This is the story of the beginning of a journey; my journey. Because of one unspeakably horrible experience in my life nearly thirty years ago, I have gone to places, done things, and worked with people I never dared dream possible. One life-changing event altered and expanded my humanity in ways that language, at least my language, cannot adequately describe. Even if human language was perfect and fully expressed every dimensional aspect of the depth and breadth of my experience, my reality, few would believe it. It is just too fantastic; yet it is also true.
As I attempt to describe below, I was killed, burned to a crisp, and then visited “the other side” before coming back to this human existence. I have since traveled eight more times “out-of-body” or “after-death.” The words I have with which to convey these experiences are poor tools for the task, but they are all that I have. And I know that those wondrous beings on the other side, well, “They are not finished with me yet.”
In 1984, after a decade of firefighting, I was working as assistant chief training officer in the Shreveport Fire Department. My duties were many and varied: I served on committees, managed the basic Recruit Program, and was a member of the department’s Hazardous Materials Response Team.
I was in the classroom one afternoon, working with technical specialists and captains, when our chief officer, Dan Cotten, stepped into the room. Dan announced a hazardous materials problem at a nearby cold storage facility and told my friend and colleague, Captain Percy R. Johnson, and me to respond to the call. We climbed aboard the HAZMAT truck and left immediately.
On the way, we began to anticipate what we might face there. The cold storage facility itself was located just a few short miles from the Fire Academy. Its close proximity was a good thing, especially if we needed additional support. We’d been told that somehow the facility’s mechanical equipment was leaking anhydrous ammonia, a chemical commonly used in commercial refrigeration units. Our onboard manuals informed us that anhydrous ammonia was classified as toxic and corrosive. Not good. Toxic and corrosive chemicals require very high levels of personal protective equipment, so we knew we’d be wearing full body protective gear, including encapsulating butyl rubber suits and special respirators, if we needed to approach the leak source.