May 6, 2012
A story worth telling
Career firefighter participates in Writers Showcase at New Visions
by Rich Howells
Gary R. Ryman’s three-decade career as a firefighter may have given him pride and a wealth of knowledge to pass on to his son, but it also earned him a lot of stories.
The second of three generations of firefighters, the 50-year-old Scott Twp. resident spent over 30 years risking life and limb in several states, including a run as chief of the Scott Twp. Hose Company, and has been employed as a fire protection engineer for over 25 years. Now in the “twilight” of his career as firefighter, Ryman spent about four years chronicling his family’s tales in the “Fire Men: Stories from Three Generations of a Firefighting Family,” released in April 2011.
“I wanted to write down some of the stories, some of my stories and some of the stories from my father, essentially just to capture them. I had no real reason, and I thought maybe it would be something down the road that my kids and maybe their kids would ultimately be interested in. So I kept writing down the individual stories, and when I had a little over 100 pages and a lot more stories yet to tell, it started to dawn on me that maybe this was really just a book trying to get out,” Ryman explained.
“I was exposed to (firefighting) as I was growing up. It was something that I always wanted to do, enjoyed immensely once I was able to get involved with it, and something that I just continued to do ever since.”
With a bachelor’s degree in Fire Science from the University of Maryland, he spent his early career in upstate New York learning from his fire chief father, later battled flames in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and presently mentors his son in the “family business.”
“Every area can have unique challenges. I think, for example, in the area that I was in when I went to school in Maryland, we had a lot more multiple residencies – in other words, garden apartment buildings, townhouses, high-rise apartment buildings, and the like. That can be contrasted with Scott Township, where one of the major issues that we have to deal with is water because of lack of fire hydrants,” Ryman noted.
“Friends of mine who are in the fire service have read it and they liked it because it made them remember their own experiences and their own stories, and it brought back things for them. I’ve had people read it without fire service experience and what they liked about it was essentially being able to learn what we really do and some of the things that we really see that they had no earthly idea about.”
Despite his accomplishments, he admitted that he didn’t believe his book was going to be published until he wrote his name on the contract after several changes in agents, editors, and publishers, finally publishing with Tribute Books in Archbald.
“There were a lot of stories that aren’t in the book that I wrote. I just tried to pick the ones that I thought would help to paint the overall picture. Obviously, some are hopefully amusing, some are tragic, and some are kind of in between. That was also part of it, trying to get a balance or a mix. It wasn’t designed, obviously, to be a complete humor book, but on the other side of the coin, I don’t think anybody would want to sit down and read a book that was just filled with accident and trauma after accident and trauma,” he recalled about the writing process.
“I think anybody in the fire service that experiences any kind of serious incident, particularly those involving children or neighbors or people they know or anything like that, is affected by it in one way or another. I think that to a certain degree it, and I talked about this in the book a little bit, hardens you to certain things, and on the other side of the coin, it makes you want to avoid certain things. For example, you have to work through these incidents and you have to remain focused on them in order to do the job, but because of doing all this, I guess, I don’t find movies or TV shows where the boy’s dog gets shot entertaining. Sad things like that I just avoid because I’ve seen enough real world tragedy that I really don’t go looking for it on TV for entertainment.”
The finished product, however, has a happy ending.
“My son had not that long before (he) turned 18, which meant he was of age to be able to ‘go inside,’ as we put it – go into the building. You don’t know when that first time is ever going to come as far as a real situation, and I didn’t know if I would be around when that happened, as far as being on that particular incident with him,” he continued.
“So when it turned out that I was and actually got to be on the line with him his first time inside, that was, to me, almost like a fairytale way of being able to end the book. But it really did happen!”
While he has done several signings, the fourth free Writers Showcase at New Visions Studio and Gallery on Saturday, May 12 will mark the first time that the author will read excerpts from his book aloud to a live audience, and Ryman continues to tread on “entirely different” territory as he pursues a master’s degree in American History, researches his thesis, and begins work on a fiction novel about his soon-to-be former profession.
“I think it’ll be fun. I hope it gets a good reaction,” Ryman said of the reading.
“All I can really bring is just my stories, and I hope that people find them interesting.”