I learned something new about myself over the weekend. It turns out I have a slight claustrophobia issue. Who knew? Let me lay it all out for you.
So I show up for my shift (I am a firefighter) on Saturday and within ten minutes of arrival the alarm goes off for a fully involved house fire. I absolutely love these calls even though it usually sucks for the people who are standing in the yard watching their whole lives go up. But with all the foreclosures it is oddly coincidental that house fires are on the rise. Or maybe people just need to clean their chimney. Regardless, it was hot, hard work and about halfway through I was thinking that Friday night beers were a bad idea.
Well, we finished our job and headed back to the station. It was about that time that the chief felt that it was great idea to keep the momentum of the day going and squeeze in some training. And what kind of training? Oh, we trained on emergency egress training through a confined space. That means we had to crawl through two 20 foot long tubes. One was 24 inches in diameter and the other was only 18 inches. I didn’t think anything of it. Until I was in the tube.
We were pretty tired and switching out the bottles of air was laboring enough after pike-poling ceilings and water cannoning a house. So by the time I was suited up, I severely underestimated my ability to complete this task.
So this is what we had to do. With all the gear on, including oxygen bottle (SCBA) and mask, we had to first crawl through a 20 foot long tube that was only 24 inches around. There isn’t enough room to move the arms to you have to go in hands first and push with your toes and pull with your fingers. After a long morning this proved to be a challenge but after completing that length, the obstacles just got worse.
Above is the 24 inch tube and for some reason I felt it was a better idea to wear my SCBA on my back while going through. That basically exerted a lot of energy because I had to get all the equipment off my back while still lying on the floor and push it out in front of me before I crawl in the 18″ hole.
So, by the time I was ready to start my journey through the tube I was completely exhausted, hot and sweating so bad my mask was fogged over. I pushed my oxygen tank out in front of me and pulled my body into the hole. It was so tight I could only push the tank with my finger tips and move only inches at a time with my toes. You can’t move your arms, bend your knees or even lift your head. The temperature was over a 100 degrees inside and all I could see was black as I was sucking my tank empty. That’s when I began to feel the sensation of sheer panic. I needed to get out and it had to be now. There was no way to go back and I was directly in the middle of the tube. I really felt as if I woke up to find myself in a coffin, six feet under. Never in my life…
I closed my eyes and inched my way to the end. It took about ten minutes to complete the distance but it felt twice as long. When I crawled out my brothers dragged me out and I sat on the ground collecting myself. And then my SCBA alarm sounded indicating my air was about to run out. I couldn’t imagine dying in an 18″ tube while suffocating. Now that scared me.
When I finally collected myself, I hobbled off to drink some water and get my mind off what had just happened. I checked my phone and was going to go back to take more pictures when I accidentally took my own photo. I look pretty shook up. That was my first experience with claustrophobia and managed to capture my dilated eyes and pale face. Super.
The next day I had breakfast with a friend and her roommate. Her roommate is a very intelligent guy that many people rely on for quirky trivia and life advice. He’s all around a great person to talk to. Well, I told him my dilemma about claustrophobia and asked him how I can get over it. He told me that people never get over it. So that is swell. But I’m not giving up without the good fight.
So I am writing this in full SCBA while doing laundry and watching the news. It may be all for not but I have to try. Tonight I will sleep under my bed blind folded. If my methods prove to be successful, I’ll write a therapeutic book. Maybe it will be a children’s book. I’ll title it, Wigout Will and the Big Black Tube. NY Times best seller list, save a spot for me. Until then I’ll be running with a fishbowl on my head.