Monday, December 31, 2012

Dump The House: The Shoes.....

It’s a colorful expression for getting all the apparatus out the door.  It’s more and more difficult these days of limited manpower, both volunteer and career. 
Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Station 15--Burtonsville
What I like best about this picture, though, is the shoes. The empty leather shows the tenuous nature of the work.  It’s late evening, after ten.  One minute, everything is calm.  There is laughter someplace—inevitably in a fire house.  The television is on with a small audience.  Others have turned in for the night.  The bays are filled with the engine, ladder truck, and heavy rescue squad.  A minute later, all that remains is…..the shoes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Christmas Excerpt.....

It was the Friday night before Christmas, a crisp  starlit evening.  We were cruising the township roadways with Santa Claus on the rescue.  It was an annual event, much enjoyed by many of the smaller members of the community and, truth be told, by many of the bigger ones as well.   

The lights were flashing, the siren screaming, the air horn blasting and regular sounds of “Ho Ho Ho” were echoing in the night air from behind me.  I rode the officer’s seat in the cab, just enjoying the atmosphere and the smiling children we encountered on our slow tour.  My fun was broken by a radio call. 

 Comm Center to Chief 36,” the radio query came.  After I responded, the dispatcher asked, “You wouldn’t happen to be out with Santa Claus by chance, would you, Chief?” 

 “Affirmative,” I answered. 

“Can you call in by phone?” the dispatcher asked. 

I didn’t have a good feeling as I reached for the cell phone mounted on the dash.  Was some scrooge upset by the siren noise, I wondered.  When I got the dispatcher on the line, it was nothing like that. 

“Hey, Chief, we just had a call from a grandma on Greenfield Road.  She was upset ‘cause she had been out when you went by and her grandchildren just missed Santa.”

"Please tell me she didn’t call in on 911?” I asked the dispatcher, almost dreading his response.  The 911 emergency line is certainly not the proper method to obtain a visit by Santa Claus. 

  “Oh yeah, she did,” he said with a laugh. 

  “Sorry about that, we’ll take another run down that road.”  We have to take care of a grandma like that, I thought to myself. 

 “Thanks, Chief, and Merry Christmas,” the dispatcher answered, as we both disconnected the line. 


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Backyard “Training” or What the Burn Barrel Can Teach

The ubiquitous burn barrel isn’t just the source of springtime brush fires when oblivious residents decide to light them when the wind is gusting at forty—so much so that it probably took them five matches to get the stuff going.  It can actually be an opportunity to turn the mundane task of burning trash into a learning experience. 

The backyard burn barrel can be a firefighter’s small scale research lab for fire behavior.  Vertical and horizontal spread and smoke development can all be “studied” in an admittedly limited but still beneficial way while completing a line on the honey-do list.  Try to extrapolate in your mind how these materials, put in a room, would similarly react to this small ignition source.  Notice how the physical configuration; vertical or horizontal, affects the speed of development.  The differences observed from ordinary combustibles when the occasional piece of plastic sneaks into the barrel by “accident” is telling as well. 

An unusual method?  Maybe, but don’t waste a single opportunity to learn from a fire.  The routine job of disposing of papers and boxes can be your own mini training session on fire behavior. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Heredity Versus Environment: Or Why Does Junior Like Fire Trucks?

Heredity versus environment; the debate has gone on for years.  Now why in the world would this be of interest to the fire service?  Primarily because there are so many multi-generational members in the “family” business.  It is an easier question to examine from the desk than from the jumpseat or chief’s car. 
The premise is based on the theory (I don’t think it’s a theory.  I think its damn well a fact) that only a limited number of people in the population possess the innate ability to go into burning buildings.  Accepting that, why then, are so many of them from the same families?
Exposure to the business through visits to the fire station as a kid can certainly enhance the interest level.  That alone doesn’t provide the ability necessary to make the push through the door. 
I’ve seen many second or third generation firefighters—at least they start out to be one—that were total disasters.  So it isn’t something that is automatically passed from generation to generation.  However, the number of times it does happen argues for more than statistical anomaly.
One of the messages from this is that we should look not just externally, but internally as well for recruiting.  Having my son become a firefighter kept me active many more years than I likely would have been otherwise, so it works for retention as well. 
So the answer to the original question of heredity versus environment is…..don’t know—but it is fun to think about.   


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving for Firefighters...

Every holiday has a standard set of calls, and Thanksgiving is no exception.  Mornings are for smoked turkey; not the good kind, though.  Ovens that haven’t been cleaned in fifteen years or leaving the plastic bag with the gizzard and liver in the bird can impart a pungent  flavor as well as bringing out the smoke ejector.  This typical run is quickly being overtaken by the more exciting propane fired turkey fryer setting the deck or siding on fire. 
Late afternoons bring the EMS runs for the folks sent home from the hospital for the holiday that probably shouldn’t have been.  As the day darkens and blood alcohol levels increase, domestics or “I wanted the #($* leg” and stranger incidents take over. 
One I still remember was a head-on collision on a quiet tree lined residential neighborhood street; the last place you would expect a wreck like that.  It turned out to be two stubborn liquored up kids playing chicken; nobody gave, and they both ended up losing. 
Makes me look forward to amateur night for drinkers: New Year’s Eve

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Review of "Fire Men"

Below are some of the comments from a recent review. 

The book starts out fast-paced and action oriented, and doesn’t stop until the last page. Firemen chronicles his progress from waiting to turn 18 to join the fire department, all the way up until now. The overall story, from kid to chief watching his own son become a firefighter is told via stories of things happening on the fireground. At the start we see a naive young firefighter that I’m sure everyone can relate to, and by the end of the book you realize that you are reading the words of a seasoned veteran. The stories encompass the entire range of emotions – funny, tragic, routine and downright horrifying.

The unique thing about this book is that it is written from the perspective of a volunteer firefighter, which is a rare treat in a world seemingly filled with stories and memoirs from the paid side of the house. This paints a vivid juxtaposition between going from a civilian to a firefighter at a moments notice, driven home by the wonderful plectron pager that we all hate to love.

As a non-officer firefighter, It’s also great to see the fire service from a Chief’s perspective. It’s made me think of things on scene that I normally wouldn’t be concerned with, and it’s opened my eyes to a lot with regards to how our officers think and why they make the decisions that they do. This alone makes it worth the read.

10 Seventy Review of "Fire Men"

Friday, November 9, 2012

From the Archives: Ryman's Rules-A Chief's Philosophy

With "election" season upon us for many volunteer departments, I thought a revisit might be timely.

There are rules, and then there are rules. Here are some I've tried, not always successfully, to follow.

Ryman’s Rules: A Volunteer Chief’s Philosophy

1. You are responsible. You are responsible 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. If you are there or 3,000 miles away. You are responsible. You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.

2. The chief is always right. Invite input, debate, etc. from the officers. However, once the decision is made, that’s it. In public, the officers must show solidarity.

3. The officers are always right. If an officer makes a decision you disagree with, in public or with the other firefighters, that decision was right. You talk about what you would have done differently in private.

4. Delegate, delegate, and delegate. You can’t be involved in every activity, nor should you be. Give the junior officers responsibilities and hold them accountable. If they follow through, give them more and more. If they don’t, let them know about it and don’t give them any additional work.

5. Try to develop a command presence. Your presence at an emergency should send a message to the firefighters that everything is going to be okay. Regardless of how badly something is going, try to maintain a calm exterior. Motivate your people. This is done differently for each individual. If you give an order or tell them to get into a building, they should totally believe that you believe they can do it. Never tell a firefighter to do something you wouldn’t or couldn’t do yourself. Chiefs give orders on incomplete information regularly. Even if you have doubts about it, give the order as if you are 100% confident about it. Your confidence is a force multiplier.

6. Let them have fun. Nobody is getting paid for this. The younger guys have to enjoy themselves. At the same time, know when to pull in the reins, and when you do, jerk them hard. They still have to be professionals. You can’t be their buddy anymore. You are the man, and they have to recognize it as such.

7. Pace of change. Keep them sullen but not mutinous. The pace of change has to be fast enough that the young guys see progress, but not so fast that the dinosaurs get riled up. As long as both groups are slightly unhappy, you’re doing fine.

8. Don’t be afraid to piss somebody off. If you’re not pissing somebody off once in a while, you’re not doing your job.

9. Encourage training certifications. Push the guys to get their Firefighter 1 and other certificates. The time is fast coming when what you are able to do, and what positions you can hold in a fire department virtually anywhere will be determined by these certificates. At the same time, work to keep things in perspective. Firefighter 1 or 2 does not equal “super firefighter”.

10. Develop junior officers. The greatest legacy a chief can have is by the officers he leaves behind.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Oh Where Oh Where Should My Red Light Be...

Warning lights in the 1960s weren’t the high efficiency LED’s or strobes we see today.  A single bulb “Vitalite” was the norm.  Back then, West Corners had a whopping two traffic lights, both of which were relatively new.  Heavy traffic for emergency responders was not a major problem. 

Mom was not a fan of lights on the roof of cars.  She felt they detracted from the looks.  Further, she didn’t even like them on the front dash, arguing they obstructed her vision. 
None of this was much of an issue when Dad was a firefighter, lieutenant, or captain.  We lived less than a mile from the station; one stop sign and two turns away.  When he made Assistant Chief and had to start responding to the scene, things changed. 
A mobile radio—with tubes—was installed in the car.  A miniature manual siren was bolted under the hood.  Neither of these was a problem; it was the red light that was in dispute.   Locating it on the roof was out of the question and her objections regarding the front dash were continued.  The light ended up on the rear deck in the back window of the old Dodge. 
This location was one step above useless.  When parked at a scene, it could be useful, but did little to expedite actually getting there. 
All this changed one fortuitous day when Mom and I happened to be in the car with Dad when a fire call was received.  Dad called out as responding and activated the light on the rear deck and the dinky siren, and attempted to weave his way through what passed as traffic in our little town.   In the front seat, Mom was astounded at the difficulty he experienced. 
“Why won’t these people pull over?” She asked, incredulous over this lack of cooperation, her hands braced o the dash board against the bobbing and weaving of the car.
“Because nobody can see the damn light,” Dad said.  Mom knew better than to continue the conversation while we were enroute to the call.  Meanwhile, I was having a blast in the back seat; seeing the flashes of red bounce in and out of the car and looking for smoke in the sky in front of us. 
Mom and I watched from the car while the incident, nothing serious if memory serves, was handled.  When the fire apparatus was repacked and returning to the station, Dad got back in the car.  Mom had apparently been giving some thought to the ride we took to the scene and her previous position on the location of the red light in the car.  Before Dad had barely settled in to start the ignition, she revealed her decision.
“Rich, put the damn light wherever you want it.” 
Dad didn’t say anything, but before the day was out, the center of the roof was graced with the old single bulb red light. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012


The engine company pulls up in front of the single story house, the siren winding down.  Grey black smoke oozes from previously unknown cracks and windows, doors, and the building eaves.  The firefighter in the rear dismounts and reaches for the nozzle and hose stacked in the horizontal bed or cross lay and pulls it onto his shoulder.  The officer, axe and halligan bar, the “irons” in his hand, pulls the hose from the second stack as the firefighter advances toward the front door.  The driver comes around the engine and relieves the officer at this so he can follow the firefighter. 

 At the front door, the officer wrenches open the screen, disabling it so it won’t close on them while the firefighter flakes out the remaining hose from his shoulder to ensure smooth entry to the building without kinks or catches.  Dropping the nozzle, he takes the axe from the officer who jams the pry end of the halligan into the wood frame by the lock in the door.  With one good whack, the door pops open and smoke pours from around it.

Pulling the door shut again, the officer and firefighter drop to their knees and drop their helmets to the ground, putting on breathing apparatus face pieces and protective hoods in a well-practiced motion.  Hood, helmet, and gloves in place, the firefighter picks up the nozzle, the hose now hard with water, and pushes the fractured front door open again.  With a well-trained crew, the process takes place without the exchange of a word; poetry in motion.

The firefighter and officer enter the blackness of the house, their eyes widening to the physical limits, attempting to see the fire.  Their senses go into overdrive, adrenaline having a romp through their bodies.  Both listen for the crackling of flames and feeling heat through their protective clothing, trying to discern the direction from which it emanates.  Windows shatter as fellow arriving firefighters begin to ventilate the building, hoping to allow heat and smoke to escape; making conditions better for the attack crew—and any victims who might remain. 

A few feet further in, the nozzleman spies a glow in front of him through the viscous smoke; just a fleeting glance, but it gives him a direction to head.

“It’s straight ahead,” he yells, his voice muffled by the face piece along with the hissing of the inhalation and exhalation from his and the officer’s mask.  Their conversations are now short, but more frequent, punctuated by expletives.  They drag and pull the hose another yard or so to the kitchen doorway where the fire is now more visible, starting to roll over their heads into the living room.  This is not the made for television fire with the perfect visibility of gas jets (sorry Chicago Fire).  Here the flames remain muted by the smoke, the heat pushing the attack team into the floor. 

The firefighter opens the nozzle, directing the fist thick straight stream of water at the ceiling, whipping it in circles.  The water makes a staccato thumping bass drum against the plaster, but without rhythm. .  The firefighter and officer push into the room and the angle of the hose stream drops as the nozzleman hits flames at cabinet level throughout the room.  Visibility, if anything, is worse as the water converts the fire to steam and the heat and smoke and ceiling level drop, the plume inverted by the water application.  Other firefighters spread into the house, searching for victims or the spread of the fire beyond the kitchen. 

The bulk of the fire now out in the kitchen, another firefighter with a pike pole, a long stick with a hook at the end, pushes past the nozzleman and thrusts the pike into the ceiling.  Pulling down the plaster, the space above, and any remaining fire, is visible for the nozzleman to hit with his stream.  The smoke and heat begin to lift, exiting through the broken kitchen windows, leaving a smother wet jungle in the room.  A few more minutes of work and it becomes clear the bulk of the fire is out. 

The firefighter and officer are relieved by others and head outside for a break.  Kneeling again on the front lawn, they remove their helmets and face pieces and open their bunker coats.  In the cool fall air, steam rises from their uncovered heads and bodies, condensing from the sweat. 

They smile and converse about this easy fire as the adrenaline surging through their systems begins to recede.  A satisfaction is left having completed what they regularly trained for, going against the beast or the “Red Devil” as it is sometimes described.  It’s an untenable environment after just a few minutes without the right equipment and one that few want to visit much less work in.  That increases the satisfaction; doing something only a small percentage of people can do, going “inside.” 


Friday, October 5, 2012


An excerpt from Fire Men recently was posted and is available here.  Fire Men excerpt  Take a look.

You can also check out my interview about the book here. Interview

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Demise of "Hearse" Ambulances and Other Good Things

Anyone who ever watched Emergency when originally on network television or later in syndication understands how far EMS, among other things, has come in the fire service.  With few exceptions, medical responses have long ago taken the lead over fire calls.  Some contend the name fire department is no longer accurate.  While I understand these arguments, I’m not prepared to go that far—yet. However, if you’re a firefighter today, particularly a young one, you better learn to “like” EMS, or consider another profession, because it isn’t going away. 

The development of ALS while the most prominent and recognized improvement is far from the only change.  Ambulance services run by funeral directors with a red light tossed onto the roof of a hearse have, thankfully, gone the way of the horses.    Overall availability has improved as well. 
How much?  A lot.  When I was six or seven years old, some buddies and I were playing in the woods, jumping in piles of leaves and generally doing the things young boys did back then when no one had to be worried about us being kidnapped if we went ten minutes from the house.  One boy jumped into a pile over a bank and hit something hidden beneath the leaves, breaking his femur.  His screams of pain frightened the living hell out of the rest of us.  There was no thought of moving him, not because we knew not to, but because of fear.  Practically as one, we all started running for our respective homes for one thing; to get our mothers—it was the 60s, they were home. 
The group of mothers followed us back, and mine, being a nurse, promptly recognized the fracture for what it was.  An ambulance was called, but it wasn’t quite as simple as today.  The first due fire department where Dad was a member had no ambulance or any medical capabilities at all.  No help there.  The neighboring department had an ambulance, but they only responded outside of their first due area on nights and weekends.  Monday through Friday, eight to four, they didn’t leave the district.  In the next village over, the police department ran the ambulance.  They didn’t leave their town at all, regardless of time or day.  The only unit available was operated by the county Sheriff’s department.  The road patrol deputy had to respond to get the ambulance from wherever he happened to be, and then across half the county to where we were waiting.    This wasn’t a rural area either; the suburban town had a population in the tens of thousands. 
Almost an hour later, it arrived to transport the boy.  Luckily the break hadn’t hit the artery or he’d have been dead long before the unit arrived.  After an extended convalescence; most of a school year, he recovered. 
Good?  No, but normal back then, so yes, things other than just ALS have changed a lot.  As much as almost no one wants to be on the ambulance every shift,  I think everyone would agree things are better now.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Challenging Mantra

Former quarterback Jon Kitna isn’t living the life of leisure in his retirement.  He’s teaching high school algebra and coaching football, and most importantly teaching life lessons.  The acronym he uses for the values he tries to impart is REAL.  

·         Reject passivity

·         Empathize with others

·         Accept responsibility

·         Lead courageously

The parallels are clear.  If underprivileged high school students can absorb this cultural challenge and change, hopefully so can our young firefighters—if we teach it. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pizza Pie and Electrocution: The Srange Things That Bring Back Memories

Leaving a great pizza place in Endicott (Consols—originally Duffs—the same recipe for well over fifty years, but that’s another story) where Mike and I had stuffed ourselves with Dad, we drove by the old IBM plant and I pointed out a utility substation where I had one of my first serious calls as a youngster.

It was a summer day shift, and we got hit for an injured male.  This wasn’t our usual first due area but the ALS rig that normally covered it was on another call.  That the dispatcher or caller left out a little bit of information became rather evident when we pulled up on scene. 
There was a black male standing by the open gate of the substation with his arms extended out from his side.  Getting out of the front seat of the ambulance, I noted my observation had been wrong.  He wasn’t black—he was burned.  We got him onto a sheet on the stretcher and began carefully removing clothing where we could, and pouring sterile water onto his burns, trying to keep him talking to us. 
“They told us it was okay to dig there,” he kept repeating.  He and his partner had struck a high voltage underground line and it had blown them from the hole they’d been working in.  His buddy appeared to be less seriously injured than him but it’s sometimes hard to tell with electrical shock.  I called for another rig, and the cop that arrived along with some first responders from the plant helped with the second victim until a couple of our other members arrived on scene.  With victim two stable, and the second rig on the way, I decided to load and go with our patient.  I was worried about his airway, cardiac status; pretty much everything.  The ALS rig wasn’t available, and by the time we could get a medic to the scene POV, if one was even around, we could be at the emergency room. 
It was a wild and wooly ride as the far expanses of Chevrolet horsepower were explored by the driver.  We kept the victim talking all the way, the best tool we had available to keep him out of deepening shock, using every drop of distilled water in the cabinets on him as well.  I was ready to see it pour out the rear door when we backed into the ER ramp. 
Both made a full recovery and then, a few months afterward, filed a lawsuit against the utility that had let them dig there.  Yours truly received his first, but certainly not last, subpoena for deposition.  I was seventeen years old……

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Some Stories From the "Old Man"

With the approaching of Dad’s 77th birthday, some of the amusing stories about him from Fire Men come to mind.

His first actual fire call changed him for life, but not in the dramatic way some might think.  In the middle of the night, he woke up to the siren wailing in the distance, down over the hill.  He quickly got out of bed and dressed, racing to the car.  He sped toward the station, less than a mile from the house, impressed with his reaction time and rapid response to the emergency call. 

When he got to the station, he found he was a bit behind the curve.  Numerous cars were already there, and all of the fire apparatus—two pumpers and a squad truck—were already gone.  Luckily, the call was only right down the street; he could see the flashing lights at the nearby bank.  Driving the short distance, he saw the apparatus positioned around the building and ground ladders raised to the roof.  The fire was minor in nature, but he quickly figured out he needed to pick up the pace if he ever hoped to make it onto one of the fire trucks. 

After that, Dad became an efficiency expert’s dream.  Clothes were carefully laid out on the bureau each night before bedtime.  Keys, glasses, and cigarettes were strategically positioned.  The most radical idea was yet to come: an automatic garage door opener.  Those were unheard of in our neighborhood, but Dad took it to the next level.  Most garage door openers, even today, have the button that activates them in the garage next to the car.  That wasn’t enough for Dad.   He put an additional button in the closet in the bedroom which allowed him to hit the button while getting dressed.  The garage door would already be open when he reached the garage, saving a good five seconds.  A NASCAR pit crew would be impressed with his speed out of the house. When I was about 11 years old, we moved to a new house in a nearby neighborhood.  One of the first things wired in was the activation button for the garage door opener in the closet of the master bedroom. 

In the mid-1960s, a massive technological advancement happened—Plectrons became available.  Plectrons were tone-activated radio receivers manufactured by the Plectron Corporation.  As far as firemen were concerned, they were the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Now they knew exactly where and what type of fire they were going to.  The name Plectron for a tone-alerted receiver became the fire service equivalent of Xerox for copiers. 

The original models weren’t even solid state, instead they used tubes.  The warmth from the tubes made them attractive to animals.  My cat loved to sleep on top of the Plectron because of the heat it emitted. The cat loved it until the high pitched squealing tone alert went off at full volume.  Then he would jump simultaneously up from the radio and off of the top of the refrigerator upon which it sat.  It was a sight to behold. 

 Because of all this, as a young boy, the importance of speed out the door was ingrained in me.  When relatives visited, I knew to advise them of safety measures I had developed out of necessity.  If the tones went off, I would yell “quick, Grandma, get in a chair!  He’ll trample you.”  This came from the experience of being treated as a track hurdle while playing with toys on the floor when a fire call happened to come in. 

To say that Dad could be a little bit anal about equipment organization would be putting it mildly.  I think it was the ex-Marine in him coming out. 

Our engines varied in vintage from 1957 to 1975 back when he was a chief in the 1970s and 80s.  What didn’t vary is where things were located.  You could open any compartment on any of the four engines (three first line and one reserve) and each piece of hardware, nozzle, appliance, wye, gate valve, etc., would be found in exactly the same spot on every piece. 

Hose was a pet peeve of his.  We had a spare load of hose for each engine stored in doughnut rolls on hose racks in the rear of the building.  I would catch him regularly rearranging the hose on the racks so the end butt of each roll was in perfect alignment. 

If he saw you put a roll of hose on the racks and not line up the butt with the adjacent ones, you would hear about it instantly.  This was not one of his saner practices.  

 Dad was terrible with names.  Guys in the department upwards of five years were “hey you.”  If he did know your name in less time, it was not necessarily a good thing as there was likely a bad reason why he remembered it.  At least when I joined, he had no excuse not to know my name. 


Monday, September 3, 2012

“Quarterback” Size-up

The start of football season brings out the talking heads and sports commentators who spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the mental skillset necessary to play the position of quarterback at a high level; making it sound like the most difficult job on earth.  While admittedly I have no desire to stand in front of a snarling 350 pound lineman trying to make my body intimate friends with the grass, I do think that the situational awareness necessary for rapid decision making under center presents some interesting parallels to fire scene size-up.  With a pass play called, quarterbacks go to the line of scrimmage and see a defensive formation that may give an accurate representation of the opposition’s intentions or may be deceptive.  At the snap, he has a few short seconds to read the scene and hopefully be able to locate and connect with his primary receiver.  If covered, he then has to check down and look for his secondary or tertiary outlet.  He has to avoid getting tunnel vision as the defense converges and move, bob, and weave while continuing to look down field; big picture and small, refining his tactics based on what he sees. 
The first arriving fire officer on a residential structure fire faces similar challenges.  What “formation” is the fire showing and is it deceptive or obvious.  In just a few seconds, the officer needs to evaluate the construction, occupancy, exposures; read the smoke and extent of the fire conditions present on all those.  He can then audible his strategy and the associated tactics.  The firefighters under him have a similar complex job to do looking at primary and secondary escape routes and continually evaluating the effect that the fire is having on the structural integrity of the building so they too can check down and adjust their attack and team actions if necessary. 
The similarities are obvious although the salary levels are not.  The stakes on the correct decision making on the fire side are a little higher than a sack, incomplete pass or interception.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Recent Interview by Author Pat Bertram

Gary Ryman, Author of “Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family”

What is your book about?
Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family relates the experiences as firefighters of my father, myself, and my son. As both the son and father of firefighters, I bring a different perspective. Having the opportunity to fire fires, with both my father and my son as well as respond to auto accidents, and the myriad other emergencies that fire departments handle was marvelous.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
I can’t say it really started in my mind as a book. I began writing out the stories of individual emergency calls with the thought that perhaps sometime in the future the vignettes might be of interest to my son or daughter or perhaps a future generation. After I had a hundred plus pages of this material, it dawned on me that perhaps this was a book trying to get out.
How long did it take you to write your book?

About four years from pen touching paper to holding the first printed copy. The first draft took just over a year. It wasn’t remotely ready, but I didn’t know that at the time, and with the encouragement of some friends, I began the querying process. One of the agents I wrote had represented an author I liked a great deal. A few weeks after sending my letter, I received an email from another agent at that firm indicating that the first agent was not interested; but that my query had intrigued her and she wanted to read the manuscript. After reading it, she agreed to work with me and provided incredibly valuable feedback and suggestions which I incorporated in a second draft. A few more rounds of revisions followed and just before she was ready to start sending the manuscript out, I was orphaned—she left to take a job as an editor at one of the big six houses. Not surprisingly, the agent she passed the manuscript who decided it wasn’t for him, and so I was back to square one, albeit with a much improved book. This time, along with agents, I looked at small publishers as well, and was lucky enough to hook up with a wonderful publisher, Tribute Books They have since transitioned to YA books, but continue to strongly support their entire list, and have been just fantastic to work with.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?
For many, whom the closest they have ever been to a fire truck is when it passes them on the roadway, I hope they get an understanding of what firefighting is really like. The mental and physical challenges, along with the emotional aspects of the job are not usually apparent to the general public. In addition to those, the family facets lend an important component. While I worked with my father and son, I also had many brothers; fellow firefighters who you trust with your life. For those in the fire service, the greatest compliments I receive are those that read it and say “yeah, that’s exactly how it is.”

What are you working on right now?
I just submitted my thesis for my Masters in American History. That has been consuming me for most of the past nine months. Now I hope to return to the novel I began shortly after publication of “Fire Men” which is an action adventure genre work, naturally set in a fire department. A Lieutenant dies while battling a fire which was deliberately set in an insurance fraud scheme and his best friend and brother-in-law who leads a ladder company in the same department searches for the arsonist.

What do you like to read?
I read mainly history or action/adventure.

Where do you get the names for your characters?
When I wrote the book, I used real names to allow me to keep track of people and try to ensure I captured their personalities. In the revision process, though, the majority of the names had to be changed. I stole an idea from a writer’s seminar I attended, and bought a baby name book, and reworked the names from that.

If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?
While I can’t say for everyone in the book, I would certainly be willing to settle for being played by Brad Pitt. The resemblance (not) is so close!

Who designed your cover?
The publisher took care of the cover, and I think did an incredible job. I was stunned the first time I saw it, and could not have been happier.

Where can people learn more about your books?
Folks can visit my website for more information. The book is also available in paperback on as well as Barnes & Noble and in virtually all e-book formats.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Three Years Ago Today.....

In the early morning hours of August 24th, 2009, the Buffalo Fire Department was dispatched to 1815 Greene St. for a commercial building fire with reported people trapped.  The building was heavily secured, but crews were able to access the first and second floors to conduct primary searches which were negative.  Access to the basement, however, presented difficulties due to a heavy steel door with multiple deadbolts. 
Thirty minutes into the incident, firefighters were ordered out to regroup and make a specific attempt to breach the basement door on the bravo side of the building.  Lieutenant Charles “Chip” McCarthy from Rescue 1 and two other firefighters entered the first floor Deli area from the alpha side to verify that previous crews had exited the building.  McCarthy was ahead of the other two firefighters and following a hose line when a collapse occurred.  The Lieutenant fell into the basement.  Shelves fell onto the other two firefighters who also noted deteriorating conditions, and exited the building, unaware that McCarthy had fallen into the fire below.  Lieutenant McCarthy activated his PASS alarm and made several MAYDAY radio calls, but his identification and location were not known. 
Firefighter John “Simeon” Croom of Ladder 7, part of the rapid intervention team (RIT), reportedly believed he knew where the Lieutenant was located and entered the structure while other team members worked on the bravo side.  Other firefighters followed the hose line in on the alpha side and discovered the collapse. 
Lieutenant McCarthy was identified as the missing firefighter during the first accountability check, but Firefighter Croom was not identified as missing until a third such check fifty plus minutes after the initial MAYDAY.  Ultimately, three alarms were struck for the fire.  For the next three hours, a major effort was made to reach the collapse area.  Fire conditions and structural concerns limited the ability to reach the victims.  The wall on the delta side was breached to gain access to the collapse area and the department worked to shore this exterior wall and the floor in the deli area.  
After control of the fire, Lieutenant McCarthy and Firefighter Croom were located, side-by-side in the basement without face pieces on and with SCBA bottles empty.  A subsequent NIOSH report included the following recommendations. 
·         Ensure that all personnel are aware of the dangers of working above a fire, especially a basement fire, and develop, implement, and enforce a standard operating procedure (SOP) that addresses strategies and tactics for this type of fire.
·         Ensure that the incident commander (IC) receives interior status reports and performs/continues evaluating risk-versus-gain.
·         Ensure that crew integrity is maintained at all times on the fireground.
·         Ensure that the incident commander (IC) receives accurate personnel accountability reports (PAR) so that he can account for all personnel operating at an incident.
·         Ensure that a separate incident safety officer, independent from the incident commander, is appointed at each structure fire.
On the third anniversary of their passing, may the brothers’ rest in peace. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Continuum of Change: Residential Sprinklers vs the “Good” Fire

One sentence from a recent conversation continues to stick in my mind.  “If it weren’t for that sprinkler in the townhouse, we would’ve had a good fire.”  It was stated only partly in jest, the young firefighter, like many, always wanting more of the challenge of a “good” fire.  No one, save the psychotic, wants to see someone else’s property destroyed much less anyone injured; but this is juxtaposed with the firefighter’s inherent desire to perform their craft and test themselves in that environmental nightmare we call “inside.” 
We need a partial shift in balance to begin better educating the younger firefighters as to the desirability of residential sprinklers.  For the most part, their response to commercial sprinkler alarms and fires is something they accept as common and normal.  The expansion of residential sprinklers, however, is newer and something which reduces the size and number of their bread and butter—the house fire.  Understanding is one thing, but acceptance is another.  Sliding the scale so these aggressive young men and women buy into the importance and value of these systems is a critical leadership task. 
It is difficult to see, accept, and support technology which if (or hopefully when) it becomes widespread, can eliminate much of the reason many of us came into this business to begin with.  It’s like the people version of steam replacing the sail or the car replacing the horse; not gone, but much reduced.  Just the same, pushing for these systems over the construction industry lobbyists and their pocket politicians should be continued.  That, and educating the younger generation of firefighters— so they can succeed where we haven’t. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Firefighter Who Won't Quit

I recently saw a marvelous story by Firefighter Matt Miles from CentralPABravest that I had to share. 

Matt writes. “Yesterday while at a FireFighter-Fit workout session in the Village of Muir, Station 650 Schuylkill County, PA I was lucky enough to meet a man that re-inspired me in many ways. He was such an inspiration I asked him if I could share his awesome story on our websites and

Mark was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis at the young age of 14 after not being able to get out of bed one morning for school, Transverse Myelitis is a viral infection that inflamed Mark’s spinal cord and landed him in a wheel chair for life. This did not stop Marks curiosity of becoming a firefighter at the young age of 15, only one year after being confined to a wheel chair. Mark did so well and enjoyed the work we do so much he ended up holding the positions of President, Vice President and his current position on the House Committee.

Mark also takes an important position on the fireground with Accountability, Safety and changing SCBA cylinders out. It was also reported to me that Marks Brothers chocked his wheels at a working fire and he was able to flow a line and knock down some fire at a defensive operation!!

Along with taking physical fitness very seriously Mark is also a huge advocate of education in the fire service and holds numerous certifications. But Mark has a request for the State Fire Commissioner Edward Mann. Mark has a serious desire to be able to obtain the Certification of Firefighter 1. Mark understands he is limited due to his disability and will go to any lengths to work for his practical portion of the certification. Mark wants this for personal and one other reason, to hold other firefighters accountable on getting their FF1 and set an example that anyone can do it!

Thanks for your dedication to the Fire Service Mark, I am sure you will Motivate and Inspire MANY!”

Thanks to Matt for sharing this great story. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Wish List for the Next Generation of Firefighters

Communications integrated into the helmet and face piece.  The tinny speakers in masks never worked right and it’s ridiculous to try to talk through face pieces.  Extension microphones are actually getting bigger, not smaller, unlike every other piece of technology in the world.

An infrared heads up display in the face piece.  There are no reasons that every firefighter shouldn’t have a camera, and no reason you should have to carry the thing. 
Apparatus designs in which hose and equipment can be reached from the ground.  This isn’t so much reengineering as it is going retro.  When I started, you could reach the pre-connects in the rear from the ground, and standing on the tailboard, you could see the driver.  There is no reason we need ladders on apparatus to reach our own equipment.  You shouldn’t have to practically set up scaffolding to reload the hose bed. 
C’mon folks; we had guys walking around on the moon in 1969; there is no reason we can’t have these simple items on a cost effective, and importantly, firefighter proof configuration. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Times Have Changed…Maybe Not

I recently came across a fascinating historical document.  The rules and regulations for the Los Angeles Fire Department from 1901 are, in many respects, not much different than those in place in many departments today, a century removed.  One major difference was apparatus propulsion, the turn of the century still being what we view as the romantic era of the horses.  Contrary to the opinion of the third generation, his father (me) and grandfather had no actual experience in the horse drawn days.  After reading the policies relating to the care for the diesel engines of the day, one wonders if the brothers then viewed them with the fond nostalgia we do.  The rules show the importance of the animals was paramount

RULE 13.

SECTION 1. Horses shall be fed not more than four quarts of grain and about twenty pounds of hay daily, and twice a week shall be fed a bran mash.

SEC. 2. Hours for feeding horses shall be 6.30 A.M. and 4.00 P.M., and must be watered at least thirty minutes before feeding time.

SEC. 3. Horses shall be thoroughly groomed every morning, their hoofs picked out and cleaned, their manes and tails washed with soap and water once every week and thoroughly dried after washing; the sheath shall be washed every two weeks. Grey or white horses may have stains sponged off with warm water and soap, but must be thoroughly dried immediately. White legs may be washed in the same manner, otherwise the legs must never be washed. Washing horses is strictly forbidden, unless by permission of the Chief Engineer, and then only with bucket and sponge.

SEC. 4. On returning from an alarm, horses' mouths and nostrils must be sponged out, and may be given a few swallows of water, and, if warm, must be scraped, rubbed dry, and blanketed. Sweat should be removed from around the eyes and under the tail with a damp sponge. Horses must never be given grain while hot after a run or exercise.

SEC. 5. Teasing or annoying horses, or teaching them tricks is strictly forbidden.

SEC. 6. Horses shall be exercised daily within three blocks of the house, for a period of not less than one-half-hour, hitched to the apparatus (Sundays excepted). In wet weather the horses shall be exercised without the apparatus.

SEC. 7. A bucket must not be used to catch the horse's urine in, nor shall they be taught any like peculiarities. If a horse is staining to urinate, straw should be shaken under him. The stall should be washed out immediately and all manure must be removed immediately.

SEC. 8. If a horse is injured or shows signs of sickness the commanding officer of the company must be notified at once.

SEC. 9. Horses must be treated kindly, taught by kindness to come promptly to their place and perform their part of the service without the unnecessary use of the whip. The unnecessary use of a whip by any member will subject the offender to suspension or dismissal.

Morning check-out, washing rigs, changing fluids, filters, adding fuel, waxing (grooming); reporting mechanical problems or accidents—maybe things haven’t changed much after all. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Upcoming TV Appearance on PA Live!

I will be appearing Friday, July 27th on PA Live on WBRE Channel 28 with Dave Kuharchik and Monica Madeja to talk about "Fire Men."  Tune in at 4:00 PM....

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cats, Bats, and Stubbed Toes

We’ve all heard the stories of people visiting Emergency Rooms for stubbed toes—this is real—I have personally responded on an ambulance call for a person with a stubbed toe.  The fire department equivalent, again real, is the stereotypical cat stuck in the tree.  My father had the best response I’ve ever heard when the dispatcher would call with a report from a citizen of a feline atop a sapling.  “Tell the caller we’ve never seen a cat skeleton in a tree yet.  When the kitty gets hungry enough, it’ll come down.”  End of discussion.  Other animal control calls for squirrels or bats in houses get filed in this miscellaneous category. 

Less amusing was a recent incident I heard about where a citizen broke a fire truck windshield; literally beat a spider web of cracks in it with his bare hands, because the fire department couldn’t make his power come back on after a storm. 

What some members of the public fail to remember at times is that it costs money every time a fire truck turns a wheel.  Fuel, wear and tear, and indirect costs like insurance are all part of the equation every time a piece of apparatus moves.  That’s the mechanical side; more importantly there is wear and tear on people too.  Ill maintained and malfunctioning alarm systems are the bane of our existence.  No fine or penalty seems sufficient after the third straight night of a false alarm at the same place at 3:00 AM. 

The unnecessary, abusive, and downright strange calls continue to make up more than their fair share of any department’s call volume.  You have to go, though, ‘cause that’s what we do. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Portable Radios: A Sarcastic History

I have seen an evolution in portable radios which goes from the Paleozoic to Bill Gates.  One of the first portable radios I ever used was a single channel RCA model about the size of a squished loaf of bread, but weighing considerably more.    Unless you had hands the size of a linebacker, it took two to actually use the thing; one to hold it and the other to key the transmit button.  The next generation was a four channel Motorola, two of which we didn’t need, slightly bigger than a brick and about the same weight.   They were damn good radios that took a licking and kept on ticking.  Extension microphones came next which put the most important parts of the radio on your collar, the speaker and the mic itself.  All you had to do is turn your head, mash the button on the side and talk. 

Initially, only Chiefs had portables, then company officers, and now everyone.  The rapid expansion in radio availability turned the fire ground from a nice quiet, pleasant place, into a cacophony of noise, squeals, screamers, and those that loved the sound of their own voice.  Eventually, most places establish communications policies that reined in the worst offenders, but you can still hear the white noise in some areas. 

Interoperability became the next buzz word, with the so called need to be able to talk to the world, and as the size of radios decreased, the channel capacity increased until the hundred channel radio became ubiquitous.  Most of these units would live, die, and be replaced with the next latest and greatest model without ever having used more than ten percent of the channels they contained, but it was critical to have the secondary fire police channel of some department three counties away that you had never, in the history of the department, ever run with. 

Now the radios will talk to you, Siri-like, although they won’t answer questions –yet, or tell you where to get a good pizza on the way back to the station (hint, hint Mr. Motorola—just kidding).  The radio lady, Sophie I’ll call her, tells you what channel you’re on.  Good thing, cause it’s not like I can remember who or what is on channel 63. 

The extension mics have started to grow also, and now are almost as big as the radios they are attached to.  Speaker and mic button aren’t enough now; volume controls and a mayday alert, all of which supposedly can be worked by gloved hands in the dark.  Good luck.  Makes me wonder why we need the extension mics anymore—just attach the radio to the collar.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but the complexity has reached the level that I pine for the days when you didn’t need an electrical engineering degree to use a portable.   Maybe, just maybe,  RCA will start making radios again. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Micro Manager Metric Maniacs

The overwrought alliteration shows my disdain.  They are everywhere, but they use code words to describe themselves.  I’m “detail oriented” they say.  Never will one introduce themselves and say, “hi, I’m a micromanager.”   Their involvement in every aspect of operations is necessary, because no one can live up to their expectations. 

One chief who was an administrative nightmare to work for had many of these characteristics.   I called him a “shotgun manager.”  He never met an idea he didn’t like, so there were a hundred projects all in progress at the same time.  Because of this and the necessity for his involvement in everything—he couldn’t delegate to save his life—that meant that nothing ever was completed.  Since everything was a priority, nothing was.  Luckily, he wasn’t like this on the fire ground (fire ground micromanagers are even more scary) , and to this chief’s credit, he eventually evolved, changed, and improved, but that is the exception with this type of manager, not the rule. 

The data collectors are worse.  They never met a metric or measurement they didn’t like.  Just because an activity is quantifiable doesn’t mean it should be.  The argument is that the “workers” only do well what is checked—so these guys check everything.  When we measure everything, the same shotgun result occurs.  Since everything is a priority, nothing really is. 

My contention has long been there are typically four or five big important things that make an organization successful.  Measure and take good care of those, and everything else—the details—will take care of themselves.  I never thought it was rocket science, but maybe it is.  Einstein said “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”