“Fighting Fire with Fire!”

May 18, 2015 at 8:10 pm


We do it because we Care more than others think is wise,Risk more than others think is practical, and Expect more than others think is possible!”


written by Debbie Allen

 What is it in a human heart, powerful enough to kindle the flickering flame inside a little boy’s day dreams, into the roaring blaze that now daily consumes the grown-up heart of fireman, Derrick Kemp? Captain Derrick Kemp…loving husband to his wife, Clarice. Devoted father to two girls, Amy and Kristine. Loyal friend, firefighter, and mentor to those brothers and sisters fortunate enough to serve with him down at the Fire Station.

Derrick never really questioned why he’d chosen to become a firefighter. From the first moment he laid eyes on the little red fire engine that his father gave him on his third birthday, the matter pretty much settled itself in his own mind.

In morning’s early shadows almost thirty years later now, Derrick caught a glimpse of that same little red fire engine sitting on a bookshelf in his bedroom.  Studying it for a moment, he shook his head and smiled.

“Honestly…I don’t remember ever ‘not’ wanting to be a fireman.” he thought to himself, bending down to kiss Clarice good-bye.

“Oh…honey, do you have to go?” she asked him with only one eye open.

“You know I do.” he said with a smile and a gentle tug on her hand.

Taking his Bible from the night stand, Derrick tip-toed down the hallway to kiss the girls as he always did before he went on duty at the fire station.   They had long given up trying to understand Daddy’s crazy “fire time hours”, as they often referred to his schedule. Usually both of them slept right through his before-the-sun-comes-up kisses, but this morning a raspy little voice emerged from a pile of tousled blonde hair on Amy’s pillow.

“Daddy…is that you?” she said yawning.

“It’s me, squirt…go back to sleep now.” he answered, stroking her hair.

“Don’t go, Daddy, just… don’t go.” she cried softly watching him walk out the door.

“Its ok, Amy…” Derrick answered, turning to blow a kiss in her direction.  By the time his kiss reached her little cheek Amy had already fallen back to sleep.

“Lord, thank you for my family…” Derrick uttered aloud on his drive to the station.

“You know, Lord…those three beautiful women in my life that make it so-o-o-o hard for me to want to leave in the mornings?” he continued, breaking out in a big grin.

“Watch over them while I’m away…please just keep them safe for me. Amen.” He finished praying as he pulled up in front of the Fire Station.

Derrick started all of his shifts this way.  Good-bye kisses to the family he dearly loved. Challenging man-to-God talks on the drive to work.  Then quality time spent with his crew at the station’s kitchen table.  “The Captain’s Table” as the men often called it.

Every day brought something different to this table.  Sometimes tears. Sometimes laughter. Sometimes even the lingering grief from yesterday’s difficult call. But always, the best conversations ever shared took place over some of the worst cups of coffee ever drank, right here.  Derrick’s crew…his God…and his own thoughts converged often in this special place.    Derrick trained most of the men on his crew himself.  He stepped into their lives many times as the big brother they never had.  Over the years they grew to love and appreciate each other as sort of a second family in a home-away-from-home.

Today showed no signs of being busy to start. For men so eager to share themselves with the world, waiting for a call sometimes proved tedious.  Like many other things in his life, Derrick also had a unique way of fostering patience in his men. Humor.

 “Just pour yourselves another cup of bad coffee, guys…” he would say, …waiting here at the Capt.’s table is a lot like being parked in a car on a blind curve.  There’s just no way to know what might be heading straight for you!” 

His easy going ways never failed to spark both laughter and new conversation. As the clock tolled twelve, Derrick and his crew raised their coffee cups high.

“I propose a toast!”  Derrick cried.  “To… the rescuing-cats-out-of-trees sort of morning that it’s been!” he continued, cheering.

Almost simultaneously, the station’s fire bell sounded.  A caffeine drowned and adrenaline pumped crew jumped instinctively to their feet.

“Captain Kemp…this one’s for you!”  Chief Hogan hollered in through the door.  “The old Wadsworth Theatre in Lakewood!  Sprinklers failed…it’s a hot one!”

 “We’re on it Chief!” Derrick hollered, already running for his equipment.

In a matter of minutes, Derrick and his engine company, Engine 2, were pulling up in front of the theatre on 20th Street

“Doesn’t look good, Ace.”  Derrick commented to the Rookie seated next to him, eyeing the billows of black smoke already rolling out of windows on the front side.

“What now, Captain?” the Rookie responded.

“Now?  …I’m going to show you what it means to ‘fight fire with Fire!’” a serious Captain Kemp answered him back.

Before Derrick could explain what he meant, the frantic cries of a lady in the crowd nearby captured his attention.

“Mi pequeno muchacho! she sobbed, pointing toward the theatre.

“My brother is still in there!” yelled the little girl standing next to her.

Derrick’s heart sank.    The fire had started in the offices on the second level of the theatre and spread so quickly to the lower level, he had a hard time believing that anyone left in the building could still be alive.  Even so, he made his way over to the panicked woman in the crowd.

“Where is your son, m’am?” Derrick shouted, trying to focus the woman’s attention on his words.

“Mi pequeno mucha…en el fuego…” her voice trailed off as she fainted to the ground.

Derrick reached forward to catch her slumping body.  Within seconds, the young girl standing next to her jumped in to help.

          “He went to the bathroom a few minutes before the usher yelled “fire!”  I should’ve gone with him…but, they hurried us out so quickly… and in the confusion he was left behind!” she struggled to get out, her voice still quivering.

“What’s the boy’s name?”  Derrick asked, already moving towards the theatre.

“Carlos…my brother, Carlos! She cried out, tending to her mother.

“Start pumping!” Derrick yelled back to his men.  “I’m going in!” he added, masking up again.

Pete and Troy headed for the deck gun.

“Don’t do it, Capt.n!  It’s gonna blow any minute!”  Pete yelled out, choking on the black smoke collecting in the air above their heads.

Within a minute’s time, they sprayed more than five hundred gallons of water into this raging inferno, with little effect.  Policemen continued forcing the crowds back further to safety.

Pete cringed as he watched his Captain step through what once had been the twenty foot glass panels forming the front of the movie theatre.

“God help him…” Pete uttered, knowing that nothing he could have said would have kept his Captain from trying to save the life of this little child.

Feeling sick inside, Troy caught sight of Lieutenant Grady, from Rescue 1, trying to resuscitate the usher boy who felt responsible for leaving the little boy behind in the theatre. Half-crazed and yelling “I’ll lose my job!” he frantically re-entered the burning building to try and find the boy. He made it only a few feet in before he collapsed from smoke inhalation.

“That boy may lose more than just his job today.” Troy thought sadly.

The smoke was so dense inside the theatre; Derrick couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of him.   Just a few steps into the building the heat became so intense it knocked him down to his knees.  He crawled the next thirty feet along a wall, feeling all the way for an opening with his gloved right hand.  He came to what he perceived to be the corridor running parallel to the back wall of the main theatre.

“Oh, God…please keep him alive…just a little longer…” Derrick thought; his right hand still searching for an opening along the wall.  Finally…an opening!  Derrick fell forward into an opening slowly filling with a puddle of steaming water; spewing from what used to be a drinking fountain hanging between two bathroom doors. Derrick shoved the debris blocking the entrance to one side and pushed the door open.

Carlos!  Carlos…are you in here?” he hollered, his voice muffled by his face mask.  No answer. He continued running a desperate hand along the tile floor until his fingers came to rest on a little leg. Still blinded, and his lungs now burning with a mixture of both fear and adrenaline; Derrick held back his tears. It was a small boy, slumped over in a corner next to a urinal. He scooped the motionless torso up into his arms and pulled him close, knowing he didn’t have much time…if any at all.

“Hold on, little buddy…” Derrick whispered, pushing his way out into the corridor.  He stood for a second, trying to get his bearings again in the thick smoke.  For a moment he felt like a pilot flying blind in cloud cover.  Even over the noise level of this raging inferno he managed to hear popcorn going off like little firecrackers behind him. Enough of a reminder to him that the concession stand, where he first entered the building, was now engulfed in flames. This eliminated any possibility of retracing any earlier steps. Embracing the boy in one arm, Derrick had no choice but to try and make his way down the fire riddled, smoke filled corridor toward a side-exit he wasn’t even sure existed.  Running out of both options and air, Derrick dropped to the ground with Carlos and resumed crawling.

“Oh God…please…you are a God who is known for making a way where it looks like there is no way!” Derrick prayed aloud.

This wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time that Derrick feared for both the life he was trying to save as well as his own. Pushing his own fears aside, he strained to see through his smoke tainted visor.  Nothing but black…in every direction.   Pulling himself a little further, he thought he heard a voice up ahead of him.  There it was again!  The sounds of hope calling to him from the midst of this black inferno!

“This way, Captain… this way!” a voice beckoned, followed by the sounds of breaking glass.

Dragging himself and Carlos just a little further, Derrick soon found his fingers wrapped around the ankles of the Rookie firefighter.

“This way, Capt’n!  Hurry…she’s about to blow!” he yelled, helping Derrick to his feet.

Relying on the last drop of adrenaline left in his body, Derrick wrapped both arms around Carlos and ran for all he was worth!  Half-way across the parking lot, a tremendous explosion shook the ground beneath them.  An explosion that should have happened five minutes earlier…but didn’t.  Before the debris could even hit the ground, rescue crews were already performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR on Carlos until he could be airlifted to a city hospital. Against all odds, with more medical treatment, the boy would make it!

Carlos’s mother ran toward Derrick; sitting now on the back bumper of an ambulance, holding an oxygen mask against his nose.  As he stood up, she flung her arms around him and spoke.

“Con tudo mi cora´zon, bombero!  Usted sera´ siempre mi he´roe!” she said.  (“You are forever in my heart, fireman.  You will always be my hero!”)

Though he could not comprehend her words, Derrick understood perfectly the tears flowing from this mother’s grateful heart.

“Mi He´roe!” she called out to him once more from her car, as she drove away towards the hospital.

Derrick smiled and waved back; more than grateful that the afternoon had ended on this note.

“Mi He´roe.  It means, ‘my hero.’  You’re that lady’s hero, Captain Kemp.  How does that make you feel?”  the Rookie asked.

Derrick thought for a moment.

“I suppose it’s ok to be looked upon as a hero for a short time but…being a hero is all about glory.  I’m a Fireman…I’m more concerned with saving lives.  It’s not just about what I do… it’s who I am.” he answered back.

The Rookie nodded his head in agreement, always surprised by Captain Kemp’s answers.

“When I step on this side of my badge,” Derrick continued,

I am faceless and nameless to most of the world… most of the time. No one cares who I am…just that I’ll be there when I am called. I constantly walk on a tight rope stretched between life and death.  I do it because I choose to. Finding balance… teetering there between promise and sacrifice is the most difficult thing a fireman ever has to do. Do you know what keeps me up there, Rookie?”

“No sir, Captain… what?” the Rookie answered, still listening intently.

“It’s the Spark…the Fire burning deep inside of here!” Derrick added, tapping his index finger over his own heart.

“The kind of passion powerful enough to drive a man into the flames, willing to risk it all in order to save the life of one.  It’s a Snapshot of Heaven, and I fully believe God nails it to the walls of every Fireman’s heart.” 

“I understand, Captain.  It’s like what you’ve been trying to tell me all along…it’s all about “Fighting fire with Fire!” the Rookie offered, tapping his finger over his own heart with a smile.


“Lead them like a Shepherd and carry them forever in Your Arms.”

Psalm 28:9