Monday, May 2, 2011

From Chapter Two - The Helmet

Dad moved up the ranks from firefighter to lieutenant, captain, and then assistant chief fairly rapidly. The transition from rank to rank differs little today. There’s a helmet from back then that hangs on the wall in my office. I look at it daily as I sit at my desk doing paperwork, paying bills, etc. It’s an old Cairns from the late 1950s. There’s nothing unusual about it, other than the friction loss tables, which give the pressure loss through hoses at different flows, taped inside; not something most guys, then or now, would do.

It’s mainly a soot-stained white. Close observation reveals it wasn’t always that color. It’s not like many helmets today where the color is injection molded into the shell. You can see the yellow below through some chips in the white paint; and the black beneath the yellow. It has definitely seen a fair amount of fire.

Back in the day, when firefighters made the rank of lieutenant, they didn’t get a new helmet. They kept their old one and painted it yellow. A new leather shield with the title would be attached to the front. Moving up to captain wouldn’t change the color, but a new front piece would come.

When the owner made assistant chief, the helmet was repainted again, this time white. The owner wore it for a number of years while in that position until it was ultimately replaced with a “modern” helmet. Safer, more impact resistant, the new helmet was definitely an improvement over the old from a fire ground perspective. It didn’t have the same character, though.

The old helmet, if you found it in a flea market today, would probably cost you five bucks. It’s nothing special, except to me. Mike seems to appreciate it as well.

It was my father’s helmet.

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