By Katie Murdoch Enterprise editor
MILL CREEK — Pat Corbiere was a 26-year-old rookie firefighter in the San Francisco Bay Area when two things about his new job startled him: the “unnerving” peal of victims screaming and how loud fires sound as they spread.
Corbiere said to this day he can hear a song, catch a scent or listen to firefighters talking and it can trigger a memory from one his emergency calls.
“They’re always there, no matter how bad you want to forget some of them,” he said.
After retiring from a 30-year career in the fire service, the Mill Creek resident tapped into his memories of patients and fellow firefighters he had the honor to work with.
Themes swirling around relationships and religious faith along with a three-decade career are woven into “Dragon’s Breath: A Firestorm,” a novel he self-published this year through iUniverse.
Set in 1975, the story revolves around two firefighters that are also best friends. Both men are facing their own demons: for one, his spirituality; the other, his unraveling marriage.
Characters and events were inspired by people Corbiere knew, and experiences, including a 1975 Gulf Oil Refinery fire in Philadelphia, were plucked from actual events.
His novel includes a special thanks to the eight firefighters involved in the refinery fire and the firefighters who responded during the Sept. 11 attacks.
The firefighters that went into the World Trade Center towers knew they were risking their lives but they went in anyway, he said.
“They knew what to do with their fear,” he said.
Corbiere said fear was either nonexistent during some calls, and other times it nagged at him.
“You learn to deal with it,” he said.
Feelings, dialogue and pranks that go on in the fire station are included in the story to “give a verbal photo about firefighters.” After returning from calls, Corbiere used to write down his gut reactions and feelings provoked from the emergencies.
“Firefighters are the hardest people to supervise,” he said. “They’re very individual and strong-willed. But that’s how they need to be to deal in fire situations.”
Corbiere worked as a firefighter in Alameda County, Calif., for 30 years; 23 of those years, he served as a captain. He sought a career in fire service when business was no longer fulfilling. Corbiere said he didn’t have the patience to be a teacher and he wrote off a career in journalism because he had a family to feed.
“I wanted to feel like what I did mattered,” he said.
Throughout his career Corbiere observed firefighters do “little acts of kindness,” such as wrapping their arm around someone distressed or grabbing photographs out of homes before they were damaged by water or smoke.
“The greatest gift someone can give is sacrificing their life for someone else,” he said.
Corbiere wants readers to realize the human frailty of firefighters who encounter grisly images and cope with human tragedy.
“Losing someone hurts, every one of them, especially children,” he said.
Corbiere likened coping with tragedy to building a wall which can isolate firefighters from their family. Each negative or overwhelming emotion becomes another brick making the wall taller and the distance between loved ones wider.
“They’re not Superman,” he said.