Monday, December 17, 2012

Careful what you ask a firefighter.

          Quick note my book will be free on Amazon.com this coming weekend April 20-April 21 1913
                                                          http://amzn.to/J7yScJ
 
Be warned this one isn’t an easy read, so think about it before reading.

People ask firefighters strange questions. Bet you didn’t know that. Even friends and family that have known us for years will ask. I would be at a Christmas party or a summer BBQ or a school function for the kids and it would happen.

“Hey TimO. Can I ask you a question?” I knew what was coming most of the time. The people, mostly men, wanted to ask questions that they thought they knew the answer to. A question that would somehow empower them as men.

When you are the “Fireman” at a party of mere mortal men, for some reason, that is male solely, you are perceived by many of the other males as the alpha, and at most non-fire department related gatherings you are the default alpha.

The rest of the pack doesn’t get to run free like a firefighter does. They live and work in much gentler worlds where the social order isn’t determined by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Thus when influenced by an abundance of malted beverages and the hazy smells of fertile women that mostly dormant male gene awakens. Maybe his wife removed his man parts from the jar and allowed him to bring them to the party with him for a change, I don’t know.

What I do know is this kind of man invigorated by fresh air and a sudden rush of drunken testosterone feels the need to test his mettle against that of his perceived oppressor.

For most settings his wish wasn’t to be aggressive in a physical way, no, he wanted to show that given different variables he too could have been a firefighter, no big deal being a firefighter, and if I was a flame warrior then hell anyone could do it.

They knew me, I was nothing special and that pissed them off. They hated that the women adore their boys in blue and would constantly flirt with me and give me drive-bys just because of my job. Well damn they had hard jobs too; maybe they didn’t run into burning buildings like me, but in their fantasy worlds, in that tiny part of their brain where some maleness still lived, they knew they could do my job.

They knew given the right circumstances they would be a hero too. They knew if they were walking down a sidewalk and suddenly saw a house on fire that they would run in there and stumble out moments later dirty and blackened with a grateful child tucked under each arm.

All they needed was that chance to prove themselves men of the highest order, real men. They needed to believe that if things were different they wouldn’t be the societal eunuchs they knew themselves to be. This powerlessness and the three shots of Jack they had drank gave them the courage to ask me a question.

“You must see some crazy stuff huh?”
“Yeah I’ve seen some crazy stuff.”
And here it would come, give me your best shot, give me the gruesome details of life on the streets TimO, I can take it I’m a man too.
“Like what?” Most of the time I didn’t want to engage them like this. I knew the drill, I’d done it before.
“You don’t want to know that stuff Bob.”
“Yeah TimO I do.” First off I didn’t like being called TimO by those that hadn’t earned the right to call me TimO and it had to be earned.
In my youth I had made the mistake of calling a very senior fire captain by his nickname “Billy MaC” one day. He stopped dead in his tracks and swung around to face me.
“What did you call kid?” his face was red at the asking.
“Sorry Cap” I managed as I stumbled backwards at his approach. He dug a finger deep in my chest.
“You haven’t earned the privilege of calling me by that name. I’ll let you know if you ever do earn it.” He removed his finger and held me eyes for a few painful heartbeats. Then he walked away. I am proud to say I did get to call him Billy MaC years later.

“You know Bob, we firefighters deal with that crap all the time at work and I really don’t like talking shop on my days off.”

“Oh come on TimO, just give me an example.” It was always the little guys too. I thought of the movie Cool Hand Luke and the prison warden’s speech to Paul Newman.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it. Well he gets it.” love that movie.

“Okay Bob, you have kids right?”
“Yeah.”
“Remember when they were toddlers and get away from you?”
“Of course happens all the time.”
“Okay, now imagine you aren’t sure where your toddler is one day. At the same you are wondering where the kid is you remember you need to move your car a few feet so you can get your lawnmower out of the garage. You jump in the car and back up two feet, on the third foot you hear a strange noise so you stop and get out of the car and there under your back wheels is that kid’s head. And she is still alive, you call 911 and when I get there you hand me your kid to save her. How about that Bob? Is that what you wanted to hear?”

His face curled in horror and I watched him as he vomited his hot dogs and beer. He never asked me what it was like to do my job again.

I don’t tell you this to horrify you, I tell you so you might know what we do isn’t always glorious. It has a cost and the men and women that wear these badges pay it. So if a rescue worker doesn’t want to talk shop at the Fourth of July party, don’t push them. Okay?
In light  of the events of the past week I wanted to share this again. Not out of malice but to help share the message that we of the emergency business are not robots, we have children, we have families, we hurt.  
 
Now I never experienced an event of this magnitude, I dealt with average day to day death. My soul was used like an eraser on a number two pencil on a test page of a 1st grader. 
 
I just had to deal with the shit none of you do. I saw children raped and bloody, with some shit bag claiming innocence, I saw death in every form. It is an acid that devourers us like a drain cleaner cleans out a clog. 
 
Pray for the men and women that walked those halls and had to look at those kids.
 
 
 
Be warned this one isn’t an easy read, so think about it before reading.

People ask firefighters strange questions. Bet you didn’t know that. Even friends and family that have known us for years will ask. I would be at a Christmas party or a summer BBQ or a school function for the kids and it would happen.

“Hey TimO. Can I ask you a question?” I knew what was coming most of the time. The people, mostly men, wanted to ask questions that they thought they knew the answer to. A question that would somehow empower them as men.

When you are the “Fireman” at a party of mere mortal men, for some reason, that is male solely, you are perceived by many of the other males as the alpha, and at most non-fire department related gatherings you are the default alpha.

The rest of the pack doesn’t get to run free like a firefighter does. They live and work in much gentler worlds where the social order isn’t determined by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Thus when influenced by an abundance of malted beverages and the hazy smells of fertile women that mostly dormant male gene awakens. Maybe his wife removed his man parts from the jar and allowed him to bring them to the party with him for a change, I don’t know.

What I do know is this kind of man invigorated by fresh air and a sudden rush of drunken testosterone feels the need to test his mettle against that of his perceived oppressor.

For most settings his wish wasn’t to be aggressive in a physical way, no, he wanted to show that given different variables he too could have been a firefighter, no big deal being a firefighter, and if I was a flame warrior then hell anyone could do it.

They knew me, I was nothing special and that pissed them off. They hated that the women adore their boys in blue and would constantly flirt with me and give me drive-bys just because of my job. Well damn they had hard jobs too; maybe they didn’t run into burning buildings like me, but in their fantasy worlds, in that tiny part of their brain where some maleness still lived, they knew they could do my job.

They knew given the right circumstances they would be a hero too. They knew if they were walking down a sidewalk and suddenly saw a house on fire that they would run in there and stumble out moments later dirty and blackened with a grateful child tucked under each arm.

All they needed was that chance to prove themselves men of the highest order, real men. They needed to believe that if things were different they wouldn’t be the societal eunuchs they knew themselves to be. This powerlessness and the three shots of Jack they had drank gave them the courage to ask me a question.

“You must see some crazy stuff huh?”
“Yeah I’ve seen some crazy stuff.”
And here it would come, give me your best shot, give me the gruesome details of life on the streets TimO, I can take it I’m a man too.
“Like what?” Most of the time I didn’t want to engage them like this. I knew the drill, I’d done it before.
“You don’t want to know that stuff Bob.”
“Yeah TimO I do.” First off I didn’t like being called TimO by those that hadn’t earned the right to call me TimO and it had to be earned.
In my youth I had made the mistake of calling a very senior fire captain by his nickname “Billy MaC” one day. He stopped dead in his tracks and swung around to face me.
“What did you call kid?” his face was red at the asking.
“Sorry Cap” I managed as I stumbled backwards at his approach. He dug a finger deep in my chest.
“You haven’t earned the privilege of calling me by that name. I’ll let you know if you ever do earn it.” He removed his finger and held me eyes for a few painful heartbeats. Then he walked away. I am proud to say I did get to call him Billy MaC years later.

“You know Bob, we firefighters deal with that crap all the time at work and I really don’t like talking shop on my days off.”

“Oh come on TimO, just give me an example.” It was always the little guys too. I thought of the movie Cool Hand Luke and the prison warden’s speech to Paul Newman.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it. Well he gets it.” love that movie.

“Okay Bob, you have kids right?”
“Yeah.”
“Remember when they were toddlers and get away from you?”
“Of course happens all the time.”
“Okay, now imagine you aren’t sure where your toddler is one day. At the same you are wondering where the kid is you remember you need to move your car a few feet so you can get your lawnmower out of the garage. You jump in the car and back up two feet, on the third foot you hear a strange noise so you stop and get out of the car and there under your back wheels is that kid’s head. And she is still alive, you call 911 and when I get there you hand me your kid to save her. How about that Bob? Is that what you wanted to hear?”

His face curled in horror and I watched him as he vomited his hot dogs and beer. He never asked me what it was like to do my job again.

I don’t tell you this to horrify you, I tell you so you might know what we do isn’t always glorious. It has a cost and the men and women that wear these badges pay it. So if a rescue worker doesn’t want to talk shop at the Fourth of July party, don’t push them. Okay?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seems the Waldo Canyon Fire has started again!



As you all know Colorado Springs burned up this past summer, we suffered great loss in lives and property because of the Waldo Canyon fire. Now that some time has passed the inevitable is occurring, the search for blame, who was at fault, what went wrong, how did this happen and so on?

I’ll tell you how it happened; a freaking fire broke out under the very worst conditions imaginable and this event was an act of God, no human power could have stopped it. Yet some in the media in an effort to drum up business have decided now is the time to find fault and to stir up the population, time to gather up the torches and pitchforks and head for the castle.

A local newspaper has decided to dig up the dirt on not only the City of Colorado Springs but on the Fire Department as well, here is a link to the story if you care to read it and below is my response to the reporter Pam Zubik.


Very interesting article Pam. I am a retired veteran of the CSFD with 25 years on the job I can see how the strategy of using "No comment" by the top brass can be frustrating for you and we all wonder about that. Why not just answer some questions? I think the issue of liability is probably the biggest hindrance to the cooperation of any elected or appointed official.

After all Colorado Springs is self insured, so having to cover the huge cost of just fighting the fire were big enough, adding the possibility of a very expensive legal judgment or multiple judgments causes silence. An outside agency could possibly place "blame" on the city or on the FD, so why risk it? That would not only lead to huge costs to the city and vis-à-vis the taxpayers, but could jeopardize the careers of some highly placed people. That exposure is just too great plain and simple.

As to the actions of the firefighters themselves I feel as if you want to play it both ways. You indentify the heroics of the men and women that fought this fire to the point of exhaustion and collapse, yet you still pick around the edges of incompetence, in dare I say a snarly way. There is a touch of contempt in your wording and the way you select the quotes you use.
I know the vast majority of those men and women, hell I went through the recruit academy with Steve Riker in 1984 and let me tell you about those people. Even you noticed in your piece that when left in a void of leadership these people made decisive calls under enormous stress knowing that they were placing not only their colleagues at risk, but the population as well. I am sure you have put in hundreds of hours to research this story, to write, rewrite, edit, coalesce and massage it into shape.
But these men and women had seconds to react and did so with courage and sacrifice. The good old fallback position of Monday morning quarterbacking exercised by outside observers always seems to find much fault and a sparseness in the form of compliments. You haven’t even touched on the emotional damage these fine people suffered during the course of this event. Has it ever crossed your fact finding journalistic mind that what you do can be damaging to these people? Dredging it up, tearing at those scabs and pointing that finger, can reinjure people, so maybe consider that. Why would they talk to you when they can see the knife you hold behind your back?
You may have cause to judge the administration of the fire department or that of the city, but think of the line firefighter standing in that inferno risking their lives and know they did their best, they laid it out their lives that night just like their hoses, so I would ask, that you poke away at those in charge if you need to, but by God leave out the firefighters, they couldn’t have given any more.

Friday, December 7, 2012

If you aren't Watching Chicago Fire you should be.



If you aren’t watching the new show on NBC called Chicago Fire you should be. The show has a great pedigree it comes from Dick Wolf of Law and order fame and a friend Derek Hass. I don’t give it a strong recommend because I know some of the people involved, but rather because it is serving an educational roll in my opinion.

After the first episode my sister called me. She was nearly in tears after having watched the show. She told me that the show had given her so much insight into my 31 year career, that she was truly affected by what she had seen.

I had watched the first episode as well and had found it to be very well written and it portrayed firefighters and the job very accurately. I emailed Derek and complimented on a job well done. He thanked me and also told me that it seemed I was in a very small minority of firefighters that felt that way.

He had found that a huge number of firefighters were objecting to the way the show was being done. It wasn’t true to the job, it was overly dramatic. Here are some quotes from the comments section following the first episode.
“BAD, SUCKS, AND WASTE OF TIME!”
“The advisers might have their hands tied because some over dramatic producer wants it to be more of a night time soap than a true rescue show and if that's the case, they should walk off the job now.”





'm with you Cap'n. Been in the service for 21 years and found little reality in this whatsoever. I realize Hollywood has to get their dirty little fingers in the drama of it all, but the demographic that would watch this show (firefighters/EMT's) should be very disappointed.”

I could go on for another dozen pages, but I won’t. Maybe I have a different perspective because of my background in writing screenplays and for television. I understand the compromises that have to be made to pull off a show like Chicago Fire. The idea is to tell a compelling story about a very difficult profession.

Because we firefighters live it on a daily basis we watch a show like this and nitpick it to pieces. I get that it isn’t 100% accurate of what we do and how we do it. But do you think police officers watch cop shows and agree with them? Do you think doctors watch doc shows and say oh yeah that’s how we do it or lawyers and so on and so on?

Of course it can’t be totally accurate, do you think filming in a real fire would render any useable images? Of course not you can’t see a stinking thing in there as we well know. But give this show a break over all they are doing a good job of portraying our profession.
If you knew how many times I heard a Chief yell “Casey in my office now.” You would be amazed. I delivered nine babies in my career I was a drunk and abused pain killers due to a shoulder injury while on duty. I carried dead people out of buildings and got caught in flashovers and went out the window not in it. I fell through floors and had my brothers pull me out.

I short I have experienced most of what is being portrayed on Chicago Fire first hand. Now it took over 30 years to rack up those stats they didn’t all happen in the first week I was on the job.

So my brothers and sisters in the profession relax a little. Over all this show is showing us pretty much as we are, with warts and problems. If you have been on the job for more than ten years you can’t honestly tell me you haven’t seen everything on this show in one form or another.

Remember the compromises Chicago Fire makes is for the sake of storytelling, they respect us and honor us as best they can. I have seen interviews with the cast and the way they admire real firefighters is touching, they want to show as we are. But you don’t hire people that look like these people and not show them off.

So they don’t shave and walk around with their shirts off, oh no one of the women is a lesbian (Trust me I worked with a lot of lesbians and they were good firefighters) how clich√©, the Chief runs on every call never happens.

But they way they show life in the house is pretty accurate in my opinion. The show will get better I believe and it is. It does no harm they don’t lie about us at least not in my opinion.  
So here’s to Chicago Fire, the cast the crew, the producers and the fans I like this show and I must admit it makes me miss a job I loved so much, so give them a chance, not every firefighting show can be Rescue Me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kickstarter project for my new book.

If you aren't familiar Kickstarter it is a way for people to get funding for all kinds of creative projects and in my case it is an effort to fund my new book titled: You don't have to call 911 to meet a Firefighter, tips on meeting, dating and even marrying a Firefighter.

The way it works is you submit a project and if Kickstarter signs off on it you get 30 days to try and reach your funding goal. My goal is for $10,000, this will allow me to dedicate my time to writing, to hiring a professional editor, pay for cover art, and pay for the first printing of the book.

If you invest as little as $10 you will get a copy of the new book as well as a copy of my last book, Dangers, toils, and Snares: Confessions of a Firefighter.

I have submitted other ideas to Kickstarter and this is the first one to win approval, all I ask is if you can help me get the word out. Thank you for any help.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1052444036/you-dont-have-to-call-911-to-meet-a-firefighter-da

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I need a job, but being a retired fireman qualifies me for nothing.



I have now been officially retired since April of 2009, and I am no officially going insane from boredom. Oh I write every day and see friends and “do lunch” a couple of times a week. But now that I am healthy and have recovered from my recent health scare I realize it is time to get back in the game.

For two reasons, first my pension covers all my basic needs and I am so grateful to have it, but that is it, it covers the basics but nothing else. I even had to turn off my cable and internet at home to save money, much to the disappointment of three kids.

Secondly I am able bodied and willing to work and I need a reason to get out of my house, because sitting around unshaven holding a TV remote in my underwear has become all too easy.

I have begun my job search in earnest in the past few weeks. I was a professional firefighter/paramedic for over thirty years; I started when I was 19 years old, so guess what? I haven’t a clue how to go about applying for a job.

The first thing I discovered was no one lets you actually apply at their business. Oh you can sit down at a computer in Target and apply that way, but you can’t talk to a human being, you can’t have that eye to eye contact and firm handshake that I rely on.

It is all on the internet now. Go to a website and wade through page after page of questions. I’m okay with that, but I put in at least one application a day and that is pretty much my limit because of the amount of time required to fill in all the spaces. You have your resume, your references, your education and the big one for me is past employers.

For the most part I have one, the fire department. I always had off duty jobs but most of those are from years ago. I can also list that I teach at the University of Colorado, that I was Director of Public Relations for the Pikes Peak Hillclimb for 12 years, that I am an author, former stand-up comic and the list goes on.

Then I got some feedback from a friend, they said
“Tim your resume needs to be more blue collar. You are applying at Cum and Go with this kind of resume? It won’t work, you need to dumb it down.”
“Dumb it down?” I asked?
“Yeah dude, people that read this will think you are an egghead, too smart to be a mindless drone, besides they don’t want to work with someone that will make them feel stupid.”

I hadn’t thought of that, so I have created two resumes now, one that is blue collar and one that includes all my past experiences. As I apply for a job now I have to decide which resume to attach. Oh and by the way I didn’t get the job at Cum and Go, I failed their assessment test.

The other big side effect of the blue collar resume is that it pretty much says that for over 30 years all I did was tear stuff apart, run into burning buildings and on occasion save a life. That may sound cool, but that isn’t a skill set that the local Cum and Go is looking for.

I have been offered some chances in sales but my ability to sell stuff is equal to my ability to hatch eggs, I have no skill at sales. So I keep looking for something, anything that I might have a slight chance at.

I have applied for security guard positions thinking I was a fireman all those years, heck I’m used to wearing a badge I can do that. No one has asked to interview me on that one. I have tried some restaurants, hell I was a great firehouse cook I could work at Taco Bell, no luck.

Because my firefighting career has caught up on my body, I can’t really do heavy manual labor anymore, so that eliminates tons of jobs. I made it to the face to face interview round with Lowes, and guess what? I was grossly unprepared for the process.

I don’t know if any of you have been through this kind of interview but it was my first time. I guess I should have done some research prior to my appointment, because they caught me flatfooted.

It consisted of about 15 or so situational questions. I sat down with a very pleasant lady and we began.

“Tell me Tim about a time in the past where you had a conflict with a fellow worker. How did you handle that situation?”

So right away I thought back to my days in the firehouse and I remember having a conflict (actually many conflicts) with another fireman and to resolve the problem I duct taped him to his bed while he was sleeping causing him to miss an alarm because he couldn’t get himself free in time to get to the fire truck.

Then I thought maybe that wouldn’t be a good example. I broke into a sweat, became very nervous, and I panicked. I searched my memories for a suitable example, nothing but a great big blank. So I lied and made up a story that I thought would show my skill at conflict resolution and demonstrate that I was a team player. I ended up either lying on all the other questions or only being able to make a fire house reference. Either way I wasn’t offered a job.

I need to find work. If any of you have some helpful tips, please, please impart them to me as I am an abject failure in the real world outside the protection of a fire house.

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I have no idea how to go about it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Am I a Good Friend?




So I went to the retirement party for the most senior firefighter on the Colorado Springs Fire Department a week or so ago and what a treat it was.

RC Smith Jr. after more than 30 plus years left the job or maybe I should say was unceremoniously kicked out the door of a job that he gave the better part of his life to.

I don’t know the story of his departure, but what I do know is the party I attended was a true celebration of a great firefighter in my opinion. It was attended by very real legends of the job, many of the characters from my book Dangers, Toils and Snares were there and what a joy to see those men.

We are all older now and some of us are breaking down a little but it was like going to a wax museum for the hall of fame for heroes. Men I had risked my life with, men who had taught me the art of firefighting and life saving.

It got me thinking about friendships. I have been blessed my whole life to have amazing friends. All of my very best friends stretch all the way back to grade school, one is from 4th grade, another from 6th grade, some from junior high and many more from high school.

These aren’t casual friendships, these are deep deep friendships that dare I say I love these men I know, they are like brothers to me and I would do anything for them and they would do anything for me.

Only one childhood friend still lives here in town, the rest are scattered not only all over America but some are even overseas. Yet we stay in close contact, we still share in each other’s lives and enjoy any chance to catch up with each other.

I heard from a friend today that is at his home in Hawaii, I called him a prick for telling where he was as it was 18 degrees at my house this morning. I love this man he and his wife are the Godparents to my children and I can call him a prick with complete immunity.

I have added a new friend to my collection and it is a collection. An amazing man, younger than me by two decades and yet years ahead of me in life and he has been teaching me some things about friendship. I have always tried to be the very best friend I can be to my friends. If there is anything I can do for a friend in any way I will do it.

But what I have learned is that it goes both ways. I have been a poor friend at the same time because I have not allowed or even asked my friends for help.

I know the sense of joy I get when I can be of service to my pals; I do it with pride and never look for any kind of pay back. But I am full of pride and so when difficulty comes my way I tend to keep it to myself, bow my neck and push through to the other side.

I struggle along silently never wanting to be a burden to someone else. This man has shown me that by allowing my friends to help me that they get to enjoy that sense of helping that I like so much.

I am a selfish friend in that sense. I will try to change that about myself and try to become a better friend. When I look around at the quality of my friendships, I am amazed. I am surrounded by a group of the most talented, loving, and beautiful people a man could ever hope to have and most go all the way back to childhood.

So the question I have had to look at is this. If I am surrounded by that high quality of friends is it possible that maybe I am high quality as well?

Now that may sound like a silly statement or even an egotistical one, but it is a question I have had to consider. I suffer on many levels from low self esteem; I don’t place any great value on myself for some unknown reason, I have always been baffled by the people that love me.

I know I can be funny and can be entertaining and I have always enjoyed that. But I have also felt that has been the major attractor, that is the reason I get invited to parties and special events like RC’s retirement party, because I’m funny.

This guy Corey has caused me to do some reflecting on my life and I will forever be in his debt. To all my amazing friends near and far thank you so much for being my friend and blessing my life with your presence. I will endeavor to increase my love of you all and will on occasion even ask for help. You have all been so patient and kind with me over the years through all my ups and downs, always by my side and always in my heart. I won’t dare try and make a list here of who you all are as that would make this post far too long, but you know who you are and you know I love you all.

Sorry to sound a bit weepy, I am not; I am full of joy and happiness and look forward to every day that lies ahead for I am truly blessed my God and by all of you. I’ll try to be funny next time.