“Every hero becomes a bore at last. “
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I do not think of myself as a hero, I am just a blue-collar guy doing his job. Now that we have that out of the way, I will continue.
I am going to take you behind the red brick walls of a firehouse and share the behind the scenes tales of my personnel adventures in firefighting for more than thirty years. Not the things some consider heroic, like putting the wet stuff on the red stuff, or carrying a child out of a burning building. I am going to take you inside the strange world of the firehouse itself, and it is strange. There is no other workplace that comes anywhere near our world.
Name another job where you can spend the entire workday planning and then executing a single elaborate practical joke. No work is being done at all because no calls for help have come in. Think of a job where the employees would have a penis-measuring contest, complete with judges and prizes while at work. Imagine a work place where everyone takes an hour-long nap after lunch and then changes into sweats so that they can be more comfortable for the rest of the day.
Some stuff I hope will be funny, some will be heart breaking, some will be terrifying, and some will be truly unbelievable. I will tell you what we talk about in the cab of the truck when you won’t get out of our way. What we say about you when we get back to the fire station.
Oh, and we do talk about you all the time. We question your intelligence, your character, your mental status, and how hot you are. We laugh at you and with you. Because we are just as human as you are, we have no special powers that make us different from our customers. When we watch you die, powerless to help you, it hurts. When we deliver your babies, we rejoice just as you do. When we are bored, anything goes.
Our environment, our world inside the firehouse is a state of constant readiness. Always waiting, always prepared. That situation of constantly anticipating the “Big Call” the “Big Job” to come in, puts in motion, mischief. Sounds crazy I know. Pent up energy has to be expressed in some way, so we work out, we train, we prepare, but that isn’t enough some days, and the over flow of energy just blows-up on occasion. That over flow can be in the form of humor, or craziness, or outright dangerous behaviors.
When you have, a job that you only get to do when someone else is in crisis it has an odd effect on a person. A mundane existence of doing nothing can cause madness. The normal world for most people of going to work doing their job and carrying out the task of the day would illicit suicidal thoughts in a firefighter. Data entry, conference calls, meetings, presentations. Not for us.
The activity, whatever it is has to have some “Pop” to it. It has to have enough energy to meet the energy it will consume, or the event will not have the desired effect of releasing the stress. Therefore, plans must be made carefully; another person’s humiliation cannot be left to chance. Taking a firefighter down, busting their balls, scaring them or embarrassing them takes work, sometimes it takes days.
Most firefighters have a nickname of some sort, if you don’t have a nickname, chances are you either have an already cool name or you are an idiot of some kind. Nicknames are bestowed in many ritual ways. The methods come from circumstance a lot of the time. If you are an idiot, you might get the name “Village Idiot”, but you can’t call a guy Village Idiot to his face so it is shortened to “VI.” You can call a guy VI to his face when it has been explained that VI is the Roman numeral that stands for the number six and since he works on engine six, it’s a cool nickname.
If your name is Winters, you get a moniker like “Chilly." Throughout most of my career, I was known as TimO, to my face at least. My name is Tim and my middle initial is “O” hence TimO. In an effort to conceal and protect my friends in the brother and sisterhood of the fire service, I will be using nicknames, some real because I want to, some made up because I want to live.
I started my career as a firefighter in the seventies, there were no cell phones, 911 was relatively new, most homes did not have smoke alarms, and the culture in the fire service was decidedly male. Fires in those days were most commonly found when the front windows of a home blew out and flames consumed the structure.
One curious tradition of those old days does persist even to today. It is the phenomena of what we like to call “wavers and pointers.” These are the helpful bystanders that stand in the street in front of a roaring house fire, I mean an ass kicking fire, and wave at the fire truck and point at the fire. Very helpful people, please keep up the good work, we are after all just a bunch of good ole firefighters. Hell, we might drive right by without your guidance.
Therefore, I hope you will enjoy my tales. For some, I was a direct participant, others a casual observer and some are legend. I am not going to tell you about the big fires or big calls; I’ll tell you about a profession that can drive a man to alcoholism, drug abuse and even up to the edge of suicide. Because, I am that man.