The video is a reminder of what firefighters mean to a community.
Just before dawn, with two hours left in his overnight shift, Michael McGuire slipped his cloth hood over his head, strapped on his plastic breathing mask and yellow helmet, and entered the burning high-rise.
A dozen stories above, people trapped in their apartments were leaning out of their windows, crying for help. The elevators in the Philadelphia Housing Authority building were not working, so the 40-year-old firefighter and his lieutenant began climbing the stairs.
Fed by winds that Battalion 3 Chief Tom Gallagher estimated were blowing at 35 m.p.h., the voracious fire, which had started on the eighth floor, was spewing flames into the hallways. Clouds of dense, black smoke pressed through the cracks and crevices, filling the building and seeping into the stairwells flanking the elevator bank.
“When these housing projects burn, they’re very smoky and hot. They’re like little ovens,” said Bill Gault, president of the Philadelphia firefighters union. (A high-ranking fire official, who declined to be identified, said of the building: “It’s not the worst-designed PHA high-rise we have. There’s worse.”)
McGuire, who has been with Engine 27 since 2005, was relying on a tank of air that normally lasts half an hour, 45 minutes tops, Gault said. But the effort of hustling up 11 flights was depleting McGuire’s supply, and by the time he had reached the corridor and started searching for tenants, his breathing had become labored. LINK
Take a look at this picture of Firefighter Mike McGuire. He’s currently fighting for his life in the hospital, in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Fireman McGuire was nearly killed yesterday morning while searching for trapped residents in a burning North Philadelphia apartment building. I have fought fires in this same complex when I was stationed in North Philly as have many Philadelphia firefighters. These apartments are typical of those owned and operated by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. In case you don’t know, PHA is one of, if not the most, corrupt and incompetently run agencies this side of the Mississippi. Literally billions of dollars have been funneled through this agency over its life with little to show for it. Its properties are barely livable and in my experience filled with all manner of violations. I hope they are sued out of existence.
Typical of these projects, the elevators were inoperable yesterday when they were needed most: during an emergency. FF. McGuire climbed eleven flights of steps wearing 80 plus pounds of equipment. According to some reports he ran out of air and was overcome by the thick smoke. He collapsed and was luckily found by other firefighters who were also searching for victims. Let’s take a second to get to know a guy like Mike McGuire a little bit better.
In exchange for his sacrifice, a firefighter like FF. McGuire may earn about fifty-five thousand dollars a year. Maybe a little more with some overtime, depending on how “greedy” he is OR how much time he is willing to give up with his family to protect the citizens of Philadelphia. Like the people in this housing project. People he never met before. It depends on how you choose to look at it. He will be required to live within the city limits of crime-ridden Philadelphia with its crushing taxes. That is also where he spends most of his salary.
As a firefighter, he works rotating shifts all year-long. Nights, weekends, and holidays. The bitter cold January nights and blistering hot July days. He will suffer all kinds on non-life threatening injuries that will never make the papers. Burns, sprains, strains, exhaustion, smoke inhalation, exposure to poisonous, toxic gasses. He may also – as in this case – face agonizing, life altering if not outright fatal injuries. He will miss important family events like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. He may spend some of his free time coaching little league or working a side job to help pay for Catholic School for his children… He may on occasion hang out with his buddies at the fireman’s hall and toss some darts over a pitcher of beer, telling fire stories, like the time he was almost … But most likely not, Mike is also a Cancer survivor.
Most likely, Mike will spend as much time with his family as he can because like most firefighters he knows a thing or two about mortality. He’ll never get rich on his city salary he knows that. All most guys like Mike McGuire hope for is to be treated fairly, something that will never happen in this city. Maybe one day a promotion to Lieutenant or like his father, Chief. But right now it’s tomorrow that hangs in the balance for Mike. Just another neighborhood guy who took a job to help people and make ends meet because that… is what we do.
Please keep Mike in your prayers.