I open my eyes, but there is only darkness. I close them for a moment, but when they reopen, the black remains.
I take a deep breath, but it's shallow - not the same as a getting a mouthful of air on a crisp fall evening.
In fact, at this very moment, nothing feels like the serenity of a peaceful night.
I hear the sounds of men shouting. They're giving me directions, but it's all just noise.
I'm paralyzed in the moment - and the darkness.
I take more deep breaths, but as each moment passes, they just get harder and harder.
There is no nice way of saying it; I'm in full on freak-out mode.
I'm just about to give up, when I get a tap on the shoulder.
It's a firefighter. He points down past a doorway a couple of feet away to the flickering orange glow.
Finally, I can see light. I know where I am, and I know I'm going to be OK.
I quickly grab a tight hold of the fire hose and move through the doorway.
The smoke is heavy, but I see the target. "Point the hose at the fire, and just give it a one-second blast," he tells me.
Actually, I'm not even sure if that's exactly what he said, but it's what I heard.
So I follow the orders and as soon as the water connects, the flames scurry to a trickle of embers.
Just like that, we're ordered to stay low and make our way to the exit on the floor below.
I venture back into the darkness with the hose as my guide.
In what was only a matter of minutes but felt like a clichéd eternity, I'm finally outside of the building.
I pull off my mask and take the deepest breath I can, realizing I came within a hair of quitting.
I didn't quit. I finished the tasked, leaving me with a proud feeling.
But if the above tale sounds a little melodramatic, that's because it is.
I really wasn't in all that much danger - I think.
Oh, there was darkness, and I nearly had a panic attack.
Every part of me, once inside the smoky burn building, believed I was fighting a fire.
In reality, I was taking part in an operations exercise with the Port Coquitlam Fire & Emergency Services Department.
On this dreary rainy Saturday, the department invited a handful of city councillors and The NOW to take part in several operational scenarios to give the politicians and media a better understanding of what firefighters really do.
"There's a real misconception that we just stand and point water on a fire and deal with it," said PoCo fire chief Nick Delmonico.
"I don't think people get the real technical nature of what we do."
The group took part in a handful of scenarios including a rescue, an attack of a fire and a cold start.
Though the exercises all took place within the controlled environment of the department's new burn building, the day was meant to be as real as possible.
That included suiting up in full gear and literally moving through a burning smoking building, the live fire building.
Unveiled in May, the building has become an integral part of training for the department.
It gives the new recruits and some of the veterans a chance to practise their skills in a near real-life setting.
For PoCo Mayor Greg Moore, the tasks were both exciting and scary.
"It gives me a whole new appreciation for what firefighters go through when they have to go into a fire," he said, noting it was his first time donning the gear.
Moore said the exercises were a great opportunity for him and fellow councillors, who will be making decisions about the fire service, to see what the department goes through rather than reading it in a PowerPoint presentation or report.
The department recently completed an operations review guided by the chief.
Though the document and its details haven't been made public, the chief said it's no secret the department is short staffed, noting there hasn't been an increase in personnel in 22 years.
It's not just fires, Delmonico explained, but in general, the call volumes of the department are on the rise.
"It's getting very difficult for us to keep up with the volumes here," he said, adding he would like to see more firefighters in the PoCo uniform.
On the other side of that equation is city council.
Moore didn't offer specifics when asked about an increase in resources, noting the city needs to consider the statistics and different standards in each community.
As for me, I might have learned a sad and telling lesson about myself from my three hours as a firefighter.
I joked to friends afterward there is no way I would run into a burning building to save someone after what I had just gone through.
Fires are a dangerous situation, and without experience, training and proper equipment they can turn deadly in an instant.
There is no Hollywood ending for me. I'll leave the firefighting to the professionals who do it every day.