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.