Saturday, June 26, 2010

Random Saturday.

I went to the firefighters chili cook off last night. What a great time, great cause, great friends, and some pretty great chilies. I did prefer most of the greens but I like a little spice, after all my dad writes chili cook books. Charity is the driving effort, but reason for attending are many and varied. My motivation was first, to get my kids out of the house and do something outside as a family. Summer break with three bored kids can be a challenge, so what better way to wear them out then to make them walk a couple miles up down the streets of downtown.

In actuality it was pretty cool, only had to drag one child a short distance, and then purchased cooperation along the way with sodas, hot dogs, and promises of a trip to Sonic for ice cream later. This way I got to eat several bowls of tasty chili, see many of my old pals from the department, and be accosted by a few police officers, the cops were friends luckily.

I love the creativity of firefighters, who else could take the simple notion of cooking chili and selling it for charity, and turn it into Elvis impersonators in spandex. Firefighters absolutely insist on having fun, no mater the reason. Of course the fun is sometimes amplified by the addition of other consumables, not in the chili family.

Firefighter have this weird ability to go enormous amount time without seeing each other and pick up like no time has actually passed. Think about it, we all work in our own little stations and handle business in our response districts. Depending where your station is, say in an outlaying district, you can go months and never run a call outside of your area, thus your exposure to sister stations can be very limited.

Then keep in mind that there are three different shifts at all these different locations that all work on your days off. The odds of see many of your peers can be very slim if you don't train together or go to social events. At the chili cook off I ran into guys that had been retired for years and I hadn't seen them in years. But the conversation is always the same.

"Hey dude, how are you? Haven't seen you in ---- you look great, what are doing, hows the family, etc."
And its not a fake conversation at all (as far as I know) I was really glad to see old friends, and asking about families and life its self is genuine.

When we worked together at the fire house we got to know each other in a way most co-workers never do. We witness each others lives on a 24 hour basis over the course of years. We watch each other as we meet someone, get married, start a family and grow as people. Then we watch each other lose parents or family to death (sometimes we even run calls on each others families) and we see how death or divorce devastate each other and hold watch over the effected member.

Then we retire or move to another shift or station and never run into each other again sometimes for years, but when we do see each other again it's like n o time has passed at all. We can pick up a five year old conversation as if one of us just got back from the bathroom. I believe this is a quality unique to the brothers and sisters of the fire service. Then how would I know any difference I never really did any other job. I could be completely off base, but I love these moments when they happen.

The bonds we forge in real fire do last a life time.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where it all happens.

Before I talk about my firefighting career I thought I should explain the playing field, the fire house it's self. This is the natural environment of the firefighter, but a completely unnatural environment for most humans.

Fire stations for the most part are really big garages for really big trucks, with some living space added on. In the early days of firefighting before my time, the fire house had horses to pull the fire wagons. So the garages were in fact barns, as mechanized fire apparatus arrived the barns were changed into garages. So prior to this arrival of steal and steam the firefighters took care of the horses and waited for a fire.

The business of firefighting changed but many of the buildings from the horse drawn age continued to serve as fire houses. So now there were more firefighters and trucks living in old barns. I worked in fire stations that were almost a hundred years old, the smell of horse poop was gone and replaced with the smell of diesel , but the stupid bedroom was exactly the same.

It seemed to me that as our profession grew to include paramedics, hazmat, and decontamination operations, that the people themselves were always an after thought. We would get a small remodel every now and then. The kitchen would get an upgrade, or the Living room would get some new chairs, but we still lived in an one hundred year old building.

I know this sounds a little whiny but there is a difference in how we work compared to other office workers. First we are there for a full 24 hours, we don't get to leave for lunch, or go home for dinner with the family. We only leave for emergencies. So when every other 9 to 5 building in the city has air conditioning and we don't it forces us into firefighting mode.

What is firefighting mode? We handle it ourselves, we drag in garage sale air conditioners, we build our own little gyms, we fix the problem. Don't get me wrong by the end of my career the firehouses I worked in were amazing and very human friendly, wit commercial kitchens, AC, and private bedrooms, very cool. My point is that firefighting has deeply ingrained traditions that change comes very slowly to us.

More about fire stations to come.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Here goes nothing.

Well it's a true statement, I never did want to be a fireman, but that didn't stop me form becoming one and doing that God forsaken job for over 30 years. God forsaken you might ask? Well maybe an over statement but on some days it was hard to find where God was in the mix. Like on that day in September we all remember.

Anyway I guess I should explain how I got a job I didn't want, or more specifically never really had in mind, and then worked at it for more than 30 years. As a boy I can't remember every having that fantasy job on my list. I do remember cowboy, super hero, various branches of the military, and pro football player, but not the firefighting gig. I even toyed with the idea of being a dancer at one point, have no idea what that one was about, but I think it had something to do with Disney movies.

So after a great start in the work force in all those school kid kind of restaurant kinda jobs, I landed in a German bakery for about 6 months. Loved the job hated the hours. What full throttle eighteen year old boy wants to bail on post graduation parties on Friday nights and go to work at a bakery? So I gave up my dream of making perfect wedding cake roses out of frosting and networked my way in to a local car dealership. (The father of a girl I liked ran the used car lot so that's how I got in).

After a meteoric rise within all the job responsibilities of the lot boy job description I moved into a couple of other areas of 18 year old expertise. I should mention at this point I used to have, for a long time the inability to control my vocalizations, I would say any thought that came to mind without the slightest bit of filtration. Or as my father was fond of saying I let my mouth overload my ass most of the time, and that is how I came to be a fireman.

I shot my mouth off to the boss one day and needed a job. I called my father and asked if he knew of any job openings around town and after some fatherly advice on how keeping my pie hole shut would have enabled me keep my previous job, I should call a man he knew that was a sculptor and artist and more importantly to me the chief of a local fire department. Dad thought he might be looking for firefighters.

So I called, set an appointment, and in a few days I was in fact a completely naive, untrained firefighter at eighteen year old. What the hell was I thinking? And the proper answer to that question we should all know, is that eighteen year old boys are incapable of thought, we operate of the action life style theory.