It's not necessary to see an angel in order to feel one's presence. Just ask Mark Kuck.
Mark is a volunteer firefighter in Ohio, and also the only paramedic in his district. Usually Mark does not put on an air pack and actually go into a fire, because he needs to be readily available to provide medical care. But when an unoccupied mobile home caught on fire recently--and not enough firefighters had yet arrived--Mark decided to go in.
"My partner and I entered through the back door of the trailer," Mark says (firefighters always travel in pairs). "We kept low to the floor to avoid any superheated gasses that might be higher up." Mark had control of the hose nozzle, and his partner was helping to drag the hose. Mark saw an orange glow, directed the nozzle towards it, and put out that part of the fire easily. The men crawled through a doorway into a second room filled with furniture, and items lying all around.
"Being in a fire is nothing like what they show on TV," Mark says. "If you are lucky, you might be able to see the hose you are carrying. But the smoke is so thick that everything else is done by feel, and of course you are wearing heavy leather gloves." Eventually, however, Mark located the source of the flames, and directed water at it. But it just kept coming back. "This told us that the fire was being fueled by something other than solid material-like propane or heating oil."
It is still possible, Mark says, to contain the spread of such a fire by shutting off the fuel supply, or wetting down the materials around the fire. Mark assumed that those outside the trailer had already turned off the fuel supply, so he and his partner opted to stay in the trailer and keep watering the flames. "It was about this time," Mark recalls, "that I began to feel uneasy..."
At first it was just a sense that something wasn't right. Maybe it was just his imagination, Mark thought. But the feeling persisted. Then he heard a clear male voice: "Mark," it said, "You need to go." Mark was astonished. The voice was audible, yet it couldn't be his partner--he was too far away to be heard. And an airpack distorts a voice--"it's kind of a Darth Vader effect," Mark says. Not like this voice, so distinct and close it was almost at his ear. Nor were there any openings in the trailer where someone outside could yell through. What was happening?
The Voice was not convinced. "Mark!" it answered, in a no-nonsense tone, "You need to go NOW!" The Voice did not sound angry that he had been ignoring it, Mark says. "It sounded as if it was just giving me an urgent warning." Mark could disregard it no longer. He turned, motioned to his partner and the two crouched down, to make their way back to the first room. It was difficult, due to all the debris strewn around.
As they entered, Mark suddenly saw a tongue of flame enter the room, and heard the terrible "whomph!" sound that all firefighters dread. It was a flashover, something that happens when the contents of a room are so hot that they can instantly explode, and just one flame can engulf a room in seconds. "Gear might keep you alive for a few seconds if you are caught in a flashover," Mark says, "but you will still be seriously burned." (In fact, the survival rate for firefighters caught in a flashover is 3 to 5 percent.)
"GET DOWN GET DOWN!" Mark yelled as his partner hit the floor. Immediately Mark aimed water at the flash flame, and drove it back, just enough for the two to scramble to safety. Had they still been in the second room--or in the first room for just a few more seconds--they never would have lived.