Saturday, January 7, 2012

Get out of our way, really!

What is the deal with drivers that don't know what to do when a fire truck is coming their way? I believe in the testing process to gain a drivers license this subject is addressed. Now I'm not sure, it may no longer be covered but I haven't heard about that.

Let us cover it briefly. Pull your freaking car over to the right and stop! Any questions? I didn't think so. You would not believe how people react to this very common situation. There seems to be an endless combinations of options though. But first let's look at it from the stand point of the driver engineer, that's the guy driving the big red truck (BRT).

A driver engineer is a highly skilled person. They have been through a rigorous testing process just to get the privilege of dealing with you idiots in traffic. Becoming a driver is a promotion, they really want to drive the BRTs, not me. The urge to simply smash into other cars was just too tempting to me.

There is a drivers academy that must be attended a successfully completed to get the job. A candidate spends hundreds of hours training to drive and operate a BRT. Driving isn't their only function they also have to do all the stuff at a fire scene like pumping water and making sure all the firefighters are safe and accounted for. At car wrecks they are the eyes and ears of the crew, they position the truck for maximum safety.

I'm sure you have asked yourself why the hell did they have to block the whole road with the BRT, when there was room for traffic to get through or around? Well they block the whole road because at some point in the past we had some brain surgeon drive right through our emergency scene. If we give people an tiny crack, they will exploit it.

I have had, shall me say intense conversations with wide eyed, panic stricken, office workers as they try to stealthily creep their car around bleeding, mangled bodies. "What the hell are you doing/" I would ask in not so hushed tones as I pounded on the hood of their car. "I need to get to work." They would say.

"Oh well in that case please go ahead and just drive right over our equipment, we didn't know you were going to work. We are so sorry we got in your way." Some of these people would actually accept my apology, "Oh that's okay."

There really are citizens that when confronted with this kind of situation have absolutely no idea of how to readjust their route of travel. To them, there is one way and one way only to get to their destination. This is the way they always go and there is no other possible way to get to work.

So this is why a driver positions his truck to block as much of the road as possible.

More later.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kitchen Secrets.

There are some firehouse secrets for proper cooking. Your Mise en Place has to be correct, having everything in place is essential. Not just because it makes cooking easier, but because, at any moment your prep can be interrupted.

If the horn goes off, you have to leave no matter what stage of cooking you are in. Most stations had one large "Kill" switch mounted on the kitchen wall. A big red button, like the easy button in Office Depot commercials. This button when pushed turned off all the power to the stove.

So if you were frying chicken, and a call came in you just smacked the switch on your way out of the kitchen and left everything as it was. Safe yes, handy sure, an enhancement to your meal, not so much. When you returned that chicken was cold, greasy, and saturated in oil. As I became more skilled at dealing with the interruptions some of these things could be avoided.

For instance, if I were making fried chicken (which was every Sunday, because the Chief wanted it that way) I had a emergency plan in place. I would lay out an area by the stove that was specifically designed to save the chicken.

A cake rack over a cookie sheet, the cookie sheet was layered with mounds of paper towels and all this was right next to the stove. If the bell went off, I could quickly yank the chicken from the pan and stack it on the cake rack. It might get cooled off, it might be raw, but it was always in better shape to finish cooking when you got back.

Now if you were making the Chief his favorite fried chicken on Sunday, you would generally get special dispensation to cook and cook only. No taking calls, if the truck went on an average call, a sick person, a car wreck, a smoke investigation any kind of simple alarm, you stayed behind and kept cooking. Chief "Ripper" liked his fried chicken done correctly.

Another thing with "Ripper's" chicken, there were only two guys allowed to make it. "Greger", a good ole boy cowboy type had the needed expertise and "Leery" a smooth jazz singing black man. That was it, they were the only two in the chicken frying rotation.

Then one Sunday Greger was sick and Leery was on vacation. But the Chief was working and there was no alternate menu for Sunday, it was chicken. Fishman looked at me and growled, "you're up kid." "Up for what Fish?" I asked. "Chicken" he said. "Why me?" "Because nobody will expect you to do well."

"That doesn't make sense." I said. "Sure it does kid, when you screw it up I'll just say give him a break he's new. Besides I'll watch you, coach you through it." "Why don't you just make it then?" "Oh no! I'm not going down for jacking up Ripper's chicken."

I was stuck, good news I was young and stupid and had no real idea of just how seriously this fried chicken thing was. "Fine. What do I do first?" "Fry an onion in some butter, use two sticks of butter and grab the biggest onion you can find." 

I've done my fair share of fried chicken, but I had never needed a fried onion to start with. "Do you do that for flavor or something?" I asked. "What?" he grumbled. "Frying the onion? Is that to flavor the butter or something?" "No dumb shit, we're gonna throw the onion away." 

He only looked up from the morning paper long enough to indicate he needed some more coffee. I grabbed the coffee pot and poured him some coffee. "Look, I got no idea if you can make fried chicken or not, so you need every advantage you can get kid. You fry an onion in butter for the smell." 

He pulled a pen out of his pocket and started the crossword. Bold move doing the crossword in ink, but he was the Fishman after all. "Fried onion and butter smells great, it will get these guys mouths watering, get 'em ready to eat. It's a trick, once they smell that and get hungry, well your lousy chicken will be less lousy."

He was right, every fireman that walked by or into the kitchen made a comment. "Smells good kid. Keep it up." Ripper said. I threw that onion away and some how managed to pull off good enough fried chicken that day that I was put into the fried chicken line-up. I was number three on the depth chart but so what, with the Fishman's help I made my mark.

I only found out how significant this was a year or so later. We had received a hot shot new guy at the Big House and this guy ran his gums for days about how great his fried chicken was. He grew up in the south and he had learned some sort of secret method from his grandmother. With Ripper's blessing this big mouth was allowed to make fried chicken one Sunday.

It was horrid, I don't know if his grandmother was a practical joker or maybe just really old but this crap was inedible, bloody raw, oily, soggy, just nasty. Ripper took one bite, slid his plate across the table, stood up and called the captain into his office, right there in the middle of the meal.

Off to the office they went and about ten minutes later Mr. Big Mouth was called to the office, then he disappeared. Turns out Ripper was so disappointed in his meal he had the guy transferred to another station, right then. The guy packed up his gear and vanished.

I was lucky that way for a lot of my career.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Welcome to the firehouse. Now make me a sangwhich! Cont.

You have to understand the math to see why a simple ingredient would be a problem. There are two kinds of firehouse where I come from. Single company, mean just that a single company (read engine) is housed there with a crew of four generally. Then we had double companies (read two firetrucks) and a crew of between 8-10.

The members of the crew operated off what was known in the vernacular as a chow fund. A chow fund was a pool of money used to buy the groceries. When you arrived at a new station there was usually a "buy in" to the chow fund, a preset dollar amount you were expected to kick in within your first few days on duty, around $20.

The buy in assured two things, first you could eat, which was welcome most days. The other thing you received in return for the buy in was the absence of grief for having not paid. Firefighters are merciless when they have something "on you". Anything to get at you, they will use. You owe money to the chow fund, you are a deadbeat and it will be mentioned with regularity until you pay.

Here's the funny thing about firemen, if you were behind on your bill for a real reason, usually divorce. All you had to do was let one guy, just one know you were hurting and it never came up again a crew would carry you for a year if they had to, without question. But once you healed up and got your shit together, hang on a bombardment was in store.

Anyway, the rest of the math. The cook for the day would buy the needed ingredients most of the time out of their own pocket (this was a way of paying your chow bill, buy the food and get credit for what you spent against your account) bring it to the station and then make the meal. Pretty simple for most, but not firemen.

New guys were the worst, they were young mostly, single but looking, hungover a lot, and clueless in a kitchen. Hell they ate out away from work and rarely had any training in meal prep. They didn't know a chef's knife from a boner (the knife) a pan from a pot, or their ass from a hole in the ground.

Depending on personality, friendliness and attitude a FNG (read f***ing new guy) might get help from a seasoned vet. A little coaching perhaps, I had the good fortune of having a mother that had taught me to cook and having worked in the food industry prior to fighting fire and saving lives.

I also had the Fishman. This man knew the price of every sale item at every grocery store in town from memory. He studied the newspaper adds like a most guys studied girlie magazines and not just for the articles. Fishman would growl I guess is the best way to put it. Too many Lucky Strikes and rounds of projectile vomiting (sorry to be gross but he did a lot of that when drinking) had changed his voice in to an unmistakable sound indigenous to him alone.

"The chicken is on sale at Kings Soopers, it's bone in but worth it. You know any chicken dishes?" "Chicken enchiladas" I answered. "You make your own green chili?" "Yeah I use my dad's recipe." "Your dad he a Mexican?" "No he's Irish." "Oh God, you don't put beans in it do you? Damn Irish and their beans and potatoes always f***ing up good food."

"No, my mother puts beans in her chili, Swedish chili we call it." "You making that shit?" He was looking at sales adds in a cloud of smoke. "No, I'm gonna make my dad's green chili." "Pretty risky, these boys like their green chili and they don't like it with beans." "No beans Fish, I promise."

"Go ahead and use beans see if I care." I didn't use any beans, the chili was accepted with fireman compliments at meal time. A fireman compliment is always stated in the negative, ie. "I guess this will ball a turd." Translation, it was good and filling. "I wouldn't feed it to my dog." Translation I'm gonna have seconds. "I'm gonna pay for eating this crap." Translation oh my God I ate too much.

Sorry to drag this out so long, more tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcome to the firehouse. Now make me a sangwhich!

There are so many myths about firehouse life that some days I think the Mythbusters or Big Foot Hunters should be deployed to investigate some of these rumors. But alas it seems these people are far too busy with there own issues to turn their collective attention to firefighters, so I will make a humble effort in their absence.

Not all firefighters are great cook, in fact many struggle with getting peanut butter on the bread and not on everything else. The recruit academy does a fantastic job of preparing new members in the basics of fire suppression, not question of that.

Where the short comings are reveled is in just living in a firehouse. Everyone (at least in days past) has to cook. A rotation is established, a pecking order if you will. You have your turn at the controls. You set the menu, gather the ingredients, establish a time frame to get the food on the table at the predetermined times; noon and six.

Now the average person, the lay person only comes against these circumstances a few times a year. Maybe Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July, those circumstances include the feeding of up to a dozen hungry, demanding, judging, Neanderthals. They are not as polite and caring as your family is on a holiday, in fact get it wrong and you might find your meatloaf stuffed in your boots on the next call.

Some new guys were so terrified of this experience that they went to great effort to avoid the embarrassment of failure. One guy I worked with had his ever so sweet mother deliver meals to the station when it was his turn to cook. Good thing she was an awesome cook, because if she sucked, he would have been in even deeper shit. She never would have heard a word by the way. We may be pricks to each others, but never and I mean never to family or the public. It is just not done.

Other guys made a decision to be smart and use a recipe. That could work in your favor if you pulled it off, the biggest side effect of these attempts was going way over budget. You see another myth is that our food is provided for us, not true we buy it and new guys clutching their little sheets of paper tended to go way over budget.

If the recipe called for some balsamic vinegar or truffle oil and they did on occasion, these ditts would buy it. A whole bottle of the shit for a teaspoon and a half.

Sorry gotta go. I'll finish this later.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Oh and if you read this and enjoy it please follow me, only takes a second. Just wanna know if I'm making you laugh. That is my hope.

First baby delivery!

There is a strange weather phenomena in Colorado and maybe elsewhere associated with child birth, an Albuquerque low we call it or used to call it until Albuquerque got mad I heard. Anyway a low pressure cell parks itself over what is now referred to as the four corners area, I guess no one lives in four corners or those that do don't care what we call weather.

When this set of circumstances comes into play women that are really ready to give birth, do. See the lowered atmospheric pressure pisses babies off I guess, never had one myself,  and they want to bail out of the womb. An additional problem with these storms is in the winter they bring a shit load of snow with them, which makes giving birth while driving on snow packed streets even more difficult, women are such babies themselves when giving birth. So instead of cowboy'n up and driving to the hospital they call 911 and have us come get the baby.

My first experience with this was when I was 19 years old and had been a fireman for a very short period of time. The department I worked for was very small and only two of us were on duty at night and the guy I worked with didn't care to get up at night, even on good nights. so I went by myself on most calls.

This particular night a call came in for an emanate birth. "You take it" my partner said "and if you need help call me". Dispatch told me that "a woman was alone at home and giving birth, the front door was open so just go right in."

Okay how hard could this be? I mean women have been giving birth for centuries without the help of 911 and paramedics right?

The house was a mansion, just huge. I sloshed through the wind and blinding snow to the door, cracked it open and stepped in. Silence! "Hello" I called out wondering if I should take off my shoes. "Back here" I heard. I tracked the voice to a bathroom.

In the tub was a half naked woman, the working half was exposed and it was working. I don't mean to be crude here, but in my recollection this was in fact the first time I had seen a vagina in real life, and it didn't look anything like what Playboy had showed me.

She had her legs splayed over the sides of the tub, she was sweating, she was loud, and red. Quit scary for my teenage eyes. I froze and considered running away. What the hell was this? "oh good" she said. Good what good God I thought.

This was not how I had imagined it, in fact I had never imagined this. Who imagines this? A teenage boy, a pregnant woman, a winter storm, a bath tub, and this bulging hairy apparition before me.

I freaked, I started running around the room screaming "Boil the water! Get the towels! or something to this effect. She calmly, between contractions snagged my hand in a very tight grip.

"Now look" she said. "I'm gonna need your help with this." She was patting and rubbing the back of my hand like a comforting mother, which she was this was her fifth. "It's gonna be fine", just then another contraction hit and she crushed my hand. "Oh no!" I said, as my eyes fixed on some additional hair becoming visible down there.

"Get the baby" she barked. "Let go of my hand" I said. She did and I moved in to position. This should not be a boys first experience with what I had been trained to think was the happiest place in the world. Because at the moment I never wanted to see one of these things again.

Apparently babies come out faster the more the path to the exit has been used. This kid wasn't waiting for a doctor, an ambulance, or even for me to breath. Like a watermelon seed this kid came out, just wham baby.
I caught her before she bounced off the porcelain more out of athletic experience than safety concerns.

Beautiful she was, a little slippery and noisy, but beautiful. After that one I had the opportunity to assist in the births of eight more over my career. Oh by the way she was in the tub for easy clean up, real thoughtful woman she was. God bless her!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sober New Year!

Bet you didn't know we alkys have our own New Years dances and parties. We've just learned how to do it without booze, so that person you kiss at midnight may really want to, or at least they aren't doing it under the influence of Jack Daniels. They don't smell of vodka or vomit either which is nice.

I'm not saying I got a kiss, but if I did I didn't have to hold my breath and neither did the other person as far as I know. All the conversations at 12:00 were for the most part intelligible, inthat there was no overt slurring of vowels, and none of my favorite "I love you mans". Thank God for small wonders.

It did cross my mind how does one approach the dreamed of new years hook-up when the other person isn't under the influence? I have always had to rely on that slight advantage, I'm not the prettiest boy at the dance, and knowing you are being viewed with absolute (not the vodka) clarity, is scary.

You can put off the realization of your own gruesomeness until the next morning as you are being shown the door after a barrage of stilettos and insults, knowing that the liquor was the cause of a sad start to your new year. But what to do when sober with no place to hide your defects, with shots of Tequila?

It's simple you slip out into the cold night at 11:45 and sing ol lang syne along with the poor DJ still working at midnight.

New pages if you like.

I set a lot of stuff on fire and my brother has the scars to prove it. Nobody is addicted at first use of fire. It takes time. But that first rush does plant a seed for some of us. We have a different relationship with the flames.

Normal people use fire for its intended purpose, cooking, heating, smoking, the way God gave it to us. But some of us take it farther, like I did.

I knew it was wrong, but knowing something is wrong and accepting that fact and abiding by the rules doesn’t matter when you have that special feeling for something that powerful.

We are powerless over fire, but we think we can control it. We know better than the rest. We have been trained with it. We are the pros, it’s our game. We won’t get hurt, we know what we are dealing with and we aren’t alone. So we tell our selves. But in that moment, that pure state of life and death, we dance with the beast by ourselves.

Without ever having had that experience firsthand it can be hard to grasps for the average person, but I’ll try to explain our strange ballroom dance.

First there are rules, for the beast as well as the firefighter. No one goes to the dance stag, at least at the beginning, things change at the dance from second to second. You may have to go it alone sometimes. Just keep your head when you do.

It’s a beautiful ball, every sense is involved there is no room for boredom at our parties. It is an event in every proposition of that word.

First your eyes know that there is in fact a celebration at hand. From inside a speeding big red truck your gaze is met by that not so subtle wink from the beast. A header we call it. If you are lucky you see it as soon as you leave the station.

That big handshake in the sky that says hey how are you? Wanna come to my party? Oh yeah, we want to go to the party. The mere sight of just a puff of smoke brings a set of physical reactions that trigger the addiction.

Your whole body erupts. Every inch of you wakes as if hit with a bat. Fight or flight it’s called, our only desire, to fly, to fly faster to the fire. Fight is all we think. Kick its ass. But not too soon, nothing worse than a little fire. What a disappointment to find a little fire, or worse, a fire already extinguished by some amateur. Stay out of our business, we don’t go to your place of employment and try to do your job, so stay out of our establishment, please. Really!

Stinking amateurs.