Alaska Firefighter Gives Thanks

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ANCHORAGE FIRE–An early morning, second-alarm fire destroyed the Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Program warehouse in November 1996.

(Ed note: the following is reprinted from the Anchorage Daily News.)

A few years ago around Thanksgiving, I responded to a second-alarm fire at the Salvation Army warehouse. I was a new senior captain, and I was given the assignment to stretch hose lines onto the second floor adjacent to the burning warehouse.

I stood at the bottom of the stairway next to a large picture of Jesus. The sound of the fire in the roof overhead was as loud as a jet engine. I had to scream orders to passing firefighters, telling them where to take their hoses. I followed the last hose team upstairs, but before I went upstairs to the fire, I put my hand on the picture of Jesus and asked for protection for me and my firefighters.

It sounded like the gates of hell were at the top of the stairs. I and two other officers were directing three hose lines down a narrow hallway. We had a large fire in front of us, a roaring fire above us and, unknown to us, a large fire below us. I felt the floor shake and I screamed at the top of my lungs to get everyone out of the hallway. Just as the last hoseline was pulled out, the floor gave way and opened a hole to a blast furnace below.

I counted eight firefighters and myself in that narrow hallway moments before the collapse.

Once again I found myself at the bottom of the stairs in front of the picture of Jesus, counting firefighters leaving the second floor. The stairway was pitch black. When the last firefighter passed, I turned and again placed my hand on the picture of Jesus. Only his eyes were lighted by a light from outside the building. I was in a hurry to get out, but I did thank him for sparing me and my friends.

As I left the building, I turned around one more time to see the light on the eyes of Jesus. But the light was gone. Eight firefighters were waiting for me outside. They all thought I just saved their lives.

James Kenshalo, senior captain
Anchorage Fire Department

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