The smoke was thick – so thick, in fact, that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
Someone was yelling at me … but I could barely hear him. All I could hear was the pounding of my heart and my labored breathing. And the sounds of the flames.
The fire was just one room away … I could hear it crackling and popping.
They told me after that the temperatures were in excess of one thousand degrees. But I couldn’t process the heat. All I could think about was staying alive.
I was desperately feeling around for an exit. I was blind. I wanted OUT.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I heard him.
“You can’t leave yet. There’s a person on the floor. We need to get them out of here.”
Still blind, I felt the floor to my right. That was definitely a foot.
“I’ve got her,” I said. “We’ve gotta go.”
“Not yet,” he said. “How do we know she didn’t come in here to save her child and ended up passing out? We need to find that child. But we don’t have much time – we’ve got to MOVE.”
“I can’t see anything. The fire is moving in. This woman has no air. How are we going to do this?” I asked, starting to feel panic.
“We just DO IT,” he calmly said. “What if this was YOUR child? YOUR wife? We don’t allow them to die. We fight to save them. THIS is the oath we took.”
There was no child. And the “woman” was just a pile of hoses strapped together to make a dead-weight body that felt like 400 pounds, but was really only 100.
And at the end of the drill, I was able to take off my mask and breathe easily.
This week, we spent a day filming an episode of The Real Man Show with the fire department of New Haven, Connecticut.
Mike Monaco, owner of Monaco Ford, and I launched the series, in part, to resurrect the art of being a man. Mike is a Marine who deployed twice to fight for his country.
On this particular shoot, we were joined by our good friend Dan Ortiz, who is a police officer.
Spending the day with these patriots was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
Here you have a combat veteran who has fought for his country … a cop who has literally run into burning buildings without any gear to save babies … and a group of men and women who put their own lives on the line every single day just because it’s the right thing to do.
Many of the firefighters we filmed with were also veterans.
Saving lives isn’t something they do for a paycheck – it’s something they do because it’s part of their very DNA.
I never understood what it was like being in a burning building. I pray that I’ll never have to experience it again. You are blind. All of your senses are warped. Your adrenaline is pumping. And you know that your every move could save a life … or result in your own death.
Shootings break out and police run TO them while most people run away. Fires break out and firefighters run TO them while most people run away. War breaks out and military personnel run TO the bad guys.
Most of these men and women are paid peanuts to risk their own lives … so that every day Americans can sit in the safety and comfort of their overstuffed couches complaining that people who flip burgers should be making $15/hour.
Overpaid toddlers make the covers of magazines led by social justice warriors who believe that taking a knee somehow makes you a hero. That’s not bravery. Bravery is being willing to sacrifice yourself for strangers because it’s the right thing to do.
The true test of one’s character isn’t in what someone posts on Facebook … what you wear on your head at rallies … or how you vote. It’s what you do when danger strikes.
THAT is what makes a hero. THAT is what makes a patriot. And THAT is what makes a true American.
My good friend Eli Crane, a NAVY SEAL Sniper and the CEO of Bottle Breacher, summed it up best on a shirt he made for me, borrowing from Edmund Burke:
“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”
God bless our first responders … and God bless America.