KAHULUI - Looking like a cross between an astronaut and a girl in a Jiffy Pop suit, I walked several hundred feet to one of Kahului Airport's firetrucks.
There I was, dressed as an airport firefighter, sweltering in high 80s heat and baking in a blazing Kahului sun. I had donned a 38-pound silver "proximity" suit (so I could get close to the fire, if there was one) and an 18-pound oxygen tank on my back.
The collar on the jacket was up to my chin and seemed like it was in my way. My helmet felt like it was going to fall off. I was not comfortable at all.
Airport firefighter recruit Kawika Kahui assists Maui News staff writer Melissa Tanji with shooting a fire hose Tuesday morning.
SCOTT PIRES photo
Why do firefighters look so cool and calm in their uniforms?
Anyway, when I first put on the suit, I told the guys, "Nah, this ain't so bad" as I have carried shopping bags twice as heavy as the 18-pound oxygen tank during shopping trips at Ala Moana Center.
But they replied, "Try staying in the suit for several hours."
As I put one foot in front of the other to walk to the firetruck, I thought this is trickier than walking in my sister-in-law's Manolo Blahnik high-heeled shoes.
The boots' soles weighed me down. The boots themselves were so wide they could have been made for Frankenstein.
But the pants were comfortable, a little hot, but stylish. Maybe I'll borrow it to go with my silver earrings and black top.
But the fire coat was bulky, like a llama with too much fur.
After airport firefighter equipment operator Tracy Samio placed the helmet on my head and tightened its screws I was finally ready to go. I was going to shoot a fire hose as if there were a real fire.
My dressing process took around seven minutes, total.
Firefighters have only about a minute, Samio said.
Airport firefighter recruit Kawika Kahui then approached me and said he was going to help me with the hose.
I was like "what?"
I thought I didn't need a handler, my hose, or "booster line" as they call it, was just a small line from the truck.
My hose was only 1 inch in diameter and water flowed at 60 gallons per minute.
I can handle, I thought.
(For their live-fire exercise Tuesday, fire recruits used a 1-3/4 - inch line, and water gushed at 125 gallons per minute.)
But secretly, I was happy Kahui was there. I didn't want to fall flat on my okole from the water pressure.
I could just hear it now, people talking about that wahine reporter that fell flat on her butt when pretending to be a firefighter.
I then gripped the nozzle with my right hand like grabbing a gun, as Kahui instructed. Then I put my left hand up and twirled my pointer finger in the air, signaling the truck diver to get the water flowing.
Slowly I pulled back the lever with my left hand.
Out spewed the water.
I tried to aim it at the mock steel structure that earlier was surrounded by flames and doused by the county and state fire recruits.
"Wow, this is cool. And easy," I thought to myself.
Then Kahui said to kneel down.
"What?" I asked.
I couldn't kneel down. I thought: "I'm carrying nearly 50 pounds of extra weight, I feel like I might tip over plus I've got water gushing out of this hose, and you want me to kneel down?"
I don' t know how I got my right knee to the ground, but I did.
Now, the water was spraying at an angle and off my target. But Kahui was behind me guiding the hose, and finally I could shoot straight again . . . sort of.
OK, I thought I had wasted too much of these poor men's time. I quickly shut the nozzle off, probably to Kahui's delight.
Then I couldn't stand up. The suit that felt light at the beginning now weighed a ton.
As I proudly walked back from my fake fire scene, I shed my jacket and helmet and was down to my pants and boots, just like the real guys.
I felt like a veteran and even got a "Good job!" shout from one of the firefighters.
I told them that next time they should "bring on the fire."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.