Even through all the noise and smoke, you could feel the energy pulsing outside "the can." The recruits were talking, but most of it was muffled through our masks and we soon gave up trying to hear each other. After a bit of instruction, we were packed into the small corrugated box along with a few instructors (and some of the experienced recruits, who acted more as helpers than as students).
"Alright, click in!"
We obliged, our gloved hands now beginning to perform certain movements without the awkward hesitation we had embodied several weeks ago. With regulators firmly in place, and all of us on air, we sat and listened to the hiss of each other breathing (I remember thinking it sounded like a Vader family reunion in there).
At first, all we could see was a figure outlined in the neon red of a road flare, his figure shifting around the box and moving towards an irregular pile of wood. He touched the flare to some straw-like tinder inside a big metal drum, and the iridescent red was soon drowned out by a growing flash of yellow and orange. Although our face pieces were slowly de-fogging from the air flowing from our regulators, the interior of the can still had an eerily surreal quality.
The fire began growing inside the drum, and smoke began to bank down inside the can. Lit only by the dancing fire from the front of the container, layers of black began to form in the air, obscuring our vision even more. Occasionally, Sgt. Woodward would order one or both of the doors to be cracked open, allowing smoke and heat to escape for a bit.
After one such instance, he ordered us to all take a deep breath and hold it; as we knelt on the floor in complete silence, it was simultaneously the creepiest and coolest moment that I've had in the Academy yet. There was absolutely no noise except for a gentle snapping and popping from the fire, and we could just barely see tongues of flame showing through the smoke—it was performing for us on a darkly lit stage.
"If you're crawling down a hallway and you can't find the fire: just stop and listen for it. It'll tell you where it is."
The instructors had told us that we wouldn't be experiencing any real heat for a while; and while the can was slightly warm (think of wearing a parka on a summer day), it wasn't by any means unbearable or uncomfortable. I think most of us were too fascinated by the fire and smoke gathering around us to care, to be honest.
As we exited and allowed our gear to cool off, another group loaded more fuel into the upper chamber of the can for the next burn.
One recruit even had a helmet-mounted video camera that he took inside; he said he'd be sharing the footage with us on Monday. I've not figured it out yet, but I'm determined to figure out a way to get either a still or video camera into a fire somewhere. I mean, there must be some way that they take all those photos that are in our textbooks, right?
This just gets better and better, doesn't it?