I’ve been at lots of fire scenes as a reporter. On Thurdsay, the scene was my house.
Coincidentally, I was writing up my interview with Brendan McDonough, a hotshot firefighter whose book was adapted into the movie “Only the Brave,” in theaters now, when I heard pounding on the door. Walking toward the front door I saw, and then smelled the smoke.
“Do you have a garden hose?” the frantic guy on my porch asked. Flames were dancing toward us.
Stunned, I pointed below me, to the right. He uncoiled the hose and got to work. “Think,” I told myself, then grabbed a bucket and dumped load after load of water from my rain barrel onto the blaze.
By the time Marietta Fire Department Engine 51 arrived, my front yard was a hissing mess but no longer a threat. The firefighters inspected the blackened swamp a huge rosemary bush had become and said, “Good job.” I felt oddly proud.
The guy who saved my house from burning asked if I’d like him to replace the hose or help clean up. “Good grief, no!” Just as they were about to drive off, I had the presence of mind to trot up to their window and ask his name and his wife’s – she had called 911.
Thank you Pastor Valentino and Katie Ciccarelli. That’s right: at the moment my front yard went up in flames, a preacher from Alabama and his family happened to be driving by. Once again, a man of God responded to a burning bush.
I stammered a hello to their sweet babies Isabelle and Valentino Jr. and told them their parents are heroes. Then they rolled off to I’m not sure where.
(They have a blog detailing their travels. I am not sure if today will be worthy of an entry but if it is, pastor, feel free to use these photos or any part of this article.)
Anyway. Back to my article about firefighters.
I saw an early screening of “Only the Brave” several months ago, when the studio was test-driving “Granite Mountain” as a working title. I sort of like their original idea better but the end result works, too.
McDonough, portrayed in the film by Miles Teller, is a shiftless loser, spending his days smoking pot with his fellow losers on his mother’s couch, as the movie begins. Oh: can I interject one point here? If you smoke and throw your cigarette butts on the ground, especially in the kindling-like pine straw near someone’s huge rosemary bush (or anything else), You. Are. An. Idiot. The Marietta Fire Department sent an inspector back to my house and I pointed out the butt some jackass tossed in my yard. He just sighed and shook his head like, yep.
Sorry. Back to “Only the Brave.”
Once our protagonist learns he has a baby on the way, he decides to try to pull himself together. Maybe a job with the Granite Mountain hotshots can help him support his child? Suffice it to say he doesn’t make a great first impression but Eric Marsh, played by Josh Brolin, decides to give him a go.
To say anything more about the movie would be to rain down a sea of spoilers (don’t Google the June 28, 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire if you don’t want to know how things ended up), so here’s what McDonough and film consultant Pat McCarty, a former Granite Mountain hotshot, had to say.
McDonough: “To be a part of this from the beginning is just so honoring. It’s really overwhelming, how authentic this film is. That brotherhood and camaraderie shines through the entire film. We get to share that with the world. It’s so powerful to be able to see it.”
McCarty: “One of the things I’m so proud of with this film is they how right they got it. Everyone was 100 percent committed.”
Both guys are keeping an eye on the firefighters doing battle with the deadly California wildfires – the third deadliest in that state’s history – these days. Nearly 7,000 homes and structures have been destroyed, a number likely to climb. The fires have claimed 42 lives.
“It’s exhilarating and it’s terrifying,” McCarty said, trying to put into words what it’s like to go to work against such a powerful foe.
McDonough raised an important point. When a giant inferno comes tearing down the mountain, ripping through town, consuming everything in its path, the guys on the front line are likely among the blaze’s victims.
“As of now I know there are at least 40 firefighters on the line who have lost a business or home,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those in California. The firefighters are hurting with you.”
The movie’s tag line, below, feels extra meaningful today. “It’s not what stands in front of you – it’s who stands beside you.”
Or in my case, who happens to be driving by.