Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sometimes as a Firefighter The Ghosts Come Back to Visit.

It was a dark and stormy night, really it was. The heavens had opened up in Colorado once again; the streets were running with hot stinky water, funky water that smelled of petroleum and death. I was on duty at firehouse number four when the alarm hit. Rollover T/A at Lake Avenue and highway 115 with people trapped.
We hit the road in seconds as the address was only a few blocks away. A blue Jeep with a ragtop lay mangled in the downpour. Then we saw him, a man at the side of the road buried deep in water and mud. We ran to him and rolled him over, the pounding rain rinsed his face and we could see that his mouth and jaw had been destroyed by the impact as he was thrown from his Jeep and landed mouth open face down into the shit.
He couldn’t breathe on his own as the mud and debris had packed his mouth fuller than a hotdog eating contest. I dug into his mouth like I was working a gold mine, all I could I think is if this guy can’t breathe he is gonna die, I gotta get the mud out of him.
The ambulance arrived as I tried desperately to find a way to get air in this guy. The paramedic on the ambulance was a great medic and he came to help, he asked what I had, I said this guy is packed full of mud he can’t breathe. The medic looked at me with the rain pouring off us like a rain gutter.
He said “I am gonna have to cric him.” A cricothyrotomy is a way to get air into the lungs of a patient that can’t breathe on their own. It involves a scalpel and a lot of blood. The medic has to cut a hole in the neck of the person that can’t breathe.
After cutting the hole in their neck, a tube has to be inserted into the airway of the patient to help them breathe. Okay not a big deal in a hospital, but on the side of the road in a typhoon, it’s hard.
Randy the paramedic looked at me he said “Tim you are going to have to hold him down while I cut his neck.” Now remember the guy is conscious the whole time, he just heard us say we were gonna cut his neck open.  
I grabbed hold of his arms and pinned his legs with mine. Randy went to work. It is never like they say in the text books, Randy went at this guy’s neck like it was a thanksgiving turkey, he was hacking away at his neck and I was holding him down like a spring cafe getting a brand. This guy was bucking and throwing us around like ragdolls and then he went out.
We got him to the hospital and that was the end of that. We never get follow-up, we never know what happened to the people we save.
Years later a group of firefighters, the Christian firefighters were gathered in Christ and in fellowship for a morning breakfast before going to work. As one of the guys approached to pay our tab the cashier said not to bother our tab had been covered by another patron.
We asked who had done this for us, we don’t take charity for what we do too well. The cashier indicated a man off to the side. We approached him and thanked him and we wanted to give his money back, he didn’t need to treat us we explained.
Then he related a tale to us. He said years ago, just up the street he had rolled his Jeep and almost died and he never got to thank the firefighters that saved his life that rainy night.
We asked was it a blue Jeep, was it raining hard? He said yes. We all looked at his neck, it was scared up like bad plastic surgery. We asked “Did you get that scar on your neck that night?”
He said yeah, he didn’t remember much he just remembered us telling him was going to be okay. Randy the paramedic that night was now a gold badge on the FD and he said to the man “I cut that hole in your neck while this guy held you down.”
And then the tears came. We all just stood there holding each other like a class reunion. My favorite poem is from Ralph Waldo Emerson and it goes like this.
   To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/L001346/$File/right-quote.png
I felt that on this day I had helped another person and will always cherish that memory.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Don't Kill Firefighters Just Because You Are Stupid.

I have had a bad case of writers block and just haven’t been able to settle on a topic for a new post and the then rains came. Man did it rain here in Colorado for the last couple of days; it has rained on a biblical level. One area south of Colorado Springs received 9 inches of rain in four hours.

In addition, through all of this, I watched video after video on Facebook and local media of the devastation brought by the waters. We have been in a drought for a few years now with watering restrictions and constant warnings of how dire our water supply is. This storm won’t relieve our drought but will cause millions of dollars in damage and has already claimed three lives.

Having lived my entire life in Colorado Springs I recognize all the landmarks in the background of the videos but that is all I recognize. Many of the peaceful little creeks that ring my town have been transformed into actual rivers. We don’t have any rivers in Colorado Springs we have creeks generally most of these can be crossed easily by foot.

However, for the last few days, these creeks have been transformed into raging rivers even streets have been transformed into tributaries of our newly formed waterways and through it all, there is the ever-present fire truck. Each fire truck contains four firefighters and they have been at it for over 48 hours now.

Dedicated men and women that put themselves at risk for the benefit of others, which they are happy to do, in fact we live for big events like this. Each fire truck and each crew become roaming lifesavers and problem solvers. There isn’t a lot of time to react in many of the situations encountered, it is up to the company officer to make the call, and that to me is the essence of being a firefighter.

Sizes up a situation in seconds determine a course of action and go to work. This is the life of a firefighter; we are trained to react at with calm, safe, and educated guesses, yeah guesses. Calculated guesses based on years of experience and a Rolodex full of past outcomes. Many of the tasks that firefighters take on in these huge events are standard rescues. You see the firefighters in dry suits or turn out gear wadding through knee-deep water and carrying or leading stranded motorists to safety and the you see the incredible rescues like the one outside of Boulder Colorado. An entire span of road just dropped out from under three cars.

Now here is where training and practice come into play. Every year in the spring the Colorado Springs Fire Department stages swift water rescue classes. Crews are taken down to the Arkansas River, a favorite destination of tourists seek a white water thrill ride, and taught and refreshed on swift water rescue.

Generally a really fun day on the water and most years that is all it is a rehearsal for a date that never comes. However, the fire crews in Boulder had to use their skills to rescue three stranded and helpless citizens and what an amazing job they did. Pulling the last man out of his car just as it fell back into the water. Those kinds of rescues make it all worthwhile.

However, there are other rescues that occur and they are the senseless ones. These are the rescues of idiots’ people that apparently were born with no common sense whatever. These are the dolts that drive into flooded streets and think they can make it across a road that has ten, twelve inches of standing or running water on them.

These morons just drive right into the water believing their minivan has the miraculous ability of an amphibious Army vehicle. Oh and then the car begins to float, drift, and flood. Then this helpless twit crawls out on the hood or roof of the vehicle and screams for help. A completely unnecessary waste of resources that put firefighters and the public at risk. Firefighters lose their lives in these situations.

By Kevin Simpson
Denver Post Staff Writer
August 26, 2000 - Water rescue experts nationwide contend that no amount of training or equipment could have saved Denver firefighter Robert Crump, whose spontaneous attempt to rescue a woman in swirling floodwaters cost him his life.
"I don't think it's possible to prepare for an improvised rescue," says Don Cooper, deputy chief of the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Fire Department and secretary of the National Fire Protection Association's technical rescue committee.
Although that assessment was echoed by other authorities, the Denver Fire Department will examine the circumstances of Crump's death and try to learn from it.
"I think everyone on the job will look at flash floods differently, look at storm drains in a different light," says Randy Atkinson, a spokesman for the Denver Fire Department and also president of the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters.
On Aug. 17, the 37-year-old Crump and fellow firefighter Will Roberts were directing traffic during a flash flood at East 50th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard when they saw Loretta Martinez stranded and clinging to a metal post.
The two waded into the intersection to retrieve the 45-year-old woman, but Crump was pulled under by the swirling waters of a 12foot-deep culvert. Roberts guided Martinez to safety and then, with a cable tied around his waist, tried in vain to locate his partner.
Crump's body was found six hours later in a drainage ditch two blocks away.
"When you see somebody out there, by nature you have an inherent feeling that you have the duty to respond," says Scott Frazier, commander of the Los Angeles Fire Department's urban search and rescue unit. "When you see somebody in trouble, it becomes your moral obligation to do something. I can't fault them.
"I applaud them." Cooper emphasizes that Crump's venture into the floodwaters with his partner should not be judged as a classic "water rescue" operation. Both firefighters were sent to the scene not to perform a rescue, but to manage traffic.
So please if you find yourself in a situation where crossing a flooded road seems like your only choice, don’t do it. don’t put yourself at risk or the firefighters that come to your rescue.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Snoring in The Firehouse Could be Dangerous to Your Health!

I snore so I’ve been told. I snore loudly very loudly. It has never bothered me, because I’m asleep when I do it and it’s no big deal when you sleep alone which is how I have slept for the last four plus years. 

My snoring is also transient, in that sometimes I have been told it is unbelievable the volume and the duration of my rattlings, and sometimes it is absent. The biggest factor years ago was my drinking if I had been drinking I was told the amount of snoring increased and if I hadn’t been drinking it might be absent altogether.

Another factor was my level of exhaustion; if I was really tired when I went to bed, I was really going to snore. So if I went to work at the firehouse hung-over and exhausted it was going to long night for my crew.

So back in those days if I had gone out to the clubs with some of the boys, got drunk and maybe gone home with a nice lady I met, It was guaranteed that I was going shake the windows in the bedroom at the firehouse the next day.

On those days or nights, I should say when I woke up my bed and the floor around my bed would be littered with dozens of coat hangers. My crews had taken to bringing a hand full of coat hangers to bed with them and during the night when I got going they would simply hurl a coat hanger across the room and bean me with it.

I guess it was a pretty successful method based on the number of coat hangers on the floor and me. It was somewhat inconvenient when we got an alarm in the middle of the night and I had to negotiate a pile of wire hangers, more than once I ended up face planting before I could get out of the bedroom.

In an effort to reduce personal injuries and to accommodate the rest of my co-workers, we experimented with alterative solutions. The first idea was I would warn the boys when I was getting ready to go to bed. It seemed if they could get to sleep before I did, they had a good chance of sleeping through my snoring.
Of course it never occurred to me that if I didn’t get so drunk on my days off there wouldn’t have been an issue. But that wasn’t going to happen, my first marriage had come to a painful end and drinking and chasing women was the only treatment I knew for a broken heart.

The go to bed before me tactic worked fairly well except for when we got a call at night. When we returned to the station and went back to bed I had the ability to fall asleep again almost immediately, which was a good thing for me, but not so much for my crew. I would wake up again buried in a sea of coat hangers.
So I got in the habit of just going to the TV lounge and sleeping in a lazboy recliner after calls, it spared the crew and it spared me from the occasional black eye.

Now I wasn’t always the worst offender, in many stations I was maybe 2nd or even 3rd on the depth charts of nocturnal rattlers. There were guys that put me to shame in my snoring abilities.
One Captain I worked with had sleep apnea, I don’t know if you are familiar with sleep apnea but it is truly terrifying to witness. The sufferer actually stops breathing for a period of time (in his case it was every 32 seconds because I used to lay in my bed and time him) until the body takes over and reacts to the lack of oxygen.

The reaction was much like, what I imagined it must sound like when a drowning person gets their first breath of air after being under water too long. It was petrifying the noises that came out of this man, horrifying sounds of gasping, gurgling, chocking, and some wheezing mixed in just to make sure you would be off balance.

And he did it every 32 seconds; he was another guy that we would try to beat to bed.
I’d ask, “Hey Cap are you getting tired yet?”
“Maybe, why TimO you trying to beat me to bed?” He’d ask.
You see he was completely unremorseful about his condition, he was the Captain, and he didn’t give a shit if we were losing sleep, he was fine, and that was all that mattered.

It finally got so bad that he was about to have a mutiny on his hands, guys were trying to get out and go to other stations and some were getting down right insubordinate about it, they were so mad about not getting their rest, that a compromise had to be made. The solution was to build a wall across one end of the bedroom that blocked off about ten feet of the room and move the Captain in to his very own mini bedroom; it also doubled as a gym.

So we had either a gym in the Captain’s bedroom or a bed in the gym. It didn’t matter either way because the Captain was out of our bedroom and in his own. Still the wall only provided a slight reduction in the decibels generated by the Cap, but it was enough to maintain harmony and stop the rebellion.  

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why Have a Retirement Party?

Yesterday I went to the retirement party/celebration for a one of a kind fireman. What a great and unique man, he is a former Marine that has and had more interests than a single human being should have.

Many people would think and they would be right, that just being a fireman would be exciting enough to satisfy any thrill seeker. But not this man, here are just a few of his other interests, bull riding and all of the Cowboy arts, boxing at a world class event, and playing goalie for the fire department hockey team.

A man that you never had to guess what his opinion was on anything and I mean anything, all you had to do was ask. He was one hell of a fireman, knew his job on all levels, and was a willing and generous mentor to not only the new recruit but to many a firefighter and even more officers.

He is the kind of guy that I am pretty sure wanted nothing to do with a party that singled him out for recognition, but he did it anyway. Because he is a team player and having a retirement party isn’t about the guy going, it is about the ones left behind and the ones that came before.

So congratulations Gator and welcome to the club. I'm sure you feel about it much the way Groucho Marks did.

"I wouldn't be a member of any club, that would have me as a member." 

The decision to have a retirement party is totally up to the individual fireman it is never forced on them. I remember as I was leaving the job I felt no desire to have a party. After all, I hadn’t gone out the way I wanted, I had been shown the door as I had reported to work hung-over and still had a testable blood alcohol level.

Why would I ever have a party? To celebrate being a drunk that was kicked off the job? To give all the haters a chance to say I told you what a loser he was? These were the thoughts I had, it felt better to just slink away like the disgrace I felt I was and leave all that in the past.

I spoke about how I felt in an AA meeting and about my plan to quietly retire. After the meeting a man I very much admire, a former Army Ranger pulled me aside.
“Got a minute Tim?” he asked.
“Sure.” I said.
“I heard what you were saying about not having a party for your retirement and I just wanted to give you my take on that. It’s not about you, you dumbshit, it’s about the other firemen. It’s about giving them a chance to wish you well, to thank you for your service, and to recognize your contribution to the job.
You weren’t a drunk your whole career and even if you were that doesn’t define you. Did you help others? Did you try to give back? Did you mentor other guys? Did you make a difference? Because I’m betting you did, and you know what there are some that want to tell you that, that want to show their respect.”
“So put on your big boy panties and have a fucking party, because it ain’t about you.” He patted me on the shoulder, went and jumped on his Harley and drove away. I will always thank him for that and I do.

Being a narcissist what he said had never crossed my mind. What did he mean it wasn’t about me everything is about me damn it? I thought about what the Ranger had told me and I asked other friends and family what they thought about it. All the feedback I got was to have the party, so I did.

I faced my fears and for me it really was freighting. I knew what I thought of myself and therefore felt that had to be how everyone else felt about me. I was a loser, a disgrace to myself and the job I loved, a drunk, I remembered nothing but all the bad I had done.

I just knew nobody would show up and that was probably the biggest fear, to be left with that final insult and 3 gallons of punch and 2 uneaten sheet cakes, although I knew out of depression and empathy my crew would do their best to hide that evidence.

So just before the appointed start time I sat in the kitchen at the Hero House, 7s and awaited my fate. My crew God bless them had really done a nice job with the concession stand; there was enough cake for the whole job and gallons of punch. I think some of them were as nervous as I was.

The kitchen door swung open and in walked my first lieutenant from station 4 where I was a “Donkey” I hadn’t seen the man in probably 20 years as he had retired not long after I came on the job. I looked at him and for the life of me had no idea why he was there.
“Bob what are you doing here?” I asked. He looked around the kitchen for a moment.
“Aren’t you retiring today?” he asked.
“Well yeah,” I answered.
“Well I’m here for that.” he stuck out his hand and shook mine.
“Congratulations on making it, because there were days I doubted you would. I knew either one of the guys would kill you or you’d kill yourself the way you went at Tim. You were one hell of a fireman.” and off he went.

I sat there stunned I couldn’t for the life of me understand why this man from my past who I had only worked for for three short months had shown up. Why make the effort for me?

And then I found out. These retirement parties are the only place all the old dudes get to see each other, have some cake, a cup of Joe and talk about the good old days. It had nothing to do me and I was glad to have given them a venue to catch up on each other, because that is what I do know, because I am one of the old dudes and proud of it.