Friday, December 30, 2011

New Years Eve

With New Years Eve upon us, thoughts turn to previous ones. They can be action packed nights filled with wrecks, EMS calls, and fires. There is also the "contest" to see which unit catches the first call after the ball drops, and who the "winner" will be.

I remember running nasty wrecks with entrapment, fires, and loads of drunks. It's a night which brings out the best and worst in people. Many years ago, we pulled a teenage girl out of a tiny bathroom. She was face down, and so intoxicated she had stopped breathing. We got her going again, and she survived to see the sunrise, and hopefully many more.

I now hope for a calm and boring night in which as much time as possible passes before someone is injured or property is damaged or destroyed. A night without roaring diesel engines and in which the only flashing lights are on the remaining Christmas decorations.

So here's a toast to a quiet night of reasoned revelry and a safe New Year.......

Friday, December 23, 2011

1st Responder News review of "Fire Men"

1st Responder News
December 23, 2011

Fire Men: Three Stories from Three Generations of a Firefighting Family
by John Malecky


By John M. Malecky February, 2012

Fire Men
Stories from three generations of a
firefighting family
By Gary R. Ryman

Available from:

Price: $10.95

This is a soft cover book measuring 5 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches and has 279 pages. It is the stories of three generations of firefighters spanning a 30 year period of service. The author is the second generation. He served in three states, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Currently he is a fire protection engineer. These stories, which take up 20 chapters take place in the volunteer ranks, although for a time, while attending the University of Maryland, he rode with career firefighters in a “live-In” program. The stories begin with the author being young and tagging along with his father who was a volunteer fire chief in New York State. I must say he is a man of my own heart because it was at the ago of 10 that I had decided I wanted to be a fireman. It came from reading a merit badge book on the Firemanship merit badge and successful testing to achieve it. The author had the advantage of being able to respond with his father. My father was not a firefighter although my uncle was but we both lived in cities with career firefighters and riding with my uncle to fires was not possible. Anyway I identify with the author and throughout his 20 chapters he writes with a professional technique that even though they were volunteers, you would think that he was reminiscing on fires and emergency calls in big cities with career departments (although as mentioned earlier he did ride with career firefighters in Maryland.) The imagery of his writing puts you there with him especially if you are in emergency services. While many of the incidents are fires, many others are vehicle accidents including where life is lost. Having been a battalion chief and knowing what has to be assessed on the fireground, he leaves no question in my mind that he’s “on the money” when it comes to incident command. Of course, not every call goes well. Mistakes are made and things happen when we have no control over them. But the author write in a honest way and points these things out when stuff goes bad, making this book realistic, not portraying the players as heroes that always win! It has been said that volunteers do not always enter burning buildings, some say because they are not being paid to do it, but in this book they do and the details of their operating under adverse conditions leaves little to the imagination! From structure fires to rural tanker shuttles to operating the Jaws at a car accident, there isn’t a moment of “ho hum” when reading this book! The chapters are generally 10 to 15 pages long and the rapidity in which you go through this book is strictly based on how much time you have to spend reading. In some incidents you have what the news media would describe as “graphic” but as emergency workers we know that these things are always a possibility when we answer a call. When we wear the uniform of helping others we must condition ourselves to keep calm so we can plan strategy and tactics. This is what is expected of us!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Memories Part 2....Doing Santa's Work

Christmas was always special when I was growing up. We were always up before dawn to see what Santa had brought us. I truly believed in him. Once, I even thought I heard the hooves of reindeer tapping on the roof of our house while Santa was making his delivery.

One year, one of the presents I received was a multiple level gas station/ parking garage in which you could drive and park and pretend to work on your matchbox cars. My sister was receiving something called the “Imagination Dollhouse”. Both had “some assembly required,” somewhere in excess of a gazillion pieces.

My sister and I were sound asleep in bed, which we knew was important, because Santa wouldn’t come if we were awake. Mom and Dad were getting out the hidden presents and the toys that needed assembly when the Grinch decided to pay a visit in the form of a house fire. The Plectron went off and so did my father, leaving Mom to finish putting the presents under the tree, and more importantly, begin the toy assembly.

Dad barely made it back before we woke up that Christmas morning. As usual, we were wide-eyed and thrilled with everything Santa had brought.

Years later, in the post-Santa period, Mom would regularly retell the story of that Christmas Eve, complete with uproarious laughter as she described the “millions of pieces necessary” to assemble the toys that year. She stayed up all night, the elf completing Santa’s work.

An excerpt from Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family

Saturday, December 17, 2011

You Might be a Firefighter if....Christmas Memories Part 1

A memory of Christmas might be a firefighter if you wear the needles off the Christmas tree making sure the lights haven't overheated and dried out the branches....

I smile this time of year recalling Dad's compulsion with regards to our Christmas tree. The tree stand was topped off with water more frequently than a cup of coffee in a diner. The amount of time the lights were on was carefully managed during the evening; and he regularly bounced from his chair to check the temperature of the branches exposed by the colorful bulbs.

With the amount of time he spent feeling the tree, it was a wonder it retained any needles at all by Christmas Day. No one was happier about the acquisition of an artificial tree than Mom as she could finally leave the lights on for more than fifteen minutes at a time....

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Food on the Stove: Not Always "Routine"

A visit to the high-rise was not unusual, but the 3:00 AM hour was. Such nocturnal visits were usually for a serious fire, so we were actually a bit relieved as we made our way onto the reported fire floor and the unmistakable odor of food on the stove assaulted our noses.

Reaching the doorway of the offending apartment, we prepared to force it when it opened on its own accord. Actually it was an occupant that opened it and the confusion began.

The female resident greeted us, clad only in panties and a bra. She seemed entirely comfortable greeting two companies of firefighters in such dress. Behind her, a poker game was underway; a group of four or five men around a kitchen table. All were oblivious to the smoke, banked three foot down from the ceiling, now pouring from the apartment into the hallway.

The engine officer, not normally known for his tact, performed a Kissingeresque negotiation to allow a couple of us to enter, turn off the stove, douse the offending pan in the sink, and open a couple of windows to achieve some semblance of ventilation. The poker players studiously ignored us and the woman professed complete ignorance as to the need for our presence. We completed the necessary actions as quickly and unobtrusively as possible and then left, still unacknowledged by the poker players.

We wondered on the ride back to the station if our panty clad hostess was aware of the presence of the poker players and vice versa, based on the volume of empty beer cans observed. Obviously no one in the apartment would be getting their late night snack. It was an interesting evening.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shared Terms From Our Military Heritage And Words of Today

Any writer will acknowledge a fondness for words, and I am no exception. Recently, I started reading a great book on military education, America’s School For War, by Peter Schifferle, and was struck by an obvious point on how firefighters use military terminology. We regularly use words such as offensive, defensive, strategy, tactics, attack, commander; the list seems endless.

Change just a couple words from a quote in this book from 1919, and it sounds like something from any fire officer training class today.

“A commander on the battlefield (fire ground) confronted with an emergency or special situation, or an officer given a tactical problem to solve in the classroom, in order to arrive at a sound tactical decision and to initiate the necessary steps to carry that decision into effect, must go through a certain well defined mental process, which includes a consideration of his task, the obstacles to be overcome, and the means at his disposal for overcoming these obstacles.”

This history geek in me enjoys things like this, and closing in on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is a good time to reflect on the phraseology used in our para-military structure.

These are by far, not the only words we use as our own colloquialisms have been developed. Slang terminology, some well known and others more regional, such as job, bus, stick, nob, probie, johnny, Loo, Cap, and wagon; this list goes on and on as well. These are fun and special, and give tradition and soul to a department. One component of the wonderful world of NIMS was designed to standardize terminology, a worthwhile goal in some respects, but I hope it never steals the soul from the business.