It was an ordinary day, as it ordinarily is.  My crew had been busy readying our gear and checking out the apparatus as the off-duty crew joked and ate the bagels a ride-along had brought that morning.  The truth is everything looked like the day could be one of those perfect, streamlined days where all of our training is finished on-time, our station duties are completed with expedited precision, and by 16:00 we’d be working out and building up a healthy appetite for the dinner probationary officer Pretty (who’s ugly mug doesn’t live up to his name) would be cooking before we all cleaned up for the evening, and wound down with a movie before bed.  …but it didn’t go that way.

Morning training usually begins at 10:00; we’re normally finished with our checkouts by 09:00 allowing us an early start on afternoon duties, though this morning we were “mustering”.  The morning muster is an opportunity for us to review the plans and responsibilities for the day as well as what each firefighters roles will be for a variety of potential incidents.  We were only minutes into our muster when the tones went off.

“Engine 29, respond to structure fire at –address withheld for privacy-, victims may be inside…” dispatch  relayed over the radios.  Everybody jumped up and was donning their gear in no time.  A structure fire with rescues is of course, a very big deal.  We were out the door with lights and sirens blaring in a matter of moments – we discussed a quick plan of action in route – who would pull the crosslay, who would get our water supply, who would be the nozzleman, but as we got closer to the address seeing no signs of smoke we began to suspect a false alarm, or the terrifying possibility that we were given the wrong address.  We pulled up on scene and radioed dispatch to let them know we had arrived to a two-story residential structure with nothing showing.  We verified the address was correct and approached the door.

Our driver, Salander, knocked on the front door while I went around back to check the remainder of the home.  As I was rounding the back of the house I heard screams from inside the home and a terrible crashing sound from the front.  With absolutely no sign of fire anywhere, my mind raced at the possibilities and I hurried back to the front where I now heard firefighter Broadwell yelling something about “getting him away”.

As I crashed through the fence gate back into the front yard my foot caught a sprinkler and I went flying.  In the moments before my head came crashing down on a wooden edging of a flower garden, I could see Salander on his back, writhing in the walkway near the front door with his hands around his neck, and then I was out.

As I came too, I knew I couldn’t have been out long, as Salander was still struggling and I just caught a glimpse of Broadwell and Pretty running into the house with axes in hand.  There was a scream in the house and suddenly Pretty, who is no small man went flying through the window landing heavily on his back and gasping for air, struggled “It’s glue…, it’s glue…”  He didn’t appear injured, but for a some redness around his neck and a strange white splattering across his turnout coat and face.

I could hear Broadwell yelling something from inside and Pretty was waiving me toward the door.  Taking this to mean he was okay, I decided to enter.  At that time Salander had made it to his feet and met me at the door.  He had the same splatterings and finished Pretty’s cries: “It’s gluten.” he said.

My heart sank.  As firefighters we train for every conceivable disaster: fires, earthquakes, ebola outbreaks, terrorist attacks, endless medical scenarios, but we never thought we’d be face to face with gluten.  Yet here it was.  Gluten was running amok in our district and we had no idea how to protect ourselves from this pervasive, all-powerful and devastating wheat protein that gives dough it’s elasticity and baked foods their chewy texture.

Dangers of glutenSalander and I ran inside, and to our horror we quickly found the residents of the house devastatingly overcome by gluten.  The man of house was plastered to the wall.  His wife was being consumed from the inside out and I immediately thought of The Stuff where innocent people were overtaken by a seemingly innocent and unlikely treat.

Down the hall I glimpsed Broadwell swing his axe, but it’s landing didn’t have the strong thud you expect to hear when a beast like Broadwell lands a swing.  This landing was quiet, like an angry teenager punching their pillow, but despite it’s quite, something sprayed a whitish splattering across Broadwell.  Then a long off-white arm-like protrusion reached out and grabbed Broadwell by the throat lifting him off the ground and tossing all 260 pounds of him across the room like a puppy.

GlutenAnd then from around the corner, a giant doughy looking form lumbered into view, turning and spotting us.  We were face to face with gluten.  Staring down horror, I understood the fear that seemed to have overtaken America.  gluten was not to be taken lightly.

There seemed to be no way to fight this gluten monster, and then I heard the sirens of our calvarly: Engine 31 and our Chief were only moments away.  Knowing we’d need more help to rescue Broadwell, if he was still alive at all, we raced out to meet the others.  Pretty was largely recovered and joined us at the street where the others had just pulled up.  Quickly explaining the situation to the others, Engineer Smitz and his crew were dumbfounded.  The Chief was staring behind us, toward the home, with fury and determination in his eyes.  We turned to follow his gaze.

Standing at least 7 feet tall, glistening in the light of the day, the gluten stood outside the house briefly surveying his next victims, before he began his lumbering strides toward us.  The Chief growled.  The gluten roared.

And then raising his axe, the chief commanded our battle cry: “The only way to beat him, is to eat him!”

The gluten charged toward us and throwing aside our halligans and axes, we charged back.  Including the Chief there were eight of us, and almost simultaneously we slammed heads and shoulders into the gluten, biting and tearing at every part.  We were a hard-working crew and we were hungry, but it was early for lunch and our appetites wouldn’t last long against this giant protein beast.  For every mouthful we could swallow, the gluten would hammer one of us with it’s giant paws.  We needed a bigger appetite.

Just then, from the darkness of the home, the hungriest of us emerged – Broadwell.  Never one to miss a meal, Broadwell was ready, axe in one hand, fork in the other, he moved like a man his size doesn’t normally move, and he had a score to settle.  With ravenous hunger he ate the gluten, and the gluten waled as bite by bite it’s blows weakened and soon, it was nothing but crumbs and clumps.

We lay there, stomachs full, faces a mess, but alive… and very well fed.  The gluten was overcome, and against all odds, apparently none of us had celiac disease.  What we did have was some pretty bad gas that evening, and a greater appreciation for the dangers of gluten.

For sincere interest in gluten allergies and Celiac disease, learn more here. If you are an aspiring Celiac sufferer, or have gluten sensitivity, skip this.