Thursday, April 12, 2012

Top tips for dating a Firefighter, by a Firefighter.

Over the years (married and single) I had many women friends that wanted me to introduce them to firefighter friends, they wanted to date a fireman.

There were no shortages of eligible firefighters that I knew and they came in all shapes and sizes, old and young, nice and not so nice. I did introduce quite a few friends and arrange things like double dates (when married) and wingman dates when single.

Some of these meetings were very successful and lead to long term dating, others not so much. So what did the failures have in common? I’m going to try and give you a few tips on how it works.

I must post a warning here before I begin. Know what you are getting into dating a firefighter. These men (I’ll stick to male firefighters that’s what I know) may come in many different packages but for the vast majority the job will be their first love.

Their boys, the men they hang with have a huge impact on their lives and you will at first be dating him and his boys. We do want each other to find happiness and find a woman. But that woman has to fit the group, nothing worse than a nightmare girlfriend to create havoc in the team, and if you piss off his friends he will be put in a position at some point of picking you or them, and if you do that it will end poorly.

DON’T and I repeat don’t expect to change these men, if you discover in the first few months of dating a firefighter that with your help and few minor adjustments you can turn him into your dream guy, let him go right then.

These men live in a world you cannot imagine, not just the “doing it” part of the job, but the whole thing, the life style of a firefighter, and remember that life is one of the things you find desirable, it’s why you want to date them to begin with. Leave it alone. If it is going to work out they will adjust on their own, but pushing early is a deal breaker.

1)Firefighters are used to stress at work unbelievable stress some days. So when you start dating one don’t add stress. Keep conversations light, avoid serious topics or overly intellectual subjects. I’m not saying we can’t have an intelligent conversation, we can. But during down time, when we are having fun we don’t want solve world hunger, we want to laugh and have some cocktails.

The easiest conversation is to have him talk about himself. Why is he a firefighter? What is the best part about the job? Has he ever been scared at a big call? Another warning don’t go deep here last thing you want to do trigger a memory of some horror he has seen. Get to know the man, he wants to be accepted as the man doing the job, not as a character in a movie.

2)Know that at some point you will be run by his crew, his buddies for a group evaluation. This can happen in two ways, the best thing you can hope for is an invitation to visit the station. You might even suggest it in a non-stalker way. Tell him you would love to see where he works, or ask if you might bring some cookies by the station.

If he jumps at the suggestion and offers a good time to do that you’re in. It will be after normal duty hours generally after the evening meal, when we have some down time. Understand the testosterone laden environment you will be entering, you will rightly or wrongly be evaluated on your attractiveness.

So don’t over dress, unless you and your girlfriends are hit the clubs for a Friday night and if you are bring your girls along. Nothing like making the night for a bunch of hardworking men by having some pretty women stop by the house, remember there could be more single guys there. But ask first, if he agrees, bring it on. If he is hesitant or unsure drop it and go by yourself.

The other introduction to his guys will be the meeting out on the town. We have our favorite watering holes and stomping grounds, once again be prepared for what is to come. For the most part firefighters are still gentlemen and will treat a lady with respect.

But we also need a woman that has some back bone that can give it back, this is not a good environment for wall flowers. You will be tested by his alternates, this will be a feeling out to see how you handle yourself, it also gives him a chance to step in and rescue you. If someone goes too far in the conversation he’ll stop it in a joking way. You passed that test.

And for goodness sakes don’t get drunk. Getting drunk will lead to merciless harassment for him the next time he is on duty. You will be ridiculed and he will be embarrassed. So have a good time but stay in control.

So I thought I could fit more tips into one post but as always I am long winded in an effort to be through. I see I will have to break these tips into a few posts, and please any of my married friends bare with me as I do this, I know you don’t want a firefighter, but maybe you have a friend that does, so share.

Ramblings of a Semi-Mad Man: What The Hell Happened to Madonna's Arms?

Ramblings of a Semi-Mad Man: What The Hell Happened to Madonna's Arms?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It is hard being a Firefighter, it's harder when you are strange.

When the weakness of a firefighter is discovered, it is exploited by some for the entertainment of the rest. I was an exploiter. I worked with many unusual people myself counted in that statement.

Some had strange behaviors around the way they ate, slept, exercised, read, talked, you name it there was someone on the job with a different way of doing it, a way most would describe as not normal.

Here is another uniqueness of the fire service, because we do live with our co-workers for 24 hour periods, we get to observe things about each other that normal co-workers don’t get to know about each other.

The nine to fivers don’t have the opportunities that we do to first learn what makes each other tic, and second don’t have the opportunity take advantage of this knowledge like we do.

One guy I worked with had more oddities than Ripley. Spanky was a man of smaller stature but the interesting thing about him was that he didn’t suffer from small man syndrome like so many mini firefighters did.

His proclivities centered more in the way he liked his personal stuff arranged. I believe it was more of an OCD issue than anything else. The control needed to be OCD in the unpredictable world of the fire station had to be a tremendous burden for him.

At the outset of his career like all new guys he had to be tolerant of harassment. He tried very hard to disguise he weaknesses and not give clues to their existence so pretty much knowledge of his short comings were made by accident.

Like the first time I noticed by sheer luck that he was particular about his eating utensils. We were preparing for a meal and Spanky had his place setting arranged for the meal. I was seated next to him; I didn’t have a fork so just messing with him I grabbed his fork like I was going to use it.

Then gave it back, for a moment he didn’t know how to react.
“Keep it I’ll get another one.” He said.
“No Spanky I’ll get my own.” I grabbed another nearby fork and began to eat. Spanky sat motionless a few minutes holding the fork but not eating.

“You don’t like my cooking asked?” Asked Grumpy George.
“No it’s fine.” Said Spanky, still not eating.
“Then dig in kid.” Now because of George’s question and Spanky’s lack of action the whole crew became aware of Spanky not eating, all eyes were on him now and the shoveling of food by others stopped.

“Yeah I’ll eat, I just gotta get a drink first.” Said Spanky. But Spanky had a glass of water in front of him. So when he got up and went to the sink fork in hand we were all watching.

He got to the sink, opened a cabinet and retrieved a drinking glass and as he went to fill it with water he tried to make it look like an accident he was dropping his fork in the sink.
“Opps.” He said as he deliberately disposed of the fork and then he grabbed a fresh fork out of the silverware drawer. He returned to the table and with a fresh fork began to eat.
“Dude, did you throw that fork away because I touched it?” I asked.
“I didn’t throw it away, I dropped it on accident and just grabbed a new one is all.” Spanky’s voice wasn’t holding up and his body language screamed I’m lying.
“You did you little shit, you threw away a perfectly good fork because I touched it. What do I got germs or something?”
“No man it was just an accident. Had nothing to do with you touching my fork.”
“Then let me touch that one.” I reached for his fork and he jerked it away from my reach.
“No man you don’t need to touch my fork. Can I just eat my dinner?”
Fast Ricky was sitting on the other side of Spanky, so when Spanky pulled his fork away from me he moved it right into Fast Ricky’s range. He was called Fast Ricky for a reason, he had cat like reflexes.

Just like that Ricky had Spanky’s fork. Then he just handed it right back to Spanky. Now Spanky had a choice, fight through his OCD and use the offending fork, or get up and get a new one.
“Well you gonna eat?” Ricky asked.
Spanky was frozen with fear. He hadn’t come to us as a kid, he was a grown man and had worked in the real world before joining us, and Spanky was no dummy, he was an intelligent man.
He started slowly.
“Okay look, it’s nothing personal, I just have a germ problem. I didn’t see if you guys washed your hands before dinner and so I don’t like people touching my stuff if they haven’t washed their hands, that’s all.”
The Captain was Old Weird so he was well acquainted with strange behavior. Difference was he was the captain.
“You know Fred (that was Spanky’s real name and being a captain Old Weird didn’t engage in nicknames for the most part) you picked a strange career path for a germ-a-phobe. You do understand we deal with germs on a daily basis?”

“Yes sir I know that and I’m prepared to handle that.”
I reached over and touched his plate now.
“Man that’s wrong, why’d you touch my plate?” Spanky asked. He was now becoming agitated.
“I washed my hands Spanky, it’s cool. I promise. I was in the bathroom taking a pee and then when I got done… wait, now I’m not sure, maybe I didn’t wash hands. Did I wash my hands Ricky, you were in there with me?”
“Naw you didn’t, I know because neither one of us did, we were talking about the call when George called dinner and we came right over to the kitchen.”
“I think you are right, I’ll wash ‘em now.” I got up and went over to the sink and washed my hands, then dried my hands on my pants.
“Better?” I asked Spanky.
Spanky got up from the table and went to the trash can, he scrapped his meal off the plate and into the trash.

From that day forward, Spanky always ate last. He would wait for everyone else to serve themselves, then retrieve his plate and silverware at the last minute and eat standing at the counter. When he cleared probation he began brown bagging and ate his meals alone and at off times to avoid the rest of us.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Two Firefighters Killed today in Philadelphia fire. Bless them and their families.

Some Fire Chiefs lead from the rear.

I’m sure most don’t think firefighting, or firefighters haven’t changed all that much over the years. I have written about some of the changes I witnessed over my career and pointed out some of the subtle changes I have seen.

But I was reminded again this weekend of how it really has changed in some profound ways. There was an Easter party for the families and children of firefighters and having three children I elected to take the kids for some fun.

Since publishing my first book about the fire service and my times as a firefighter I have had many reactions to the book. The majority have been overwhelmingly positive, but the biggest negative reaction has come from my former coworkers, and that is fine everyone is entitled to their opinion, hell firefighters can’t agree on what TV show to watch, let alone a piece of writing.

I did hesitate to go to the Easter party as I have had some less than kind treatment at the hands of my detractors, but the kids wanted to go, so off we went. So here is one of the changes I noticed, the fire service is huge on their notion of all of us being a second family.

We recite the statement as if learned from a sacred ceremony at the altar of fire, it is one of the largest traditions of our storied career; we are a second family to our brothers and sisters in the service. Quite frankly I have to call bull shit on that one these days.

My former department is a group of men and women that numbers over 400 members. At this family gathering of our second family I saw the same dozen firefighters and their wives that pull these events off year after year, doing it again.

Lumpy and his wife, Cindy and Paul, Nolove, and so on. What I didn’t see was a single gold badge. Not that anyone was wearing a badge, but you get my drift. No chief officers, not one. Now granted I didn’t stay for the whole event but we were there for nearly three hours, long enough to have noticed if a chief would have attended.

That made me think, are there two second families on the job now? Is there a second family for firefighters? Because I saw plenty of mid-level officers mixing with their crews, many union members with their kids, but no chiefs.

The health of the organization I believe can be measured by this observation. The chiefs either don’t feel comfortable mixing with the working firefighters, or more likely don’t feel it necessary to expose themselves to their employees in a non-professional environment.

When I began my career this same department was half the size it is now. But you know what, when you went to the Christmas party or the summer picnic it was a full house and you know what else? The chief was there, the big chief and other than the duty chiefs all most all the chiefs were there. They at the very least put in an appearance, had a beer, shook some hands, acknowledged, how much your boy had grown or how pretty your daughter had become.

They still mixed the common man or woman doing the job, the people that were really going inside burning buildings. They were a part of that mythical second family, they were one of us.

Now I can see if you are sporting a wagon wheel of a golden badge that your commitment to the job as an executive is time consuming. It probably drags on you 24/7; you are dealing with budgets, and discipline, and the Mayor, and tax payers, and so on.

But guess what? You took that damned badge, you said yes to all that misery because you wanted it, you wanted to be the big. Well now you are the big, and the thought that hey I work hard the rest of the week, I never get a break, so you know what I’m skipping the party, that one don’t fly with me.

It doesn’t look powerful, confident, or like being a leader, it looks cowardly it looks like fear to me, like you are afraid to mix with those doing the job, those most at risk.

See what happens when you are an unpopular fire chief like this one, when you go to a departmental party like this, two things will happen I guarantee it. First is you will get shunned, oh people will say hi and shake your hand if you get close enough to them, and then they will slip away quickly.

Second thing, some firefighter will confront you about your poor decisions as they see it. Because outside the glass walls of his office building the chief can be perceived by some as human, and they will take this opportunity to confront him.

So it’s easier to stay home. Well being the fire chief isn’t meant to be easy; it’s a damn hard job especially when you make it hard on yourself. Firefighters aren’t stupid people, and they know what the absence of every fire chief to one of their parties’ means, it means we don’t care.

It means we don’t have to explain ourselves to you and they don’t that is true. But more importantly it means that we lead from desk chairs, we lead from the infamous fire SUV, we lead from the rear boys, follow us.

Well I’m retired now and I may have it all wrong. But what I do know is this, one day all of the leaders will retire just like me, and they will be forgotten quickly for the good they did do. But they will be remembered for the way they acted or didn’t act, and when their name is spoken of in a firehouse it will be with the recollections of perception.

And then one day their neighbor will introduce them to a friend as my neighbor who used to be a fireman, and then what? Where will that second family be on that day?