Friday, December 12, 2014

The Hidden Button

The young couple lived in the house a week, a month, perhaps a year or more before making the mysterious discovery.  Inside the closet door in the master bedroom, carefully concealed, was a white circular button in a black vertical frame.  It was inside the right door where a knowing hand could reach around the casing and push it without looking.   

“Maybe it opens a hidden door to a secret room,” the woman said.  The man rolled his eyes.   

“Better would be a secret compartment filled with cash,” the man said. (Dream on, kids) 

“I’ve read about those secret safe rooms.  Wouldn’t that be cool?”  The woman watched a lot of television.   

“Maybe it sounded a buzzer in the kitchen for the wife to bring the husband a beer,” the man grinned.   

“You can dream on,” his wife said.  

The real function was far more mundane but no less crazy.  I told Dad I could hear this dialogue in my mind; the future owners of his house having this conversation in the years to come when they discovered his button.  To them, the button would likely remain a mystery forever, discussed on occasion when a new theory for the whodunit arose.  

The button, an old fashioned door bell was connected to the garage door opener for Dad’s car.  Not willing to wait the five seconds, maybe, for the door to go up once he reached the garage when responding to a fire, he installed it when the house was built.   When the Plectron went off (remember those?) he would reach into the closet as he finished dressing, hand knowing the way, and push the button.  By the time he reached the garage, the door was fully open.  Speed and efficiency out of the house didn’t happen by accident.   

“Maybe it was a panic or emergency alarm, like the buttons in a bank,” the woman would say, the mystery continuing.  

“I still like the beer idea,” the man would offer. 
“I told you, dream on.” 

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's That Time of Year Again, Ryman's Rules: A Volunteer Chief's Philosophy

With "election" season upon us for many volunteer departments, and new officers and chiefs being selected in many areas, I thought a revisit to this timely topic might be fun. 

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, November 21, 2014

December 6th Book Signing B&B Family Restaurant

Can't wait for some great food, great friends, and a wonderful atmosphere.  If you're in the area, stop by.  Great convenient location right off Interstate 81 in Northeastern Pennsylvania. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Upcoming Event

I'll be signing copies of my new novel Mayday! Firefighter Down as well as Fire Men:  Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family on Saturday November 15th at Maiolatesi Wine Cellars, 32 Cabernet Lane, Scott Township, PA 18447 from 2-8PM.  Hoping to see lots of old friends and make some new ones.  Come on down.

Maiolatesi Wine Cellars

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Recent Event

Some great shots from the book signing at the Tavern at Fire Station 1 on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, MD with Chief Dennis Rubin. 
With Chief Rubin and Tami Bulla, President, Burtonsville Fire Department, Station 15, Montgomery County, MD

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Joint Book Signing Event Next Weekend

I'll be signing copies of my new novel Mayday! Firefighter Down as well as  Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family with Chief Dennis Rubin, formerly of DCFD, at The Tavern at Fire Station 1 on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. Hoping for a great turn out.

Friday, October 10, 2014

From the Archives....In Honor of Chief Russ Gow

This weekend, an old friend will be among those honored at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD.  It is a good time to resurrect this piece from the week he died......RIP Russell

An old friend passed away this week, doing what he loved most, running a pump.  While I never understood why, the story of how we met originally was one of his favorites, one which I heard him tell innumerable people.  So, here it is again….from the archives.  

Far from every funny or tragic incident from fifty years of three generations can make it into a single volume, the amount of material between the covers limited by practical considerations. This means that many interesting stories—told in fire houses for years—could not be included. 

One which has been repeated hundreds of times involves the first time I met my friend Russell. We were both assistant chiefs—he located two departments to the west. One day, a car wreck in Fleetville brought the rescues from both departments as well as the two of us. Crews from both departments went to work removing the roof and popping doors; the usual tasks, but the kid driving was still pinned. The crushing impact had brought parts of the dash and fire wall down onto his feet and lower legs.

Looking at it, Russell determined we could get a tool in next to his legs, but it would take four hands to properly position the tip and move the boy’s feet once the operator began to spread the jaws of the heavy equipment. Space in which to accomplish all this was at a premium. There appeared to be access for only one person, which left us one set of hands short, but never lacking ideas Russ proposed a solution to me, someone he had never met. 

Russ, the larger of the two of us, laid down, his head toward the spot where the tip of the jaws had to be placed. I lay on top of him, oriented in the same direction, and held the victim’s legs, prepared to move them as soon as they were free. With Russell guiding the spreader tips, they slowly opened and I could move the boy’s feet, allowing additional firefighters above us to slide him onto a back board and remove from the car. 

Being on top, I crawled out first, followed by my partner from below. He stuck his gloved hand out.

“Russ,” he said as I shook it.

“Gary,” I responded. We’ve been friends ever since.
I’ll miss him. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Kinder, Gentler Fire House

A great piece by a friend of mine.....

The Kinder, Gentler Fire House
By S.J. Kelley 
Let’s  take a trip  back in time to the 1980’s; open cab apparatus, ¾ Boots and long coats. During work parties the men had a beer in the hand and the back of the firehouse was filled with pipe smoke. The Fire house was the social club in town. It was not a surprise to find firemen at the station twice a week hanging out. The training requirements were very scarce and if you were socially popular you were an officer. They were not afraid to express their opinions. As national standard training requirements started coming to light in the late 80’s going into the 90’s the firehouse started to evolve into a business rather than a social club. .  There were personality conflicts over the changing dynamics.  People realized “ I do not need this BS and it is like having a second job “and that was the start of the decline of the fire house.
I truly believe that 9/11 changed the outlook on the firehouse. Our priorities changed to Family come first. It started to become the ‘kinder, gentler fire house. It was okay to miss calls if you had family plans or the new excuse “well I have to work in the morning”. We started losing that dedication. Heading off to work with no sleep after fighting a fire all night was no longer a source of price.  Do not get me wrong I believe in the family comes first. But we are starting these roles now with the new generation of firefighters. They are not starting from the traditional probie fireman.

A transitional battle of today is the lack of members. We are not getting the high number of firefighters to calls like we use to. Local economies have tanked and jobs have been pushed away. Your only guarantee of a daytime firefighter is if they work for the town government.  New members, when we can find them, are walked in on a red carpet, and welcomed with open arms.  In many ways we go out of our way and create this ‘kinder, gentler’ fire house. By doing this I truly feel that we are doing a disservice for f these new members to prove themselves and the bar is set low. Now I have seen exceptions to this theory but it is rare and harder to find men and women who have heart for the job.  We are so relaxed and afraid to offend someone that we do not properly discipline when they make a mistake. I am not talking suspending someone or embarrassing the individual. But there are times we have to keep order and it is a business we are running.

Another battle of today is our youth. The newest generation is use to communicating via a cell phone or having no hands on experience. Our biggest challenge is training these kids and getting through to them. The biggest question is having a kinder and gentler environment or being tough like a drill sergeant? Remember as an -officer we have to train these firefighter for the worst and be battle ready.  The best solution for the Junior Firefighters and younger members is to set the bar. ” This is what we expect out of you!”  Each training evolution or even the start of a course set the ground rules and follow through if they do not comply.

I’m not advocating turning new membership into Marine Corps boot camp, but expectations have to be set.   The unfortunately common refrain of “I don’t have to do that, I’m a volunteer,” needs to disappear from our collective vocabularies.  THERE ARE TWO THINGS ABOUT THE VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT:  JOINING AND QUITTING.  Beyond that, the rules and procedures established need to be followed.  Anything less, and people—firefighters and civilians—can get hurt, or worse. 

We need to build our new members up, creating a level of pride in their accomplishments.  Think about any group or organization in which the members bond with pride and there is a common denominator; training.  Training in which they work hard and stretch to reach goals. 

Let’s work together to raise the bar.  Does the public we are entrusted with protecting deserve any less? 


Friday, September 19, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Now Available for Pre-Order....Mayday! Firefighter Down.

My new novel Mayday! Firefighter Down is now available for pre-order on the publisher's website.  It should be out on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in a few weeks. 

Mayday! Firefighter Down

Monday, August 25, 2014

Coming Soon....Mayday! Firefighter Down

More cover work is underway.  Here's the front, back, and spine. 
And here's what they're saying about the book!
"Ryman hits one out of the park…. In Mayday! Firefighter Down you will see life though a firefighters eyes, but with a new twist. From the first dispatch, to the jaw dropping ending (or is it), Ryman takes you on a thrilling journey as a Truck Officer in a busy fire station, plagued by an arsonist.  Mayday! Firefighter Down is a compelling read; once you start you won’t want to put it down!"
Fred Bales, CFPS, CFI
PA Senior Fire/Public Safety Instructor
“Chief Gary Ryman’s latest book, Mayday! Firefighter Down is an incredible read.  The Chief has blended…all of the elements of a great American novel into this one including; Mystery, Murder, Greed, A Sexy Love Story and Great Fire Fighting Action.  Once I started this book, it was difficult putting it down.  Gary has captured the essence of what a firefighter does in a twenty-four hour shift, better than just about any other description.  The reality is non-fire service folks will be able to understand what we do, without losing the interest of the Firehouse Jake’s and Firehouse Jane's that take this amazing journey in Mayday! Firefighter Down….  This books should be required reading for all aspiring and new fire fighters”.  
Chief Dennis Rubin
"Mayday! Firefighter Down is a great read in the genre of Dennis Smith’s Steely Blue and shouldn’t be missed. Ryman kept the firefighter in me interested and the writer in me waiting to see what happens next." 
Deputy Chief Michael “Mick” Mayers

Friday, August 22, 2014

History Makes a Difference

History to some can be dry and impersonal.  Not in this case.  Michael “Mick” Shay and his 96 year old father knew his great grandfather served with the St. Louis Fire Department for many years, but little else.  His journey through history uncovered a fascinating and tragic story.             

Austin Shay was a skinner, a ladder truck company firefighter of the day, and member of the famed St. Louis Fire Department Pompier Corps.   In 1887, the department established the first Pompier Corps.  These firefighters taught climbing and rescue skills to other departments across the country.  The Pompier Corps used specially developed scaling ladders.  The top of the ladder, with its iron catch would be hooked over a window sill and the firefighter would climb the narrow rungs to the window.  He would then stand on the sill, pull the ladder up, and raise it to the next window; not a simple or safe exercise. 

The younger Mr. Shay also determined his grandfather worked with the legendary Phelim O'Toole   famous for the rescue of over a dozen people at the Southern Hotel fire on April 11, 1887.  Skinner Shay was also present at the fire which cost O’Toole his life, the fire extinguisher he was attempting to use exploding, killing his fellow fireman.        

There were other tragedies from fire as well.  Firefighters in the late 1800s worked long hours with little time off, and many mornings, Austin would walk home for breakfast at 7:00 AM before immediately returning to the station for another shift.  On one such morning, he arrived to find his own home in flames.  His wife, who had risen to make him a hot breakfast, attempted to light the kitchen stove with coal oil, and was fatally burned.  While his five children survived, their home was lost.             

Mr. Shay and his father were able to visit St. Louis and see many of the areas where their ancestor lived and worked.  They also located the Calvary Cemetery graves of Austin Shay, surrounded by his wife and five children.  Moved by the new knowledge of his forefather’s life and challenges in the service of his city, Mr. Shay’s father arranged for a headstone to be erected at the previously unmarked grave site.  History does make a difference. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Coming Soon! "Mayday! Firefighter Down"

Working through the final edits and corrections on the draft layout for Mayday! Firefighter Down.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: More Advice for the New Fire Officer

Comfort zones are a wonderful thing.  Avoid yours.  One of the most important, and difficult, things to do is get avoid simple acceptance of the status quo.  “We’ve always done it that way” are some of the most dangerous words out there.  On the flip side of the coin, change simply for its own sake, can be just as problematic.  The newest, latest, greatest, hottest change in tactics, tools, or techniques, isn’t always.   

Always what?  Well it’s not always great, or in some cases, actually new.   Recycling old ideas or techniques with new names and calling it progress has been part of the culture for a long time.

So what is a new fire officer (or any fire officer for that matter) to do?  How about this for a radical idea—think.   

Think for yourself.  Don’t blindly accept either the status quo or the latest greatest.  Examine both with a high degree of rigor.  I’m not suggesting blatant disregard of standard operating procedures, whether existing or new, but there’s nothing wrong with looking at them critically.   

Challenge yourself.  Specifically select articles, blogs, and authors to read with whom you inherently disagree, and then try to read them with an open mind.  Evaluate their arguments dispassionately.   Look behind the data.  How was it developed?  Was the methodology valid or do you perceive flaws?   

They may not change your mind, but you will better understand the arguments others are making on a particular topic.  Reading in this way also opens you up to the possibility that in some cases, you might need to acknowledge your own pre-conceived notions may not be correct.   

Try to find a few fellow officers, peers and superiors, with whom you can have a wide ranging, non-judgmental dialogue on fire service issues.  A few adult beverages (the operative word being few) can sometimes help lubricate these discussions.  The response “that’s #($*& stupid and so are you,” is not the type of conversation you are shooting for.  An open and respectful debate can sharpen thought processes, expose unanticipated flaws in policies and procedures, and overall, be valuable for all participants.   

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out; all of this is easier said than done.  Comfort zones are called that for a reason.  They’re nice enjoyable places to stay where you don’t have to think.  Critical thinking in this manner is one of the most important tools of the fire officer and leader.  Get out of your comfort zone and try it. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Generation 3 Moves Up

From a great post on Facebook....

"A well earned promotion. Lt. Ryman has responded to 602 emergency calls so far this year, logging over 3,500 hours of service and leading over 100 drills/training exercises. He does this while maintaining a full college load, in pursuit o...f his Master's Degree in Emergency Management.

He is a proven unit officer and driver of all apparatus. He has extensive fire service classes, including: Fire Officer III, Fire Service Instructor III, Hazardous Materials Technician, Rope Technical Rescuer I & II, Vehicle and Machinery Technical Rescuer I & II; Confined Space Technical Rescuer I & II; Trench Technical Rescuer I & II; Health and Safety Officer; Incident Safety Officer; Incident Safety Officer-Fire Suppression; Incident Safety Officer-Technical Rescue; Incident Safety Officer-Hazardous Materials; Incident Safety Officer- Emergency Medical Services Operations; and Structural Collapse Technical Rescuer I & II."
From the 1st Battalion page....
"Congratulations Lt. Michael Ryman.
Congratulations to Master Firefighter Michael Ryman of the Burtonsville VFD (Co 15) on his recent promotion to Lieutenant. Lieutenant Ryman has been a member of Burtonsville since 2010 and joined the department after having four years of e...xperience in Pennsylvania.

The Burtonsville VFD is the most active volunteer department in the 1st Battalion and LT Ryman has been one of their most active riding members having completed all of the requirements to drive apparatus and serve as Unit Officer. Congratulations."

Friday, June 6, 2014

Upcoming Novel "Mayday! Firefighter Down"

More announcements in the upcoming months, is the first shot of the cover of my new book the novel Mayday! Firefighter Down tentatively scheduled for release by October of this year. The publisher is thrilled and excited with the work they did on the cover, and I agree with them. Can't wait to hold the first copy in my hands.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Great New 5 Star Review for "Fire Men."

"Strike the box" is a term from the not too-distant past, used when fire fighters arrived at the scene of a reported car fire only to discover that it's a house that' on fire, and a full "box assignment" of three engines and a ladder truck is needed. Well, not only did Mr. Ryman strike the box of my expectations when I began reading "Fire Men," he went right to the second, third and fourth alarms.

Mr. Ryman begins his series of tales by putting the reader into a comfortable bed, only to jar them awake with a blaring alarm, getting them hurriedly attired in turn-out gear, and inside a house that's on fire--only to amp it up when a backdraft threatens his life and that of an already horribly-burned colleague. And I was right there alongside him, not only because of his powerful narrative voice but also because I've been there--as a fire fighter during the 1970s I was caught in a backdraft almost identical to the one Mr. Ryman describes, and I can say with a certain degree of authority that Ryman ain't lyin' about what it was like for him inside that inferno.

"Fire Men" has a tactile feel to it. As I read the various tales he tells I could smell the smoke, feel the leather helmet on my head, could hear the shrill screams of the mechanical 'Federal Q' sirens and the stutters of the air horns. I also felt the fire's heat along with the fear. Mr. Ryman begins with a literal bang and then falls into a series of random stories - and that was what he should've done, because it evokes what being a fire fighter is all about . . . of boredom one moment, empathy for the dead in the next, followed by sheer terror when all around it seems that everything is coming down upon your head.

"Fire Men - Stories from Three Generations of a Fire Fighting Family" is a well-crafted book that kept me turning the pages all the way until I reached its very satisfying ending. Buy it, read it and above all, hang-on as you ride the roller-coaster ride that "Fire Men" is."

Friday, May 2, 2014

Exciting Announcement

I've signed a contract for the next book, a novel, currently titled Mayday! Firefighter Down to be published this fall (hopefully) by Hellgate Press

This new novel will be the first of what is planned as a series of three.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Maltese Cross

Although many fire department tools and symbols still in use have historical origins, the Maltese Cross goes back a bit further than most.  Around 1113 AD, a Benedictine Monk founded the Order of Knights Hospitaller, subsequently known as the Knights of St. John.   

Originally a charitable organization, the Knights were drawn into battle to defend their city against attacking Saracens.  The Saracens hurled containers filled with flammable liquids onto the defenders, followed by flaming torches.  The Knights were flamboyant in dress, wearing crimson capes over their armor.  The knights rode among their burning brethren, using their capes to extinguish the fires, demonstrating courage and gallantry.   

As a reward, the Knights were given the Island of Malta and the eight pointed symbol became known as the Maltese Cross, one of valor and protection.  Regularly used on badges, patches, and apparatus, the nearly thousand year old emblem has a lineage of honor. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

The most important six inches on the fire ground

General James Mattis, USMC (Ret.) would have made one hell of a fire chief if he had so chosen.  Revered by fighters from private to four stars and probably disliked as much by those less aggressive, the forty-one year veteran was a lead from the front commander who went out with patrols and got blood on his boots as a General.  His radio sign—“Chaos.”  His command philosophies included sincere concern for those he was tasked to protect and liberate and a consummate scorn for our countries enemies.

Highly quotable, many of his pronouncements in the area of leadership and others are applicable to the fire service.  With just a few paraphrasing liberties, here are some of my favorites. 
“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure.  I cannot even spell the word.” 
“Fight with a happy heart and a strong spirit.”
“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts.  If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.” 
“Powerpoint makes us stupid.” 
And if you remember none of the others, keep in mind the most valuable one.
“The most important six inches on the [fire ground] is between…your ears.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

From the Hayloft to the Horses: The Birth of the Fire Pole

Getting out of the station fast and first isn’t a new or even recent interest for firefighters.  It’s something the brethren have worked on for over a century.  In the 1800s, multi-floor stations were the rule rather than the exception; a necessary configuration in the days of the horses.  Fast and effective methods for harnessing the teams, almost as quick as firing a diesel engine, had been developed.   

A hitch in the process of getting out the door as fast as possible remained, some thought. Getting from the bunkroom on an upper floor to the apparatus was slowed by the common use of circular stairs which were in place to keep the horses from trying to leave the first floor.   

At Engine 21 in Chicago, Captain David Kenyon saw one of his firefighters slide a wooden binding pole, typically used on a hay wagon during transport, which had been temporarily stored vertically in the loading area of the hayloft, when a call was received while he was working in the third floor loft.  Recognizing a great idea when he saw it, Captain Kenyon arranged for a hole from the second floor bunk room to the apparatus floor, and the crew took a Georgia pine beam and rounded and sanded it to 3 inch diameter.  Varnished and coated with paraffin wax, it was ready for service.  

Firefighters at the other stations laughed until they saw Engine 21beating them to fires, and eventually the Chief decided to have poles installed in all Chicago stations.  In 1880, the Boston Fire Department installed the first brass pole, which became the standard going forward.  

The poles became part of fire department heritage, memorialized on television and in movies—think Batman and Ghostbusters.  Now gone from most stations, another of the classic era trappings fading from use, the pole remains a memory of an important period which will hopefully not be forgotten.   

Friday, February 21, 2014

From 10-Codes to Texting...

A few years from now, our text messaging generation will have taken over the fire departments across the land.  They can talk faster with their thumbs than I can verbally.  My prediction is that with blurring speed, thumbs will become the primary communications mechanism and the use of mobile radios to communicate with dispatchers and other units will dwindle. Tablets mounted in the apparatus cab will have taken over.  I can see what this looks like now….. 

Both routine transmissions and size-up will be different. 
E41 AFK 4 fuel BRB. 

T25 OTS 2 sto sfd OMG! WRKR! 

Planning lunch could be interesting
T51 2 E51 WRUD 4 Lunch? 

E51 2 T51 711 Subs 

T51 2 E 51  Yuck 

E51 2 T 51 YMMV 

The fire ground will “sound” different as well. 
Batt 4 2 Cnty.  HV 2nd Alm stge out. 

E51  RU in Staging? 

E51 Affirm ZZZZ 

And the occasional confusion or differences over water supply assignments….
E15 2 E12 PU My line @ 3265 NY Ave 

E12 2 E15  Hv my own hydt, BLNT! 

E15 2 E12 WTF! 

Makes one fondly recall the days of the 10 codes……..

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Arson: It ain't like it used to be....

Arson is considered by most, and particularly firefighters, to be a serious crime. Pennsylvania treats it as a first degree felony.  Federal sentencing guidelines call for as little as five years in prison.  States vary, but things were a bit different in the old days.   

Here in my area, just a generation ago, but long enough for the statute of limitations to expire, a local fire chief was reliably rumored to have taken a fire setter back behind the station and administered an “attitude adjustment” to the offender which was probably more painful than what the judge ultimately meted out.  If our current crop of politicians believe laws and punishment for arson are stringent today, they are not students of history.  The first such law in Pennsylvania was passed in 1700, and stated “Whosover shall be convicted of willfully firing another man’s house, warehouse, outhouse, barn, or stable, shall forfeit his or her own estate to the party suffering, and be imprisoned all their lives in the House of Correction at hard labor to the behoof of the said party suffering.”  Apparently life with hard labor wasn’t a sufficient punishment as in 1718, the penalty was increased to death, and in 1767, they took away the condemned’s access to a clergyman before execution.  
As tough as the old Pennsylvanians were, they had nothing on the Babylonians in the days of Hammurabi, around 2000 BC.  “If in a man’s house, a fire has been kindled, and a man who has come to extinguish the fire has lifted up his eyes to the property of the house, and has taken the property of the owner of the house, that man shall be thrown into that fire.”  In both Japan and early Edwardian England, the older Babylonian concepts were continued; the penalty for incendiarism being death by fire, a rather poetic form of justice. 
While societal norms and our jurisprudence have evolved over time, most can probably think of a few incidents where we wouldn’t have minded taking a fire setter on a Marty McFly time travel journey back to meet one the judges from these time periods.  So if anyone knows where to find an old DeLorean….

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dispatching Hazards Part 2

Curiosity may or may not have killed the cat, but it definitely can get a dispatcher in a bit of at least tepid water.  

Nelson Rockefeller was the long serving Governor of New York when I was young, winning election and reelection handily.  Interestingly I never met anyone who actually admitted voting for him, but that is another story.   

Late one evening, my ambulance crew was hanging around in the communications center, shooting the breeze with the 3-11 shift dispatcher, conveniently also named Joe.  Governor Rockefeller had died months before in late January 1979.  News of the, shall we say, circumstances surrounding his passing while in the townhouse of his 25 year old female assistant were in the news.  While interesting, this salacious data was not when fascinated us that evening.   

“I wonder how many cars that rich old bastard owned?” One or another of us asked.  The debate was futile with Rocky having died months before; they were all likely dispersed, sold, or otherwise disposed of.  Shows how much we knew of probate law and complex estates.  For whatever reason, the argument continued until somebody got a bright idea.   

“Hey Joe, why don’t you run Rockefeller and see what comes back?”  As young and dumb as the rest of us, he thought about it for a minute.  

“Sure, why not.”  Joe rolled his chair over to the computer console and typed in the former governor’s name and hit enter.  A few seconds later, the printer chattered and we had a list of vehicles as long as your arm.  The specifics elude me, but these were not your everyday Chevy or Ford; there were some expensive collector cars on the sheets.   

We stood and marveled at the list, amazed at what was still registered to a dead man.  Then, as young men are wont to do, we moved on…
Joe was also working the next evening on the 3-11 shift.  Shortly after his rear end hit the chair, the phone rang—hell that’s what happens in a dispatch center—but this call was different.  The party on the other end was calling from Albany and was the supervisor of the state computer system.  He was quite interested in why this small municipality had an interest in the state’s former leader.   

Joe knew better than to lie, but he didn’t come right out and admit the transgression either.  The gentleman from the state knew a line of BS when he heard it. 

“Okay, here’s the deal.  You can consider this your first and last warning.  Don’t do it again.  That system is for official use only.”   
Joe “yessirred” appropriately and the call ended.  A fascinating lesson in how curiosity can be a hazardous part of dispatching.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dispatching Hazards

Smoking in the work place is now mostly just a distant memory for most.  Its elimination in some environments had benefits beyond personal health, though.  

My friend Joey was the 11-7 dispatcher for police fire, and ambulance in a small municipality.  These were the days of police call boxes, a real Ruth Buzzi switchboard, and fire alarm boxes reporting on paper tape.  Logs and records were all paper as well, and the only computer in the room connected to the state for checking wants, warrants, and driver’s license information.   The call volume was such that a single dispatcher per shift was sufficient, so they worked alone.  Joey was, at that time, also a chain smoker, a lit cigarette his constant companion.  

We talked periodically on the phone—the non-recorded public line, a good thing considering some of the conversations.  Occasionally he would have to drop off the line if a fire or significant incident came in.  Routine calls, license checks for the cops, and the like he could handle and continue his conversation with me; multi-tasking long before the term was born.  

One night was a little different.  The subject we were discussing is long forgotten.  What happened next is not.  Joey’s normally calm voice exploded on the phone.  

“Oh my god, I’ve gotta go,” he yelled.

“What’s the matter? What’s coming in?”  I anticipated a huge fire or other major incident, not his actual answer.

“I just set all my fucking papers on fire; I’ve gotta go,” and the phone went dead.   

It was probably a good thing as my pronounced laughter would not have been well received at the moment.  Just another reason smoking can be hazardous to….your health.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Birth of a Legend: The Snorkel

The once common Snorkel long ago became the fire service “Xerox” of articulating platforms.  If it bent in the middle, that’s what it was called.  One normally thinks of design, particularly of something as complex as aerial fire apparatus, as a long process involving engineering calculations and the development of sophisticated plans.  Didn’t happen that way…

Back in 1958, Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn borrowed a tree trimming truck with a 50 ft. articulating boom and platform and attached a monitor nozzle to the basket.  A three inch hose line was strapped to the booms to feed it, and a new piece of firefighting apparatus was born.  Load and stability testing was done on the tree trimmer, and when found to work, the rig was painted red and placed in service.  Known in the “Windy City” as “Quinn’s Snorkel,” reputedly because the firefighter’s got so wet in the bucket and thought it resembled the diving device—I don’t see the resemblance myself—the name stuck.  

The original tree trimming truck was built by the Missouri based Pitman Manufacturing Company.  In 1959, a stockholder by the name of Art Moore acquired the Snorkel product line and established the Snorkel Fire Equipment Company.  
The first Snorkel was retired in 1968, and subsequently acquired by the Snorkel Company and restored at their St. Joseph, Missouri manufacturing facility.  While less common elsewhere, snorkel type apparatus remains in service in Chicago to this day. 
The author "flying" a circa 1970 American LaFrance "Aero-Chief" articulating platform in the early 1980s.
A great look back at the original.

Saturday, January 18, 2014