My book, Dangers, Toils and Snares: Confessions of a Firefighter has caused me great joy and some mild remorse. Why remorse you may ask, I tell you why. For the duration of my career it would come up over and over again “Someone should write a book about this stuff.”
So I did. I wrote a book about adventures in firefighting. Not all the supposed heroic shit we do but stories of men and women at work. Our work is very different than most and our schedule very different than most. To this day after more than 30 years of firefighting my family is till baffled as to when I have my children. Because my ex is a firewoman our custody is still based of that damn firefighting shift work.
If you want to know the schedule ask my kids they know it well, “Are we with you next Friday daddy?” My youngest will ask and my son will instantaneously offer the answer.
So I wanted to tell these funny stories, I wanted the general public to understand that we or maybe I should say I, don’t consider what we do to be anything more than work. Really exciting, cool, awesome, and dangerous work, but it is work. We have front seats to the game of life. We stand inside the yellow tape that keeps you out.
When we aren’t doing that we train, some days endlessly, think of all the disciplines we have to know. Firefighting in all it incarnations from dumpsters to secret DOD facilities, medical responses from stubbed toes (and we get called for that) to mass shootings, hazmat, high angle rescue, urban rescue, water rescue, seasonal rescue from ice to heat, etc. etc. You have to keep those skills sharp at all times, because not doing so puts us as well as you at risk.
We are on duty 24 hours a day, we still need to eat, sleep, and have some down time. I told stories about down time, not in an effort to grind any preverbal axes as some of my co-workers assume. It was an effort of love and fondness for a profession I greatly respect and am proud to have been part of for so long.
My intention wasn’t to do harm, my intention was to entertain, and I have succeeded in that at least in the feedback I get. So why are there hurt feelings about a silly book about firefighters? I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on that question as I write two follow up books and I have come to a couple of conclusions.
First is, as the people I once worked with have read the book (or simply heard about and not read the book) they believe they have found themselves concealed inside the stories. I worked very hard to conceal the names of those involved in less than tasteful situations, so as not to damage anyone’s reputation. I didn’t want to harm anyone.
None the less they feel I have told tales out of the firehouse that should never have been told. Many of these events happened in the early 80’s and would get you fired today. But they happened and were hysterical at the time. As a writer I had to take some artistic license in the way stories are told. Some stories had to be combined into one to make a full and complete tale.
“It didn’t happen that way” one guy nearly yelled at me while balling up his fists, and on that day in that fire station my detractor was correct, it didn’t happen that way. But on two or three separate days it did all happen.
I get that the uneducated, untalented, and career oriented ladder climbers react hostilely to my work. Because they were there and they did some shit in the moment that they aren’t proud of today. But I didn’t make them do it; all I did was recount the events. The no sworn general public has no idea who the hell the characters in my book are. Doesn’t stop fans from asking, it does stop me from telling.
But if you have a guilty conscious about past actions I can’t help that and won’t restrain my pen to protect an ego. You see I am considered by many as an untalented uneducated hack. Throughout my career I always wrote, screenplays mostly and I had some success with that, a concept many couldn’t get their pee brains around.
How could Tim Casey sell movies? How could he know famous people? Not that guy, not him, I’m a way better and a more deserving person than him and there’s the rub.
I admit I didn’t throw myself into firefighting the way some do. I was good at it; I was a good medic and could be counted on in a fire. But I always had other plans, other goals, another life and that pisses off the less fortunate.
My life away from the red brick buildings was so different that it was misunderstood. I believe it was viewed by some as lack of dedication to the one thing in their lives that defined them.
I always knew I would stop being a fireman someday. That brings me to my second point, my book and efforts to have a second life has shoved a mirror in the faces of those that don’t know that. Being a firefighter is who they are, it is their life and some day that will be taken away.
Think about how that feels to the brotherhood and sisterhood of firefighting. One day you will get a party, nice things will be said about you (hopefully) you’ll get a gold badge and then you will be shown the door. You won’t get inside the yellow tape again, your front seat has been given to someone else.
And here is a really sad thing, you will be forgotten, all that you did, all the lives you saved, all the times you were in the shit, doing the job will vaporize. The new guys have no idea who you were, what you did, the most important part of your whole damn life will be in a dust bin. That’s hard news to take.
For awhile you will linger, those that knew you that are still working my mention you from time to time. But in the end your contribution to the world will be erased from the dry marker board just like an unused phone number.
But in my books there is a chance you won’t be forgotten and some day sitting around the nursing home while nurse Cratchet locks the wheels on your chair to keep you out of trouble you might grab that book and remember. Because I won’t forget you guys I love you all.