Friday, January 20, 2012

Our Strange Addiction!

This is how our strange addiction works, we hate fire, but we need fire. For us to go weeks without a fire is awful, you can’t always feel the tension as it builds around the station. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t building.

It creeps through us that desire for a fix. That craving. The evidence comes when the fix is at hand.

Envision a casual day around the firehouse. You’ve had a few calls, a medical here a car crash there. The station has been cleaned, the smell of lunch seeps out of the kitchen. All the gear has been gone over, some training on a random piece of equipment filled the morning.

A good officer keeps you busy, they know. They know the cravings are running high in their crew. So to help release some tension and burn some energy they’ll run simulations, drills, practice.

It keeps the skills sharp, but it’s dancing in a studio with other guys, it’s not a ballroom and there are defiantly no dates to be had. We practice the steps; we do the mambo, the salsa, the tango, but no waltz.

It seems a good practice, to practice. But for me it only made me more desirous of the real thing, it created frustration. Like being a bartender and not being allowed to drink. It sucks.

And then the horn would go off, and that is when you knew how bad the cravings were in your coworkers. The rush for just a moment was expressed by a complete absence of sanity.

Giddy is what comes to mind. Christmas morning maybe. It was like a huge bomb had gone off and was followed by controlled chaos.

Think about it, we can’t go as we are; we have to get dressed for the ball. All our stuff is laid out and waiting. Every fireman stores his gear almost in the same way. But we all have our own little improvements, twists in the way we do it.

Me, my bunkers (that’s the big boots, pants and coat) were always beside my door on the truck. My boots, with the pants pulled down over them waited. The suspenders I had arranged laid out behind the pants.

There was nothing worse than pulling up your pants and finding a suspender trapped in between your legs. That one is learned only in the hard way.

The hard way is when everyone else is Jonesing to get going and there you are undressing while the driver honks the air horn. There you are holding up the whole damn thing because you got it wrong.

As if there wasn’t enough pressure on you to get to the fire, now, as you scramble to get that damn suspender out of your crotch, all the other junkies are yelling at you to get your shit together.

See other companies are going with you to that fire. And being second in on a fire can suck. If another sister company beats you to a fire in your own district, hang on because later there will be grief given and shame spread think as peanut butter by a four year old.

As well as second in companies, for the most part, get assigned tasks like securing a water supply, hooking up hoses, stretching lines. When you come right down to it, it’s doing really unglamorous work.

No firefighting, no saving lives, and most awful, you tend to be that much closer to the wavers and pointers. It’s like being too close to the fans at a Raiders game in the fourth quarter. Not a happy place.

So get your shit straight when the horn goes off.

My coat was always hung on the left rear door of the BRT. This may sound simple, but it is possible in the excitement to get the pants pulled up and the coat on and have the suspenders still hanging out from under the coat. Back to square one.

So you got the pants and suspenders right, cool, now the coat, cool again. The gloves go last, they are huge cumbersome and don’t lend themselves to anything that requires dexterity like hooking up your air pack.

What else is left? The hood, the hood is like an over sized ski mask, it’s made of a fire resistance material and basically keeps your ears and exposed face skin from cooking.

If you ever run into some old retired fireman someday look closely at the sides of their face where the side burns are. You most likely will see little white patches of skin that look like he shaved off his sideburns after days in the sun.

He didn’t, that is what happened before hoods. The gap between your air mask and the helmet allowed exposed skin to burn. It was also the way you knew you were in too deep. When your ears began to burn you got out. Now those little clues are gone, ultimately it’s easier to get into trouble faster today.

Getting your air pack on before the hood makes it hard to get the hood tucked in. Do the hood first it’s way easier.

Remember all this takes place, or should take place in less than sixty seconds. We train for under sixty, a minute and a half or two minutes can put you square in second place. Rookie mistake.

Just imagine a crack house with all the junkies sitting around, scratching themselves, dry mouthed waiting for the stuff to arrive. Maybe not quite that bad, but you get the point. No one wants to wait or be the source of the delay.

We are powerless over fire, and know it to be uncontrollable. Yet we continue to go to the dance.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Firefighters Practice Cloning.

Firefighters get bored it’s a fact, when there are no calls for help, no training to be done, no reports to write we find ourselves with time on our hands. So what to do? We invent stuff, good stuff, fun stuff, crazy stuff, just distractions to pass the time. Some are fleeting and run their course, some persist and become a part of our culture. I’m gonna tell you about one that is more than likely specific to the job I worked.

Cloning we called it and I am gonna recommend you all give it a try in your lives it can lead to great laughs. Here is how cloning works, we have all had the experience of knowing someone that reminds us of a famous person. I worked with clones as diverse as Dave Mathews, he works at station 19 and as far as I know has no musical talent whatever. I also worked with the lead singer for the 80’s band Air Supply, Fred is a dead ringer for Russell Hitchcock and once again had no musical talent that I was aware of.

I worked with Tom Selleck, Eric Stoltz, Hugh Grant,  The Marlboro Man and many other famous looking firefighters. So when watching TV, or reading the newspaper or some other publication we would stumble across clones. I was cloned as the guy that drives the Cash Cab on the TV show, and then some unflattering comparisons as well, don’t take it personally, it’s just cloning.

As far as I remember cloning was invented at the Big House, station number One downtown. One firefighter there had a gift for cloning, Jimmy was and is to this day the expert at cloning and is frequently consulted to settle cloning disputes that arise. Jimmy’s gift was this, he had the ability to clone common people. Cloning the famous is easy, we see those faces all the time on TV and at the movies.

 But that uncommon face that guy on the local news that saved a dog from a frozen pond next to the trailer court, Jimmy could in just seconds run through his mental Rolodex of every firefighter past and present and clone the guy. He would be sitting in a recliner watching the news and seemingly instantaneously call out “Oh hey Tim Casey” and you know what he’d be spot on. You look up and say to yourself wow that is Tim Casey. If Tim Casey was skinny, toothless, dirty and prone to wearing wife beater tee shirts, but it would be uncanny how close he was.

For a long time Jimmy went unchallenged in his cloning skills, he would just find that face and that name and marry them in a way no one else could. That didn’t mean we didn’t try, we tried our asses off to out clone Jimmy. Here’s the thing, we all tried but the only real proof of cloning skill had to demonstrated in the presence of the master. You had to be at One’s working with Jimmy and nail one and if you could clone Jimmy, hang on your legend as a cloning master would grow.

We knew a true cloner from a rookie. See rookies would throw out such horrid clones that to be believed, would have required real science to pull it off. They would be sitting there and say something like “Hey Ed Asner.” You always had to preface a cloning with a “Hey so and so” it’s just the way cloning was done. Well everyone on the job knew who the real cloned Ed Asner was on the job, these rookies would miss, they’d insert the wrong clone. Total foul.

Besides using a celebrity clone was too easy, too common, to be a real master cloner you had to pluck the absolutely obscure facial pattern out of the very ether of life. Cloning grew and changed, and it branched out into the real world, it began popping  up on calls. We would run some strange call and the reporting party would be an off duty cloned firefighter.

 We’d get back on the truck to talk, because discussing the general public always occurs in the safety and privacy of the truck cab, that’s just how it’s done, and someone would say “I really liked that shirt Tim was wearing on that call” (I use my own name here not because I was chronically cloned, just as a point of reference). Of course the guy was wearing some garish Hawaiian shirt or a Christmas sweeter with reindeer baking cookies or something like that. The cab would erupt with laughter, not just because of the stupid sweeter, but because you could really see that firefighter in that person.

"You think he'd floss a little more too" the source person for the cloning didn’t have to be present, this was done in honor of the victim a remembrance so to speak “and try getting to the dentist every once and awhile” “I thought he had a little more respect for himself then that” and on and on it would go. A good cloning could be relived years later.

Fred the clone for Russell Hitchcock lead singer from Air Supply had the misfortune of having a YouTube video available at a moment’s notice that could be called up for a laugh. But as cloning grew and changed a highbred evolved, the love child of two cloned faces emerged. We now had the capability of mixing and matching genetic combinations.

So when you couldn’t get just the right person, you could and a second. So now we had the love child of  Bruce Willis and say Zooey Deschanel, or Brad Pitt and Obama. The beauty of cloning was that two men could have a love child it didn’t have to be a man and a woman.

You will be amazed how ingrained cloning can become in your life, I truly miss it. I’ll find myself in a coffee shop and feel the urge to clone a fellow customer and do, but it is wasted, there is no one to share it with, so I get a random chuckle and a pang.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different

I am alone, a lot; I miss the firehouse and the boys and the laughter and the distraction from my life, my lonely life. My divorce destroyed me and put me back in the bottle and opened the door for the Grim Reaper to become my drinking buddy. He showed up every day to keep me company, we became close friends me and Grim.

I just didn’t care anymore, I didn’t care to live, I wasn’t trying to kill myself as I have done with purpose before. This was just flat surrender; I had thoughts of reasons to stay alive. Three beautiful children that need me, need a dad even if that dad is me. A family and wide circle of amazing friends, not that I felt those people needed me.

Alcoholism is cunning, baffling, and powerful, and normal people have not a clue of what we suffer at our own hands. The tremendous pain most of us carry is unknown even to we the suffers of this strange disease. I knew the immediate source of my pain, my divorce, my lost family, my lost dreams, and a terrible guilt for what had happened. Oh and by the way I had been sober for seven years at the time of my divorce.

But that was the tip of a gigantic iceberg, most of my pain was my own creation. It hadn’t been given to me by anyone, not really. I created it, on some level I wanted it. It made me a martyr in my own mind. Why did I want to be a martyr? Did being a martyr make me feel better, it must have, why pursue it if not?

AA teaches how to do the hard work of discovering these demons, of dragging them into the sunlight of the spirit. I have no one to blame, I have forgiven in my heart all that used to hold power over me, I’m a clean slate. Great news! Now what?

Life persists, my children are back with me, my book and other endeavors are progressing well, I have no regrets haunting me from that dark past. Yet I continue to be alone.  By choice for the most part, I have a desire to change the situation, but not the will. I’m not at risk of drinking anymore at least not today. I have the utmost trust in my God to guide me and his company is fulfilling.

 But I miss a soft touch, I miss a pair of interested eyes, a genuine smile a smile that only I get to see, an open ear open to my words, thoughts, dreams and secret and knowing those words would stay safe. I miss intimacy, romance, the electricity of attraction. I miss noticing a new haircut, a new pair of shoes, the way those jeans fit, an unrequested offering of affection. I miss kissing, spooning, holding hands, having a joke only we know. I miss, missing someone, wondering what they are doing, waiting for them. I miss that comingling of life forces that shared purpose, I miss it all.

I know I am a deeply flawed man but I’m working on that. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a reference to a specific relationship in my past, these are words about life, my life, the things I have found pleasing and whose absence makes it presence felt all the more deeply. If that makes sense.

 It’s not a hole, or a void, it’s a terrible thick scab. I am worthy, I’m kind, funny, easy on the eyes, not a bad catch. But my trust is tiny seed now and some days it is that feeling that a shipwreck survivor must feel. Being so thirsty in a boat surrounded by water. So I will trust my God, and let him make that choice for me.

My apologize for not trying to make you laugh today, I just wanted to say this today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

These poster portray how many firefighters feel, myself included as our pensions come under attack. We have all made a deal of what we will put into our profession and what will be given in return. No mysteries here.

Tell Me Again How'd That Happen?

The fire environment can be strange, dangerous, fascinating, and terrifying. The emergency medical side of the fire department holds untold strangeness. You simply cannot imagine the things we see.

People come in every configuration physically, and mentally I have discovered. You would stand there flatfooted, dumbstruck, mouth hanging open and think to yourself, what the fuck?

How did this happen? What were they thinking? Were they thinking? I had these thoughts dealing with people that were stone cold sober, pour a little booze, or dope, or mental illness on top of things and then deal with it.

We were the problem solvers after all someone had called 911 and needed help, so get busy and help. Oh and the hardest ones were the ones when you opened the door, stepped in, and were overcome with a gigantic urge to… laugh.

Some of these things you felt so much like just laughing and some did. But you can’t do that and if your crew couldn’t handle it they had a backup plan. “I’ll go get the (insert any word here) from the truck” and wham they evaporated like spirits.
There you stood with this event in front of you and people that truly needed help. The desire to judge the public can be strong, but I worked very hard on not judging people, Lord knows I had my own problems. At least you resisted the urge to judge them there on the spot. Let us get back to the truck and there was a conversation to have. But not right then, not at the moment of need.

So you are thinking like what Tim? Give us a for example. So I will. One that came up more than once was a report of severe abdominal pain. Many people get hit by illness or trauma and have mind numbing belly pain, one of the hardest differential diagnosis to make, and a real bitch because you can’t give pain meds to abdominal pain that really pisses of docs.

So one of your best friends to gain clues on a bad tummy ache was your stethoscope. You could listen to the belly and learn from it. Were there bowel sounds? Was the gut rolling and grumbling or was it silent? Great information there. So I would whip out my ears and take a listen. On the odd calls there was many times an extra sound.

It was a low constant rumble; it didn’t vary or change just a steady tone. The first time you hear it, it can be confusing, you just don’t expect what seems to be a manmade sound emanating from the bowel. The second time it is unmistakable, you know the sound and you know the cause.

The thing making the noise can vary widely in description but not in function and when it showed up in a male rectum it wasn’t expected. Now I’m not judging anyone here, we all have our ways to satisfaction, we all have curiosity to explore. So understand I am not putting these occurrences in any category other than “you poor bastard”.

Can you imagine getting liquored up one night while the wife is at girls night, sitting around the house feeling a little ignored and frisky at the same time and then you get a thought. I wonder what that would be like. With the help of some tequila and a few beers you overcome your fears and plunge in.

Then it happens, this thing gets away from you and it slips from your fingers and into the void. Can you imagine the panic that must strike at this point? I mean what do you do? I’m sure all kinds of un-admitted attempts are made to retrieve this thing. The wife will be home soon, how do you explain your predicament?

You can’t call a friend, I mean you could call a friend you just won’t. Finally the thought comes to you, call 911, that’s what they are there for right? I can’t imagine how long you have to actually hold that phone before you push those three buttons. You’ve taken long enough to figure out the story you are gonna tell, I know that because I’ve heard everything from what really happened in plain honest language to alien abduction.

Good news for us, we don’t do retrievals we just give rides to definitive care facilities. Rarely saw this behavior repeated, but it did happen.

More tomorrow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Remember Strange Things from the Streets!

30 plus years on the streets leads to strange recollections. I fought many fires on freezing ass cold nights. It is so strange to be spraying water on the only source of warmth you can find on a cold night. Early in my career I had the chance to work with some amazing old timers, men that knew fire in its true wild state.

Men that were free of the burdens of modern life. Political correctness, customer service, equal opportunity, and didn't question their actions in the battle with fire, they were firemen. I know that term pisses some off and the correct moniker is firefighter, but these guys didn't care, they put the shit out.

I was at a fire on a night straight out of Antarctica, wind, snow, and so cold. You see when you spray the water on a night like that it’s kind of the same way they make snow at ski resorts.  You mist water into freezing air and I know this sounds strange it freezes.

It freezes everywhere, on the ground, on the building, on the trucks and on you. We were already wearing a hundred pounds of gear, and now it becomes covered in ice. Which is cool, it adds a layer of insulation and actually helps keep you warm, but damn it gets heavy.

If you have ever seen the TV show Deadliest Catch with the crab fishermen in Alaska, I’m sure seen how the ice builds up on their ships, same thing with us. Anyway this craggy old chief I’m working for that night spots me putting water on an isolated contained fire in the structure.

“New guy” he yelled at me, he didn’t know my name. “Leave that go.” Funny phrasing but that’s the way he said it. “Leave that go.” “Okay chief.” I turned the hose away from the fire, and leave it go. I’m not gonna ask him why, I was stupid but not that stupid. So later in the night my crew got a break from the fight, Red Cross had showed up to help and was handing out coffee and snacks to keep us going.
The first thing you notice is you can’t let go of the hose, it’s frozen to your arms. I had the hose tucked under my right armpit, and now the ice had covered me and the hose. I couldn’t straighten out my arms either; they were locked in position by the ice.

I had to crack lose, chunks of ice fell from me. Pretty cool I thought, never seen anything like that before. Never heard my arms cracking or almost pulled my feet out of my boots because they were also locked in ice. My legs were stiff with ice, I felt like the Tin Woodsman from Wizard of Oz.

The senior guys laughed at me as I acknowledge my difficulties, being seasoned vets they already knew the drill. Valuable lesson, never act like it’s your first time with any experience on the fire ground, pretend you’ve done it before even if you haven’t.

I was getting a cup with my boys and the chief says “Warm up boys, not too much.” Now the little fire I let go came into play, he left it going so we could go by it and warm up, it was the last part of the fire to be extinguished.

Another lesson about winter fires was at hand. The comment to warm a little went unnoticed by myself. The fire felt so good. I got nice and close and enjoyed its warmth. Soon I was defrosting and feeling much better. The vets had left me alone at the fire, I assumed it was just a new guy thing.

Break ended and back to the firefighting. Holy cow, what had been ice returned to water, cold water, freezing water in fact and it had permeated my gear right down to the skin. Then it began to refreeze right along with me.

See you can warm up a bit at a winter fire, but never defrost, never thaw out until you are back at quarters. By the end of my career I carried a winter jump kit on the truck with me every day. I had 3 pairs of socks, 3 changes of gloves, and extra hood for my head and a spare tee shirt.

When we got a break I would change socks and gloves out in the truck, throw my wet stuff on the dashboard defroster and by the next break that stuff would be dry and warm. Unlike the vets I worked with I tried to share this information with my new guys, some listened the first time, some just did it the second time.

More strange stuff tomorrow.