Monday, October 31, 2011

Connections Magazine feature

Connections Magazine
November 2011

Local Author Book Debut
Fire Men: Stories from Three Generations of a Firefighting Family

The debut book by a local author has recently been published. Fire Men: Stories from Three Generations of a Firefighting Family by Gary Ryman, a Connections Magazine contributing writer, was recently released by Tribute Books.

This book tells the stories and experiences of three generations of firefighters of which Gary is the second. It relates the good, bad, ugly and funny aspects of firefighting and how those experiences affect firefighters. Being both the son and father of firefighters gives Ryman an unusual perspective. From the suburban areas of upstate New York to the fast paced suburbs of Washington, D.C. to the rural hills of northeastern Pennsylvania, the stories range from the tragic to the comic. Many of the stories involve incidents in northeastern Pennsylvania where the second generation ended up holding ranks from firefighter to Chief of Department, and the third generation began as a firefighter. The book is available in both paperback and ebook versions from and For more information, visit

"Follow 'Fire Men' as they crawl down a hot, smoke filled hallway, rescue the trapped and injured, and carry you through a legacy of three generations of hometown heroes. It's filled with stories of courage, compassion, community, and the camaraderie that is forged only between those who have fought fire - and lived to tell about it."

What People Are Saying:

“This guy caught a lot of fire. Fire Men is a must-read around the firehouse. Gary Ryman is a master storyteller."
-Tiger Schmittendorf, Chief Storyteller,

“I think the book shows the true meaning of learning, sharing, devotion and motivation. I really think it should be on every probies list, as it shows the good, the bad and the ugly of what emergency responders go through, and like anything, we remember the good times and the good friendships more than the bad...Congrats on a winner....A great book....What I liked best was remembering a lot of those incidents, by either the war stories shortly afterward or seeing it on the news. A lot of those were back in the Good Days, when men were men and probies understood they didn't know everything. All in all, it tops my lists of the many fire books I have read over the years."
-Dave CHICO Richards, Pa. State Fire Inst. Emeritus,

“As someone who also comes from a multi-generation fire service family, I appreciate how well Gary Ryman captures his family’s dedication and commitment to their fire department and community. Fire service families everywhere will relate to Gary’s stories.”
-Gary Keith, Vice President of Field Operations, National Fire Protection Association

“From the first page, Ryman hits the nail on the head. He provides a riveting look at the fire service as a whole, and the evolution of the business over the last three decades. Every fire fighter should read this. Old ones to reminisce, young ones to appreciate where we came from.”
-Fred Bales, CFPS, CFI, Pennsylvania Senior Fire and Public Safety Instructor & Past Chief, Greenfield Fire Company, Greenfield, PA

Friday, October 28, 2011

AFG: Where Do We Go From Here?

The NFPA recently released a fire service needs assessment; the third iteration following previous assessments conducted in 2001 and 2005. The goal was to look for gaps in fire service needs and to evaluate how the AFG program is helping to fill the needs of departments. There were some interesting results.

• 46% of fire departments have not formally trained all their personnel in structural firefighting. This is down from 55% in 2001 and 53 % in 2005.

• 70% of departments have no program to maintain firefighter health and fitness, down from 80% in 2001 and 76% in 2005.

• 46% of fire department engines were 15 or more years old, down from 51% in 2001 and 50% in 2005.

Some of the conclusions included:
• Needs have declined considerably in areas such as personal protective and firefighting equipment, two types of resources that received the largest shares of funding from the AFG programs.

• Declines in needs have been more modest in some other important areas, such as training, which have received much smaller shares of AFG funds.

• Fire prevention and code enforcement needs have shown no clear improvement over the past decade.

• There has been little change in the ability of departments, using only local resources, to handle certain types of unusually challenging incidents, including two types of homeland security scenarios (structural collapse and chem/bio agent attack) and two types of large-scale emergency responses (a wildland/urban interface fire and a developing major flood).

The AFG program has attempted to supplement local resources and fill gaps across a wide spectrum of needs. While there is no argument that there has been positive movement, even a generous assessment of these results and conclusions would be that the successes have been modest. Based on this, I’m wondering if it might be time to try something different.

It is no secret that federal resources are under a microscope, and if anyone thinks the amount dedicated to the fire service will increase, please let me know as I have a large bridge for sale. The obvious conclusion is that the broad brush approach used over the past decade will not work across the entire spectrum of issues. Note that where a large percentage of the resources went; namely personal protective and firefighting equipment, is where there has been more success.

Instead of continuing down this path and seeing marginal improvement over the next ten years with the limited resources available, why not take a hard look and establish one or two priorities and for the next five years, focus all the available funding there in order to produce a major impact. Whether it should be training, fire prevention, health & safety, or another area, is a topic for another day. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to look at these numbers; consider the billions of dollars spent to obtain modest improvements overall, and not think that there has to be a better way.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fire Service Leadership

I recently was copied on an e-mail from a dear friend and a great fire service instructor and leader. We have spent more years than we care to admit fighting fire together. He had recently completed teaching a Fire Instructor I class. His thoughts are well worth reading:

"I am offering this message to the Fire Service Instructor I Candidates and have copied a few select like-minded professionals, because I feel your hard work should not go un-noted.

You have just completed 40 hours in the class and 40 to 60 hours in study. There were 12 terminal objectives in the program, and as you have come to know each terminal objective typically has 3 or more enabling objectives to aide you in reaching the final goal.

You may have learned things about computers that you never knew, like how to do headers and footers, make power point do ticks, or overcome “404 file” not found. You were forced to read a very difficult text, which did not talk about Snap tite, KME, and Akron, rather presented Blum, Hawthorn, and Maslow. You learned the difference between affirmative action and Title VII. Your learned what ADA really means, and who Buckley was. I AM CERTAIN YOU LEARNED, PREPARATION, PRESENTATION, APPLICATION, AND EVALUATION. In addition, with some trepidation, you discovered the difference between a difficulty index and a discrimination index.

While I have a high degree of confidence in your ability to pass both the written and skills exam, that is of little importance to me. What I know is that each of your traveled a road from some place in your life to a new place as a fire service leader. I watched you drop the issues of the past that may have existed with your sister departments, and take up a mantle for fire service professionalism. I saw the petty differences of generations of grandfathered animosity; flake off as if dead skin, to reveal a new fire service, focused on teamwork; and pride not in self, but each other.

I watched you stand guard over your fellow class mates, like a herd of elephants protecting a hurt (of heart not body), member of the herd. You bore your classmates during their weak times and likewise they bore you.
I have had the pleasure and honor to stand before more than 14,000 students, including this class. So let me offer how I feel about you as a group.

You came to the program with your own thoughts about your own strengths and weaknesses. Some of you thought that you knew everything. I suspect that all of you leave feeling as if you know very little.

“The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand” Frank Herbert US science fiction novelist (1920 - 1986).

So let’s cut to the chase, several of you offered that you did not do as well as you wanted to, one person apologized for letting me down. Know this; you did not let me down. There was an objective 13. You may not have realized it was an objective, but it was. It dealt with the affective domain of leaning. “Fire and emergency service instructors can positively affect learner self-esteem and create a desire to learn and a determination to succeed. An instructor’s influence – that good or bad impression that affects learner’s attitudes and actions – is lasting.”

I saw a change in you. I saw the change from a fire service position of “I” to a fire service position of “WE”. That is the single thing that you needed to get from this program. That the success of the fire service lies in a focus on serving the public, learning, and professionalism. It lies in TEAM WORK. That is a what being a leader is about; and that is what a FIRE DEPARTMENT is. I am proud to have been a part of it. Good Luck on your testing!"

“Nothing happens by accident”

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Books played a large part in my life from the time I learned to read. Mom was a big reader, which is obviously where I got my love for books. Obvious, because Dad was not a reader. This was a dichotomy in our house as Mom always had a book or two underway and Dad read the newspaper, the fire magazines, and occasionally, Field & Stream. A short article at a time was his limit. At his job, he read large amounts of material, digesting reports, studies, and memos. Because of that, I always thought reading was work for him, not something to be enjoyed.

My favorite days in school were when the Scholastic Book order came in. This was second only to the day in which I pored over the newsprint catalog with that periods selections in it; trying to decide what to order. Mom enjoyed this as well, and her job was to establish the limitations and the budget, as I would have ordered practically everything in the flyer. Dad mainly gritted his teeth; avoiding offering his opinion on the whole process. He knew there was little sense in voicing his thoughts as Mom insisted we should have books and read, and deep down, he knew this was the right thing to do from an educational standpoint.

I still remember the thrill of watching the teacher unpack the cardboard box and separate each student's order. Carrying them home, it was a major decision which one to start with. It really didn't matter, as I usually read two or three books at a time anyway.

Writing my own book took it to the next level, and holding the first printed copy in my hand was like Scholastic day multiplied exponentially. The only thing missing was Mom seeing the book. Oh, there would have been a short lecture on the profanity in some of the stories, but she understood that's how it really was. Any thoughts she might have had on that would have been overwhelmed with reading the stories about her husband, son, and grandson.

The second best part is Dad actually reading it. The process took a few months, but he did it; kind of neat as it is the first entire book he's read in probably more than thirty years. He now is more than pleased to quote from it on a regular basis--especially the stories involving him.

I'm glad he was still here to read it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fire Prevention Week Memories

Bill Cosby probably loves Fire Prevention Week. The priceless comments of the pre-school groups make taking the precious vacation days in order to make the presentations all worth while.

One little girl worried over her dog and wondered about teaching the critter Stop, Drop, and Roll in case his fur caught fire. My favorite, though was the boy who, after carefully considering the information presented on home evacuation plans and the importance of everyone immediately exiting the burning house, raised his hand to offer his comment.

"It's not gonna work," he opined while shaking his small head.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Cause my Daddy sleeps in his underwear."

There was just no adequate response to that, particularly while watching the pre-school teachers turning purple while biting their tongues in their attempt not to laugh. They did, however, enjoy the moment when Dad picked junior up from class....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Beautiful Fall Leaves

The changing of the season and the leaves falling from the trees reminded me of an experience I had years ago. Initially it came in as a small brush fire. The middle of the night dispatch was accurate as far as it went. I rode the left well of the wagon as we made our way down New Hampshire Avenue, the siren needed only infrequently at this hour with little traffic to impede us.

As we made the left hand turn onto the side street, I could see the column of flames in the air. Not typically what you see from a brush fire, but it was obviously coming from the wooded section near the edge of the neighborhood, so I didn’t think much of it. Another left onto the dead end roadway, and we were there.

There was definitely a brush fire. Unfortunately, the center of the burning brush and leaves included a van, fully involved. At least the column of fire in the night sky was now explained.

I dismounted and grabbed the nozzle of the inch and a half trash line from the running board, and started making the stretch toward the fire. Paulie, one of the career guys, flaked the line out behind me. The driver put the pump in gear and charged the line. I opened the nozzle and moved in toward the burning van, killing the burning brush in front of us as I went.

Reaching the van, I directed the nozzle into the interior, sweeping the stream across the ceiling then whipping the nob around. The fire darkened and seemingly went out inside the vehicle, but looking down, it was now shooting out from under the van onto my boots and lower legs. It got my attention.

Backing up a couple of feet, I swept the underside of the van with the stream. Now the fire flared back up inside the vehicle. Paulie left to go back to the Engine and pull another line, while I continued playing ping pong with the fire.

He returned with the second hose and we worked the brush and van together. Moving toward the engine compartment, the stream hit one of the vans front wheels. Bright beautiful colored flames came off of it.

“Shit,” Paulie and I said simultaneously. It was magnesium, which was a bitch to put out with water. You typically used sand or a special extinguisher. We didn’t have either this night.

I looked behind me and saw that the engine officer, Lieutenant F, had seen the same thing. He had a length of three inch on his shoulder and the Humat valve in his hand as he humped toward the nearest hydrant. He knew the tank water alone on the Engine wasn’t going to cut it.

Paulie and I kept working the lines. We were trying to keep the fire underneath the van knocked down and away from the gas tank. The hydrant supply established, the lieutenant supervised and moved from line to line behind us. He was an old fashioned officer. No way was he calling for help for a small brush fire.

We attacked from two directions, hoping to end the table tennis match with the fire. I kept pushing it away from the gas tank while Paulie knocked it down in the van again. He could tell the gas tank made me nervous. I knew they seldom caused problems, but they also weren’t typically exposed to fire for this long.

“Don’t worry kid. If that tank goes we’ll be frigging heroes, and we won’t feel a thing,” Paulie laughed.

It lightened the mood, which was his purpose. Slowly we got control, and with the coarse straight stream, were even able to put out the mag wheels.

Then came the drudgery; draining and re-racking the hose. The sun began to rise by the time we were done. Back at the station, I collapsed into my bunk for a half hour or so until the day shift crew came in. Just the routine noise they made ruled out further sleep. Good thing I was only twenty and didn’t require much rest.

Yeah, the colorful fall leaves are a wonderful thing.