He knows the area well.
He leans forward to stretch his back because now, after 20 years, he has to stretch to avoid painful back spasms. He looks around him as he stretches as if taking in the scene for the first time. The truth is he has seen it thousands of times, the same scene, just different streets. No one who hasn't done the job can understand.
His youngest daughter had her first recital this evening. He wonders how it went. As she was performing he was inside a building with other firefighters, pushing a line down a hallway looking for fire, absorbing terrific punishment, but as always, leading his crew. He wants to reach in the cab for his cell phone to ask his wife how things went but there is work to be done.
He gets up slowly and walks over to where his crew is starting to drain hose lines. He pats them each on the back.
He's a firefighter.