Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Some Assembly Required....

Christmas was always special when I was growing up. We were up before dawn to see what Santa had brought. I was a true believer. One year I had even heard the hooves of the reindeer tapping on the roof of our house while Santa was making his delivery.

One year, one of the presents I was getting was a multiple level gas station, parking garage type structure, in which you could drive and park and pretend to work on, your match box cars. My sister was receiving something called the Imagination doll house. Both were “some assembly required,” and apparently had somewhere in excess of a gazillion pieces.

My sister and I were in bed, sound asleep, which we knew was important, ‘cause Santa wouldn’t come if you were awake. Mom and Dad were getting out the hidden presents and the toys which needed assembly when the Grinch decided to pay a visit in the form of a house fire. The Plectron, the “pager” of those days, went off, and so did Dad into the night, leaving Mom to complete the present distribution, and more importantly, the toy assembly.

Dad did make it back before we woke up to greet Christmas morning, but just barely. As usual we were wide eyed and thrilled with everything Santa had brought. Mom and Dad were not; both a bit blurry eyed from lack of sleep.

Years later, after the Santa years, Mom would regularly retell the story of that Christmas Eve, and have us in stitches as she described the “millions of pieces necessary” to complete the assembly of the toys that year. She stayed up all night, the elf completing Santa’s work.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mike and Grandpa

Both my son Mike and my Dad had an unusual experience recently. Mike was helping out at a structural burn class, and Grandpa, still a New York State Fire Instructor, was able to stop by for a bit to watch. It’s not often you get to see fire fighters with the same last name together, who are separated by 57 years of age........

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Question

One of my writing group friends had an interesting comment the other night after reading a chapter from the first draft of my book.

“Tell me about the emotions you are feeling when dealing with such a critical situation,” he said.

I gave him a terrible answer that didn’t really encompass how it really is. This is what I should have told him.

You don’t really “feel” during the incident. You have to perform. Any feelings are buried deep inside. If you let your emotions come out at that time, the job wouldn’t get done.

Even afterward, we don’t handle things the way one might expect. Firefighters are witness to many ugly tragic events. The longer you do it, the more of them you see. Everyone deals with these things differently.

I compartmentalize these incidents. You can’t think about them constantly or even regularly or you’d go crazy. I stick these them in a corner of my mind behind a door in an attic room that only gets visited on occasion. You have to go there every so often to maintain your humanity, but not so often as to destroy your ability to do the job.

Everyone who does this job for an extended period of time is a very different person than they would have been had they done something else. You can’t see and experience the things we do and not have it change who you are.

For myself, I think it has made me more immune to people’s suffering, harder, and more distant. Not because I don’t care, but as a protective mechanism.

At the same time, it has made me more sensitive. I avoid sad movies; simple things like the boy’s dog getting shot that have little or no effect on “normal” people who find such stories entertaining. These bother me.

The way I look at it, I go out and expose myself to real world tragedies. I don’t want to watch a movie or television program about fictional one’s for entertainment purposes.

Probably not the answer he would expect, but its how it is; for me at least.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Helmet

The helmet hangs on the wall in my office. I look at it daily, as I sit at my desk, doing paperwork, paying bills, or similar office type work. It’s an old Cairns, which likely dates from the late 1950’s. There’s nothing unusual about it, other than the friction loss tables taped inside; not something most guys, then or now, would do.

It’s mainly a soot stained white. Close observation quickly reveals it wasn’t always that color. It’s not like many helmets today where the color is injection molded into the shell. You can see the yellow below through some chips in the white paint; and the black beneath the yellow. It has definitely seen a fair amount of fire.

Back in the day, when a fire fighter made Lieutenant, they didn’t get a new helmet. They kept their old one and painted it yellow. A new shield with the title would be attached to the front. Moving up to Captain wouldn’t change the color, but a new fronts piece would come.

When the owner made Assistant Chief, the helmet was repainted again, this time white. The owner wore it for a number of years while in that position until it was ultimately replaced with a “modern” helmet. Safer, more impact resistant, the new helmet was definitely an improvement over the old from a fire ground perspective. It didn’t have the same character, though.

The old helmet, if you found it in a flea market today, would probably run you five bucks. It’s nothing special, except to me.

It was my Dad’s.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Getting Old

I was jotting down some thoughts for my book, and a some interesting dividing lines by decade came to mind on how much interior firefighting I could do came to mind.

At eighteen or twenty, I could go through three air bottles, overhaul, clean and pack up the equipment, and go home and rest for forty five minutes, and be ready to go again.

At thirty, age and judgment limited me to two tanks, and it took a couple hours before I felt back to normal.

At forty, I could still do two bottles, but the recovery time was now extended to the next day.

Now on the leading edge of fifty, I try to limit myself to one tank. I can work after that, but it's limited to some light overhaul, definitely not the heavy stuff. Once home, I head for the bathroom; not to shower, which will come in a bit, but for the aspirin container, trying to head off the inevitable aches and pains. They arrive anyway, and stay to visit now for a good thirty six hours.

It's a bitch getting old.