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Billings firefighter Briana Masche climbed a very steep 53 steps up a fire truck ladder, swung her leg onto the roof of a building and stepped into the surprise of a lifetime Saturday afternoon.

Masche clamored up the steps, supposedly to check a report of a hot odor coming from one of the Stapleton Building's heating units.

Supposedly is the key word.

There was no emergency atop the building, just a very nervous fiancé-to-be.

While Masche and other members of the firefighting crew checked their bulky fire-proof gear and got the huge aerial ladder just right against the top of the four-story building, her boyfriend, firefighter Joe Sands, was already on the roof.

Sands was wearing his firefighter dress uniform and hat. His black shoes shined and his badge and nametag glimmered in the sun.

"What are you doing up here?" Sands said Masche asked when she saw him. "I said, 'I'm here to do what we've been talking about.' "

Then he proposed. And she said yes.

Meanwhile, nervous firefighters and friends were waiting on First Avenue North. Some of the firemen working with Masche on

Saturday joked worriedly that they had sent Masche — just a few months off her rookie probation period — into a situation where fire training was not going to help.

They were also a little worried about Sands, whom they said slept only about 90 minutes the night before. Although Sands was on duty, it wasn't emergency calls that kept him awake — it was nerves. There were reports he bit his fingernails off within an hour before the proposal.

The firefighters were excited, too. Friends and co-workers were not only going through the proposal, they were also making history by being the first firefighting couple to become engaged in the department's nearly 100-year history.

As minutes dragged by with no report from the roof, someone radioed up to the firefighter who had followed Masche up the ladder — a protocol that like everything else leading up to the proposal was carried out so she wouldn't be tipped to the ruse.

"Do we have a fire yet?" the firefighter asked into his radio.

"I think she said yes," firefighter Trever Schilling said from the roof, which brought cheers from a few of the crewmembers on the ground.

Sands and Masche have known each other for three years and dated for two, Sands said while waiting for Masche to climb back down the ladder — he used the stairs in the building.

Applause broke out when Masche's feet touched down from the fire truck. The couple exchanged hugs and handshakes from friends and accepted congratulations from strangers walking by.

Red-faced, maybe as much from the attention as the heat, Masche said the exertion of the climb was definitely worth it. She wore an engagement ring under her big fire gloves.

Contact Becky Shay at or 657-1231.