At 5:30 PM, Central Fire Academy Outdoor Evaluation Ground.

Flames soared up the stacked dry wood, forming layers of squares.
Employees from H-Innovation and students from the fire academy stood in front of the flames, holding compact fire pumps connected to small fire hoses.

Just before water was released, the student operating the two-stage switch nozzle flinched at the sudden gust of cold wind.

“Let’s go, time’s kicking!”

The water stream, stretching out like a shower, veered to the left of its intended target, and the initial fire suppression began.

“Hurry, hurry!”

Under the urging of the employee, the student continued pouring water onto the smoky area.
However, the fierce wind blowing caused the fire to surge instead of diminishing, leaving the student in a state of confusion.

“Damn it.
The weather isn’t helping either.”

The employee grumbled, and the student’s hands became even busier.
After over two minutes had passed, the momentum of the flames finally subsided.

And then…

A strong gust of wind swept through the entire evaluation ground, causing embers to scatter and reignite the dwindling flames.
Desperately, the student directed a water stream at the new ignition point, but this only resulted in more time passing.

“2 minutes and 37 seconds.”

The wooden model, which had lost more than half of its structure, was nearly burnt down.
If it had been an actual house, it would have been a complete loss of property.

The H-Innovation officials who were witnessing the grim outcome all had disappointed faces.
Although it was originally a time-consuming test, this result was far off from the average record three years ago.

Park Il-seong, the second in line after the student, approached, his shoulders drooping.

“On windy days, there are many things to be mindful of.
Just now, the direction of the water stream was disrupted, failing to reach the core of the fire within the smoke.”

Park Il-seong checked the fire hose connected to the pump, making sure it wasn’t damaged, and spoke to the student.

“When the fire is vigorous, if water suppression is ineffective, we should focus on preventing fire expansion.
Fire defense.
You learned that during tactical training, right? Discard what needs to be discarded, seize what needs to be seized.
This is not a game of extinguishing fire, but rather a practice of rescuing people, isn’t it?”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“Well, you did your best.”

Grateful for the advice from the experienced senior, the student bowed deeply and walked towards the H-Innovation area.

-Starting in 3 minutes.

Pushing the wooden model to one side, a new piece of timber was set up on the steel plate.

Jeong-woo felt a sense of unease as he observed the intermittent wind mixing with snowflakes right before the start of the final test.
Was it due to the ongoing cloudy weather? He couldn’t help but think about the possibility of snowfall.

‘Also, this wind is getting stronger.’

With the addition of a new variable, Jeong-woo’s concerns grew.
The current additives used by KG Chemical in the water were compounds designed to enhance freeze prevention and adhesive properties.

According to the manager’s explanation, a patented penetrating agent was mixed in, making it a reinforcement flame-retardant solution that was on par with global standards in terms of effectiveness.

However, as Jeong-woo observed the initial sequence, he realized that what was needed more was a straight trajectory that could penetrate through the wind and reach the focal point.

‘If we reduce the freeze prevention agent’s content and increase the viscosity…’

He had to consider reassembling the components.


As the second order for Yujin Chemical began, Jeong-woo focused on Team Leader Park.


Jeong-woo was startled as he witnessed the water jet pouring out from the nozzle.
The change in additives he had just contemplated was evident, as it was precisely reflected in that water stream.

“Is everything okay?”

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

Despite responding to Jeong Pil-du’s question, Jeong-woo couldn’t take his eyes off the water stream that Park was sending out.

Despite the cold winds and low temperature, the water jet extended vigorously, striking the flames that were once in full force.

Park’s method of evolution differed from the previous student.
To block the flames expanding in all directions, he extended the hose and moved it from side to side, conducting mobile firefighting.

It resembled the precision of aiming with a sight, recognizing that the water stream was weaker than the fierce blaze, and encircling the flames from the top.

All of this was achieved swiftly even amidst the harsh winds.

Not only Jeong Pil-du but also the currently active firefighters in emergency standby were astounded by this flawless evolution, evidenced by their impressed exclamations.

‘Even if tactics are one thing, having high-quality additives leaves me with no room for improvement.’

As Jeong-woo glanced at Yujin Chemical, he noticed Yoon Jaegil standing confidently with his arms crossed.

He had forgotten.
Three years ago, he was the one who secured the contract by providing the appropriate combination for the climate in the same position.

Time for contemplation was dwindling.
As over 50 seconds passed, the flames had nearly disappeared.


Suddenly, the extinguished part of the fire rekindled due to a gust of wind.
Despite the unexpected variable, Team Leader Park remained composed and immediately redirected the water stream to continue extinguishing the fire.

However, this time the wind had persisted for quite a while, causing the fire to spread sideways once again.

Jeong-woo’s eyes flickered at that moment.

It was because he witnessed the sudden movement of dust particles.

When a fire occurs, it draws in the surrounding oxygen.
The larger the fire, the more it consumes.
Therefore, it is natural for a constant wind to blow in the direction of oxygen movement.
The swirling dust particles were also sacrificed within the flame reaction and vanished as smoke.

‘If we can’t gain an advantage with the additives…’

If we shoot the water stream according to this flow, there would be no need to change the additive composition for straight trajectory.

‘…we just need to consider the focal point and the wind simultaneously.’

The faint advantage that barely came to mind.
It was a challenge worth trying.

“1 minute 10 seconds!”

Yujin Chemical finished the test with a difference of more than 1 minute 30 seconds compared to H Innovation.

Jeong Pil-du, who was walking toward the test site for the next setup, cautiously asked.

“Jeong-woo, do we have a chance of winning?”

“I’m not confident either.
Team Leader Park is good, and their countermeasures are too perfect.
We’ll just focus on extinguishing the fire.
And when adjusting the nozzle direction, I’ll also lend a hand.”

“Are you referring to assisting with the auixiliry nozzle?”

“The auxiliary nozzle?”

“It’s not a problem since it’s small in size, but usually, we use multiple nozzles to control the water stream together.
It’s because of the strong recoil.”


Jeong-woo nodded, understanding that it was something similar.
It seemed better to work together than to explain verbally if they wanted to precisely control the water stream to follow the wind’s pull.

Team Leader Park, who had organized the hose at the entrance of the test site, turned around.
When their eyes met, Park opened his mouth to speak to Jeong-woo.

“The wind is strong, so be careful.
There are many sparks flying around.”

“I’ll be cautious.”

“Well, you’re good at finding fires better than me, but still, be careful.”

“No worries.”

Jeong-woo smiled, lowered his head, and then shifted his gaze to the wooden model being set up.

He took a deep breath.

He swept away the trembling in his chest.

About a minute later, just before Jeong-woo put the microphone to his mouth, Miles winked at him.

This time, he made a gesture as if passing a glass for a drink, so Jeong-woo chuckled and nodded.

Having gone through that terrifying ordeal for a while, he had become somewhat accustomed to it.


The wood soaked in volatile substance caught fire and quickly spread throughout.
Jeong Pil-du adjusted the nozzle of the hose to a direct stream and took his stance.

After the waiting time for the fire to spread, the signal was given.

Jeong-woo observed as the dust particles were rapidly sucked in along with the oxygen at the point where the combustion reaction was most intense.
The target was not the focal point but the side.


Jeong Pil-du pulled the handle.
Jeong-woo, who was holding the nozzle together from the side, adjusted the stream’s direction subtly to allow it to catch the wind.

The water stream, which was flying straight, smoothly curved like an arch and directly hit the flames.


Miles’s exclamation, holding the microphone, resonated through the evaluation area.
The gaze of Park Il-sung, who had been watching closely from behind, also sparkled.

However, Jeong-woo was not in his right mind.
As soon as the water touched the flames, smoke billowed out, making it difficult to identify the focal point.

The fortunate thing was the performance of KG Chemical’s fire extinguishing agent.
The rapid cooling effect was far superior to the additives of the recombined Yujin Chemical.

“To the upper left.”


“No, a little higher.”

Jeong Pil-du, following Jeong-woo’s gesture, was dumbfounded by the way the flames were effortlessly extinguished with each change in the water stream.


A gust of wind swept across the evaluation area, and at the moment when the flames grew larger, Jeong-woo lifted the nozzle upward with his fingertips.

The water stream surged out in a powerful burst.


Even Jeong Pil-du’s startled exclamation was momentarily silenced.
The unexpectedly descending water stream, riding on the downdraft, swiftly engulfed and extinguished the flames.

The eerie and delicate curves continued as if performing magic.


Miles’s cheer echoed through the loudspeaker.
Even those outside the control line couldn’t help but divert their gaze to this acrobatic water stream.

Jeong-woo continued to observe the flow of flames and smoke, realizing that at this rate, they could complete it within a minute of the time record.

‘I can do it.
Let’s keep going like this.’

Perhaps feeling a bit relieved, Jeong-woo momentarily turned his fatigued eyes away from the chemistry world he had been closely examining for four hours and focused on a distant horizon.

And then…

‘What’s that?’

Jeong-woo noticed a dense cluster of dust particles gathering like a storm on the other side of the sky, something he had never seen before.

An uneasy premonition crept up within him.

Estimating the amount of other dust particles moving with the wind, he realized it was not a gust but a gale.

“Start with the big fires, not the embers!”

Just as he was redirecting the water stream to the most dangerous spot when the wind blew…


A gust of wind roared as if it could knock one’s ears off.
With snowflakes mixed in, his eyes involuntarily squinted.

The flames grew rapidly.

Jeong-woo suppressed a groan and focused on the situation as much as possible.

A portion of the burning wood, ravaged by the fire, fell down due to the strong wind.
Sparks scattered in all directions, carried away by the wind, soaring into the air.

‘Oh no.’

Casting a quick glance at the sky, Jeong-woo bit his lip tightly.
The dense cluster of dust particles had formed again.

The problem wasn’t just the growing flames.
The flying sparks had gone beyond the control line.

‘What should I do?’

Caught in a dilemma, Jeong-woo’s gaze rested on the KG Chemical team standing outside the control line.

If they were willing to take the risk of getting burned by the sparks, they could still suppress the fire faster than Yujin Chemical.


‘Damn it.
What’s the use of competition in this situation?’

Jeong-woo shouted as he let go of the nozzle and rushed forward.

“Pil-du, the control line! Protect that area! Do it!”

In the split second that seemed to stretch, his mind reacted like lightning, seeking chemical insights.

When hot air is pushed into a narrow opening in the layer of cold air, it forms a rapid updraft.

The cluster of dust particles in the cold air gathered near the control line.

The cluster of dust particles in the hot air filled with burning wood.

Jeong-woo reached out his hand and guided the dust particles near the flames towards the control line.


Song Boyeong, who was watching with sweaty hands, opened her eyes wide when Jeong-woo suddenly rushed over.
Then, as a gust of wind blew and a flying ember came close, she screamed, “Aah!”

Instinctively, Song Boyeong closed her eyes tightly and lowered her head.


At that moment, a gust of wind pushed the ember that was flying horizontally up into the sky.


And then, a stream of water fell like rain in front of the control line.
The water stream formed a barrier, blocking all the embers that were coming after it with a sizzling sound.

Are you okay?”

Song Boyeong, who had been crouching down, cautiously opened her eyes.
Seeing Jeong-woo standing there, drenched in water, she asked in surprise.

“What are you doing here?”

“The sparks followed me.
The wind was blowing fiercely.
Oh? But you opened your eyes just now, right?”

“I closed them!”

The wind had subsided, but the embers continued to fly around, causing the water stream to keep falling.

Jeong-woo nodded approvingly at the dust particles that disappeared into the sky, barely fulfilling their role.

“Phew, it’s cold.
It’s fortunate that the fire-resistant suit is also waterproof.”


When he turned his head at someone’s voice, Park Il-sung was standing there with a portable extinguisher on his back.

“I’ll take care of the central fire since I’ll be guarding this area.”

“Are you sure about that? Isn’t it dangerous if Yujin Chemical gets involved?”

“Didn’t I say earlier that it’s not just me who’s handling the fire suppression? I’m sorry for being late again.
Let’s go quickly.”

Park Il-sung opened the nozzle of the portable extinguisher and started spraying in a radial pattern.

Jeong-woo ran towards Park Il-sung and said, “Up there! Where the embers are clustered! Straight ahead!”

…KG Chemical’s result was 3 minutes and 4 seconds.

The communal shower in the fire academy dormitory.


Jeong-woo let out a strange scream as he let the hot water stream hit his exhausted face.

“I feel alive.”

As the remnants of the winter cold water ceremony subsided, a happy smile naturally formed on Jeong-woo’s face.
The burnt smell that had filled his body from five hours of watching the fire spectacle was now washed away cleanly by the water.

Beside him, Jeong Pil-du, who was also showering, spoke apologetically.

“I didn’t expect you to run all the way there.”

“No, if I wanted to guide it properly, I had to get closer.”

“Guide it?”

Jeong-woo only smiled at the mention of such a thing and silently applied soap to his body.


The shower room door opened, and a scruffy-looking man walked in.
It was Miles, with his stubbly beard.

“Hey, you were already showering.
Is the hot water still running here?”

Miles, who turned on the water on the left side showerhead, chuckled and looked at Jeong-woo.

With two muscular men standing on both sides, Jeong-woo couldn’t help but feel small in comparison.

‘I’m not small either.’

He quickly finished soaping up and rinsed off under the water stream.
As Miles showered with an expression of “Ah, refreshing,” he passed by and said casually.

“Park-sunbae praised Jeong-woo so much that his mouth went dry.”

“Team leader Park Il-sung?”

“He not only smells the fire, but also the scent of the wind.
Isn’t he a genius born for firefighting?”

“Did he really say that?”

“The latter part is my opinion.”

Miles turned his head quickly, winking with his face covered in soap.
Startled, Jeong-woo took a step back.

“For the final test, we all had mixed opinions.
The strong winds were different for each sequence.
But there was something common we all said.”

“What was it…?”

“If you don’t choose a company that manufactures equipment with the same dedication as active firefighters, what else should you choose?”

Jeong-woo perked up his ears.

“Is that something that affects the evaluation?”


Miles rinsed off the soap and turned his head again.
Seeing his restless demeanor and playful gaze, Jeong-woo thought he should quickly move away from there.

“I’m leaving for Seoul right away.
How about we go to the central region together and listen? We can have a glass of soju too.
I’ll treat you well.”

“Well, um… I’ll just listen to the official announcement at 7 o’clock.”

After bidding farewell to the two men, Jeong-woo hurriedly left the shower room.

As Jeong-woo opened the dormitory door and stepped outside, he flinched.
Snow had fallen heavily from the sky, forming a layer on the ground.

“Wow, it’s really snowing.”

Perhaps due to the elevated body temperature from the shower, it didn’t feel as cold as before.

When Jeong-woo arrived at the main building where people had gathered earlier, his head was already covered in a considerable amount of snow.

As he climbed the stairs of the main building and brushed off the snow from his head, he felt a presence behind him.


He turned his head and saw Yoon Jaegil.

“Oh, Director Yoon.
It’s snowing heavily all of a sudden, isn’t it?”

“Today is the bid evaluation.
You seemed determined to shine.”

Jeong-woo scratched his chin, as if disappointed.

“I did my best in the position where I received the expectations of the Basic Materials Center.”

“To be honest, I didn’t expect us to be pushed this far.
Even Team Leader Park got penalized for interfering.
We should have considered the strong bond among firefighters.”

Yoon Jaegil sighed as he brushed the snow off Jeong-woo’s shoulder and spoke.

“Well, the results are the results.
Jeong-woo, do you know what I mean?”

“What do you mean?”

“That there are encounters in life that can change everything for anyone.
I want to be that kind of presence to you, Jeong-woo.
From now on, the scout conditions I’m going to talk about will be applied only in this moment, as a one-time opportunity.
First, a salary equivalent to a doctorate…”

“Um, I’m sorry.
I already have that kind of encounter.”

With “AF-12.”

At Jeong-woo’s firm attitude, Yoon Jaegil sighed in frustration.

“It’s almost 7 o’clock.
Let’s go inside.”

Jeong-woo pointed roughly towards the auditorium and walked briskly.

As he walked inside the auditorium and approached the KG Chemical seat, Song Boyeong immediately turned her head.
The section chief, Lee, and Assistant Manager Gong, who were in conversation, also turned their gaze towards Jeong-woo.

Jeong-woo greeted them with a nod and took his seat.

“Are you okay?”

Jeong-woo smiled faintly at Boyeong, who was full of concern.

“It’s just a little water, nothing to worry about.
Anyway, did you see outside? It was snowing heavily.”

“Even without that, I’m worried.
Senior Jong-chan’s car is old, I wonder if it will run well.”

“We should leave quickly.”

“After hearing the results, we should go right away.”

Park Il-sung, who was sitting in the front row, turned around to look at Jeong-woo and greeted him with a bow.
Jeong-woo also gave a friendly nod and observed the people coming up to the podium.

Yum Yong-nam, the director of the Fire Industry Technology Institute, took hold of the microphone.

“I appreciate your hard work in this cold weather.
As the weather is not favorable, let’s proceed with the announcement of the results.”

As Yum Yong-nam looked down at the document in his hand, everyone involved held their breath.

“Respiratory equipment set by Namyoung Industries.
Safety gloves, rescue gloves by Namyoung Industries.
Firefighting ropes by Sammyung Industries…”

With each announcement of the companies following the list, sighs could be heard.
On the screen in the back, the selected companies were displayed together.

Upon reading it, the representatives of the unsuccessful companies in the bidding process stood up and began to leave the room.

The announcement for the selection of equipment companies continued for five minutes.
Then, it was time for the announcement of chemicals.

“Before the announcement, we would like to express our gratitude for the excellent performance of the chemicals presented by each company, which was superior to the previous results.
Especially to KG Chemical and Yujin Chemical, who have been competing until the end since three years ago, for their great contribution to the development of firefighting chemicals.”

In response to Yum Yong-nam’s words, Jeong-cheol, the section chief, and Jaegil, the center director, bowed their heads in acknowledgment.

Jeong-woo anxiously waited for the next words.
Song Boyeong, sitting next to him, seemed to be tense as she swallowed nervously.

“The evaluation results from current firefighters’ judgment were diverse, reflecting their careful considerations.
Therefore, we have decided to individually award the outstanding chemicals among the 28 products instead of monopolization.
The representatives of the four companies have agreed to this.”

“Is that so?”

As Jeong-woo arrived late, he could only look at Jeong-cheol.

“We will now announce the results.”

At the same time, the screen displayed the individual awarded results.

The crowd murmured in excitement.

As the items were numerous and couldn’t be displayed all at once, they had to wait, counting the numbers and anticipating the next screen.

Jeong-woo quickly organized the information, counting the number of awarded products for KG Chemical.

KG Chemical: 8, Yujin Chemical: 11, H Innovation: 1, Taejin Precision Chemical: 2.

“In the additives category…”

Yum Yong-nam announced the results with the highest volume of awarded products.

“…KG Chemical.”

To secure the vital core of the extensive fire protection system, including fire pumps, reservoirs, and water supply towers installed nationwide, Manager Lee Jeong-cheol stood up abruptly, raising both hands in triumph.

The final result: 13 awarded items for KG Chemical.

Despite not achieving a monopoly, all KG Chemical representatives enjoyed the feeling of being winners and celebrated joyfully.

On the other hand, Yoon Jaegil and the nearby staff members stood up with a bitter expression, shaking their heads in disappointment, catching Jeong-woo’s attention.

“In a competitive bidding process… It’s nerve-wracking, but also exciting.”

Jeong-woo couldn’t be sure of how much his contribution had helped, but he believed that he had fulfilled some of Jang Tae-sun’s expectations.


Manager Lee Jeong-cheol rushed over, tightly gripping Jeong-woo’s hand and shaking it vigorously.

“See you in Seoul, Jeong-woo.”

“You did well, Jeong-woo.
I felt really proud earlier.”

Song Boyeong and Oh Seung-ju, sitting in the backseat of Kim Jong-chan’s car, waved their hands at Jeong-woo.

Won Jin-soo, the co-pilot, lowered the window and looked at Jeong-woo.

“When will you be dispatched to the Material Science Center?”

“I don’t know either.”

“I hope you come soon.
We have a lot of pending challenges as well.”

“But it’s the first day of Basic Materials.”

Right, Jeong-woo chuckled and exchanged a nod with Kim Jong-chan before he pressed the accelerator.

“Take care on your way up.”

After waving goodbye, Jeong-woo boarded the KG Chemical bus parked in the parking lot.


Assistant Manager Gong Gyeong-ho and the drug developers surrounded Jeong-woo as they boarded the bus.

“Thank you so much today.
We wouldn’t have achieved these results without you and all those tests.”

“The announcement earlier, after three years of stagnation, just…”

“A single meal won’t be enough, so we’ll keep treating you as we go.”

Unlike during lunch when he felt lonely on the bus, Jeong-woo now felt comfortably surrounded by people.

As the vehicles crowded at the main gate began to leave one by one, the KG Chemical bus and trucks also started moving.

7:30 PM, on a northern national highway near the Central Fire Academy.

Under the sudden heavy snowfall, a vehicle moved along a narrow road where it was impossible to distinguish between the road and the field.

As the vehicle climbed the hill, it slid and ended up with one wheel on the field.
The following vehicle also spun its wheels in vain and came to a stop in place.

One after another, approaching vehicles couldn’t ascend the narrow road and all pulled over to the side of the road with their emergency lights on.
Even an SUV equipped with chains confidently attempted to climb but ended up sliding sideways, aligning itself next to the vehicle that had one wheel on the field, forming a friendly wheel-over-wheel configuration.

Miles licked his lips as he watched the windshield wipers tirelessly moving back and forth in the pouring snow.

“Isn’t it common decency to provide a forecast for this kind of heavy snowfall?”

Driving at a turtle’s pace in the midst of a snowstorm, the number of headlights on the opposite lane gradually increased.
As he moved forward a bit more, he saw cars passing by one after another, barely skimming past his vehicle.

“Why are they turning back?”

The wipers swept across the windshield once.
Miles was astonished by the scene that unfolded before him.

The frozen road surface, gripped by intense cold.

The relentless snowfall.

The accumulating layers of ice forming an impenetrable barrier, blocking the entrance to the narrow road.

As more vehicles continued to approach, someone opened their window and shouted for others to turn around.


However, as a village bus passing on the opposite lane slid and its wheels got stuck in a drain, the narrow road quickly became congested with vehicles unable to move forward or backward.

It was a snowy prison, a display of the power of mid-winter’s chill.

Silently descending from the sky, the white snowflakes covered the world, seemingly mocking everything around in their serene stillness.

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