Saturday, December 24, 2011

1st Responder Broadcast Network News Review of "Fire Men"

By John Malecky

This is a soft cover book measuring 5 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches and has 279 pages. It is the stories of three generations of firefighters spanning a 30 year period of service. The author is the second generation. He served in three states, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Currently he is a fire protection engineer. These stories, which take up 20 chapters take place in the volunteer ranks, although for a time, while attending the University of Maryland, he rode with career firefighters in a “live-In” program. The stories begin with the author being young and tagging along with his father who was a volunteer fire chief in New York State. I must say he is a man of my own heart because it was at the ago of 10 that I had decided I wanted to be a fireman. It came from reading a merit badge book on the Firemanship merit badge and successful testing to achieve it. The author had the advantage of being able to respond with his father. My father was not a firefighter although my uncle was but we both lived in cities with career firefighters and riding with my uncle to fires was not possible. Anyway I identify with the author and throughout his 20 chapters he writes with a professional technique that even though they were volunteers, you would think that he was reminiscing on fires and emergency calls in big cities with career departments (although as mentioned earlier he did ride with career firefighters in Maryland.) The imagery of his writing puts you there with him especially if you are in emergency services. While many of the incidents are fires, many others are vehicle accidents including where life is lost. Having been a battalion chief and knowing what has to be assessed on the fireground, he leaves no question in my mind that he’s “on the money” when it comes to incident command. Of course, not every call goes well. Mistakes are made and things happen when we have no control over them. But the author write in a honest way and points these things out when stuff goes bad, making this book realistic, not portraying the players as heroes that always win! It has been said that volunteers do not always enter burning buildings, some say because they are not being paid to do it, but in this book they do and the details of their operating under adverse conditions leaves little to the imagination! From structure fires to rural tanker shuttles to operating the Jaws at a car accident, there isn’t a moment of “ho hum” when reading this book! The chapters are generally 10 to 15 pages long and the rapidity in which you go through this book is strictly based on how much time you have to spend reading. In some incidents you have what the news media would describe as “graphic” but as emergency workers we know that these things are always a possibility when we answer a call. When we wear the uniform of helping others we must condition ourselves to keep calm so we can plan strategy and tactics. This is what is expected of us!

Available at and Barnes & Noble as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Memories....Doing Santa's Work

Christmas was always special when I was growing up. We were always up before dawn to see what Santa had brought us. I truly believed in him. Once, I even thought I heard the hooves of reindeer tapping on the roof of our house while Santa was making his delivery.

One year, one of the presents I received was a multiple level gas station/ parking garage in which you could drive and park and pretend to work on your matchbox cars. My sister was receiving something called the “Imagination Dollhouse”. Both had “some assembly required,” somewhere in excess of a gazillion pieces.

My sister and I were sound asleep in bed, which we knew was important, because Santa wouldn’t come if we were awake. Mom and Dad were getting out the hidden presents and the toys that needed assembly when the Grinch decided to pay a visit in the form of a house fire. The Plectron went off and so did my father, leaving Mom to finish putting the presents under the tree, and more importantly, begin the toy assembly.

Dad barely made it back before we woke up that Christmas morning. As usual, we were wide-eyed and thrilled with everything Santa had brought.

Years later, in the post-Santa period, Mom would regularly retell the story of that Christmas Eve, complete with uproarious laughter as she described the “millions of pieces necessary” to assemble the toys that year. She stayed up all night, the elf completing Santa’s work.

An excerpt from Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Food on the Stove: Not Always "Routine"

A visit to the high-rise was not unusual, but the 3:00 AM hour was. Such nocturnal visits were usually for a serious fire, so we were actually a bit relieved as we made our way onto the reported fire floor and the unmistakable odor of food on the stove assaulted our noses.

Reaching the doorway of the offending apartment, we prepared to force it when it opened on its own accord. Actually it was an occupant that opened it and the confusion began. The female resident greeted us, clad only in panties and a bra. She seemed entirely comfortable greeting two companies of firefighters in such dress. Behind her, a poker game was underway; a group of four or five men around a kitchen table. All were oblivious to the smoke, banked three foot down from the ceiling, now pouring from the apartment into the hallway.

The engine officer, not normally known for his tact, performed a Kissingeresque negotiation to allow a couple of us to enter, turn off the stove, douse the offending pan in the sink, and open a couple of windows to achieve some semblance of ventilation. The poker players studiously ignored us and the woman professed complete ignorance as to the need for our presence. We completed the necessary actions as quickly and unobtrusively as possible and then left, still unacknowledged by the poker players.

We wondered on the ride back to the station if our panty clad hostess was aware of the presence of the poker players and vice versa, based on the volume of empty beer cans observed. Obviously no one in the apartment would be getting their late night snack. It was an interesting evening.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shared Terms From Our Military Heritage And Words of Today

Any writer will acknowledge a fondness for words, and I am no exception. Recently, I started reading a great book on military education, America’s School For War, by Peter Schifferle, and was struck by an obvious point on how firefighters use military terminology. We regularly use words such as offensive, defensive, strategy, tactics, attack, commander; the list seems endless.

Change just a couple words from a quote from 1919, and it sounds like something from any fire officer training class today.

“A commander on the battlefield (fire ground) confronted with an emergency or special situation, or an officer given a tactical problem to solve in the classroom, in order to arrive at a sound tactical decision and to initiate the necessary steps to carry that decision into effect, must go through a certain well defined mental process, which includes a consideration of his task, the obstacles to be overcome, and the means at his disposal for overcoming these obstacles.”

This history geek in me enjoys things like this, and closing in on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is a good time to reflect on the phraseology used in our para-military structure.

These are by far, not the only words we use as our own colloquialisms have been developed. Slang terminology, some well known and others more regional, such as job, bus, stick, nob, probie, johnny, Loo, Cap, and wagon; this list goes on and on as well. These are fun and special, and give tradition and soul to a department. One component of the wonderful world of NIMS was designed to standardize terminology, a worthwhile goal in some respects, but I hope it never steals the soul from the business.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Opening Day Blues

The opening day of deer season being upon us reminded me of some experiences with out-of-town hunters. At the far end of our district, near the interstate, we had would could be generously called a “gentleman’s club.” Strip joint was the common parlance. It was a well known establishment to most of our members. Jack, the guy who owned it, typically took good care of us.

We didn’t run too many calls there. Jack ran a pretty tight ship, and trouble didn’t get real far out of hand. The worst time of year, surprisingly, was hunting season.

Jersey hunters as we called them would come into town, hunting primarily state game lands; staying in nearby motels. They could be from anywhere, not necessarily New Jersey, but any non local hunter was tagged with the sobriquet. At night, they needed entertainment, hence their visits to our well known establishment.

Once they had a few beers in them, opinions would start to fly which would occasionally offend their Pennsylvania brethren. Attitude adjustment would ensue.

Following this, our ambulance would be needed for a ride to a local emergency room. On arrival, we would typically find the offending hunter lying in the parking lot in front of the building. They would intone on how they had been assaulted or had other criminal acts committed upon their person. We would enlighten them.

“You fell down the front steps,” we would explain to them. They would disagree, and we would repeat the explanation.

“If you had kept your mouth shut, you wouldn’t have fallen down the front steps,” we would explain. Eventually they would give up, or at least decide it wasn’t worth the argument.

It was always fun to see the grins on the Pennsylvania hunters as we explained the malady that caused the injury to the out-of-town boys.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

If We Bought Our Personal Cars Like We Buy Fire Apparatus...

I have mentioned previously the excessive interlocks and safeties increasing the now astronomical cost of fire apparatus. This, however, is only part of the problem. In the other portion, we are our own worst enemy.

A military term for it is gold plating. Disingenuously, we call it meeting our needs. Custom hose bed arrangements, specialized compartments, light packages rivaling the Radio City Christmas tree, and that is before we get to pumps and tanks. “Custom” engines costing in the $400,000 range are unsustainable for all but a very few departments.

This picture makes me think about what it would be like if we purchased our personal cars using the same methods we use for fire apparatus. The typical sedan, SUV, or pick-up has three levels; a basic, intermediate, and luxury level. Each step up seems to add a half dozen options, but it’s not an ala carte menu. As bad as new car costs are, I can see what would happen…..

Chief B enters the local Ford dealership.
“I’d like to spec out one of those new Taurus’s you have,” the Chief says.

“Great Chief, step right over to my desk.”

“I like your base model, but I need a special trunk, as I only load my suitcases one way.”

“Can do, Chief.”

“Also, I need four head lights instead of two, and these special brake lights. The hazard flashers will have to be moved because of the special trunk.”

“No problem, Chief.”

“The sun roof needs to double in size. I like lots of upward visibility.”

“That will entail special reinforcement and a re-design of the roof, but I’m sure our engineers are up to the challenge.”

“Great, then I’m sure the fifty gallon windshield washer reservoir won’t be a problem for them.”

“We’ll make it work, Chief.”

“Okay, then, how much do you think my new Taurus will run?”

“We should be able to do that for around $350K and have it to you in 18 months...”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keeping Township Officials Aware of FD Operations: An Alternative Approach

The Chairman of the Board of the township supervisors lived down the street from me. While I always suspected, I never asked him if he was happy when I took my white helmet off. His sleep likely improved.

I suspect this because of a little habit I developed following his election as supervisor. While he was always supportive of the fire department, he didn’t really understand a lot of what was involved, particularly the time commitment. I therefore developed a method by which to increase his understanding in this important area; perhaps one which was a bit unorthodox.

There is typically not much traffic out here in the country, particularly in the middle of the night. Directly in front of his house, however, it was the Capital Belt way at rush hour. If I had to get out of bed, I thought he should know, and be aware that we were up protecting the fine citizens of the township. As I approached his house, regardless of the time and actual traffic, the siren would be switched on to yelp, and as I passed, back off, clearing that magical traffic that always seemed to be present in front of his home.

Yes, I suspect he noticed a difference in his sleep habits when I got out a year or so before he did. Maybe someday I’ll ask him.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brush Fire Surprise

One of the first brush fires Mike went on when he was a fourteen year old cadet held an interesting surprise. The fire was just over the line in Greenfield, but both companies were working it. I was not—following my personal rule against Indian tanks based on “Ryman’s Law,” my contribution to the world of physics, which states that water weight in an Indian tank increases one pound per gallon for ever year over forty. Observing and functioning as a quasi safety officer—mainly for my son, was perfectly fine by me.

Mike had donned his Indian tank and was working the perimeter, mindful of my admonitions to stay in the black as he knocked down flames at the head of the fire. Concentrating on the fire, he didn’t see an unusual visitor until feeling something unusual at boot level. He looked down to see a copperhead crawl over the toe and ankle of one of his rubber bunker boots and continue slithering away. A few squirts from the Indian tank encouraged the snake to continue and perhaps expedite its journey elsewhere, location unknown, as Mike certainly didn’t go looking for him. It was certainly an interesting way for him to learn that fires are always full or surprises.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Article on "Fire Men"

A great new article on "Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family" appears in the November issue of Connections Magazine.

Friday, October 28, 2011

AFG: Where Do We Go From Here?

The NFPA recently released a fire service needs assessment; the third iteration following previous assessments conducted in 2001 and 2005. The goal was to look for gaps in fire service needs and to evaluate how the AFG program is helping to fill the needs of departments. There were some interesting results.

• 46% of fire departments have not formally trained all their personnel in structural firefighting. This is down from 55% in 2001 and 53 % in 2005.

• 70% of departments have no program to maintain firefighter health and fitness, down from 80% in 2001 and 76% in 2005.

• 46% of fire department engines were 15 or more years old, down from 51% in 2001 and 50% in 2005.

Some of the conclusions included:
• Needs have declined considerably in areas such as personal protective and firefighting equipment, two types of resources that received the largest shares of funding from the AFG programs.

• Declines in needs have been more modest in some other important areas, such as training, which have received much smaller shares of AFG funds.

• Fire prevention and code enforcement needs have shown no clear improvement over the past decade.

• There has been little change in the ability of departments, using only local resources, to handle certain types of unusually challenging incidents, including two types of homeland security scenarios (structural collapse and chem/bio agent attack) and two types of large-scale emergency responses (a wildland/urban interface fire and a developing major flood).

The AFG program has attempted to supplement local resources and fill gaps across a wide spectrum of needs. While there is no argument that there has been positive movement, even a generous assessment of these results and conclusions would be that the successes have been modest. Based on this, I’m wondering if it might be time to try something different.

It is no secret that federal resources are under a microscope, and if anyone thinks the amount dedicated to the fire service will increase, please let me know as I have a large bridge for sale. The obvious conclusion is that the broad brush approach used over the past decade will not work across the entire spectrum of issues. Note that where a large percentage of the resources went; namely personal protective and firefighting equipment, is where there has been more success.

Instead of continuing down this path and seeing marginal improvement over the next ten years with the limited resources available, why not take a hard look and establish one or two priorities and for the next five years, focus all the available funding there in order to produce a major impact. Whether it should be training, fire prevention, health & safety, or another area, is a topic for another day. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to look at these numbers; consider the billions of dollars spent to obtain modest improvements overall, and not think that there has to be a better way.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fire Service Leadership

I recently was copied on an e-mail from a dear friend and a great fire service instructor and leader. We have spent more years than we care to admit fighting fire together. He had recently completed teaching a Fire Instructor I class. His thoughts are well worth reading:

"I am offering this message to the Fire Service Instructor I Candidates and have copied a few select like-minded professionals, because I feel your hard work should not go un-noted.

You have just completed 40 hours in the class and 40 to 60 hours in study. There were 12 terminal objectives in the program, and as you have come to know each terminal objective typically has 3 or more enabling objectives to aide you in reaching the final goal.

You may have learned things about computers that you never knew, like how to do headers and footers, make power point do ticks, or overcome “404 file” not found. You were forced to read a very difficult text, which did not talk about Snap tite, KME, and Akron, rather presented Blum, Hawthorn, and Maslow. You learned the difference between affirmative action and Title VII. Your learned what ADA really means, and who Buckley was. I AM CERTAIN YOU LEARNED, PREPARATION, PRESENTATION, APPLICATION, AND EVALUATION. In addition, with some trepidation, you discovered the difference between a difficulty index and a discrimination index.

While I have a high degree of confidence in your ability to pass both the written and skills exam, that is of little importance to me. What I know is that each of your traveled a road from some place in your life to a new place as a fire service leader. I watched you drop the issues of the past that may have existed with your sister departments, and take up a mantle for fire service professionalism. I saw the petty differences of generations of grandfathered animosity; flake off as if dead skin, to reveal a new fire service, focused on teamwork; and pride not in self, but each other.

I watched you stand guard over your fellow class mates, like a herd of elephants protecting a hurt (of heart not body), member of the herd. You bore your classmates during their weak times and likewise they bore you.
I have had the pleasure and honor to stand before more than 14,000 students, including this class. So let me offer how I feel about you as a group.

You came to the program with your own thoughts about your own strengths and weaknesses. Some of you thought that you knew everything. I suspect that all of you leave feeling as if you know very little.

“The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand” Frank Herbert US science fiction novelist (1920 - 1986).

So let’s cut to the chase, several of you offered that you did not do as well as you wanted to, one person apologized for letting me down. Know this; you did not let me down. There was an objective 13. You may not have realized it was an objective, but it was. It dealt with the affective domain of leaning. “Fire and emergency service instructors can positively affect learner self-esteem and create a desire to learn and a determination to succeed. An instructor’s influence – that good or bad impression that affects learner’s attitudes and actions – is lasting.”

I saw a change in you. I saw the change from a fire service position of “I” to a fire service position of “WE”. That is the single thing that you needed to get from this program. That the success of the fire service lies in a focus on serving the public, learning, and professionalism. It lies in TEAM WORK. That is a what being a leader is about; and that is what a FIRE DEPARTMENT is. I am proud to have been a part of it. Good Luck on your testing!"

“Nothing happens by accident”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Books played a large part in my life from the time I learned to read. Mom was a big reader, which is obviously where I got my love for books. Obvious, because Dad was not a reader. This was a dichotomy in our house as Mom always had a book or two underway and Dad read the newspaper, the fire magazines, and occasionally, Field & Stream. A short article at a time was his limit. At his job, he read large amounts of material, digesting reports, studies, and memos. Because of that, I always thought reading was work for him, not something to be enjoyed.

My favorite days in school were when the Scholastic Book order came in. This was second only to the day in which I pored over the newsprint catalog with that periods selections in it; trying to decide what to order. Mom enjoyed this as well, and her job was to establish the limitations and the budget, as I would have ordered practically everything in the flyer. Dad mainly gritted his teeth; avoiding offering his opinion on the whole process. He knew there was little sense in voicing his thoughts as Mom insisted we should have books and read, and deep down, he knew this was the right thing to do from an educational standpoint.

I still remember the thrill of watching the teacher unpack the cardboard box and separate each student's order. Carrying them home, it was a major decision which one to start with. It really didn't matter, as I usually read two or three books at a time anyway.

Writing my own book took it to the next level, and holding the first printed copy in my hand was like Scholastic day multiplied exponentially. The only thing missing was Mom seeing the book. Oh, there would have been a short lecture on the profanity in some of the stories, but she understood that's how it really was. Any thoughts she might have had on that would have been overwhelmed with reading the stories about her husband, son, and grandson.

The second best part is Dad actually reading it. The process took a few months, but he did it; kind of neat as it is the first entire book he's read in probably more than thirty years. He now is more than pleased to quote from it on a regular basis--especially the stories involving him.

I'm glad he was still here to read it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fire Prevention Week Memories

Bill Cosby probably loves Fire Prevention Week. The priceless comments of the pre-school groups make taking the precious vacation days in order to make the presentations all worth while.

One little girl worried over her dog and wondered about teaching the critter Stop, Drop, and Roll in case his fur caught fire. My favorite, though was the boy who, after carefully considering the information presented on home evacuation plans and the importance of everyone immediately exiting the burning house, raised his hand to offer his comment.

"It's not gonna work," he opined while shaking his small head.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Cause my Daddy sleeps in his underwear."

There was just no adequate response to that, particularly while watching the pre-school teachers turning purple while biting their tongues in their attempt not to laugh. They did, however, enjoy the moment when Dad picked junior up from class....

Monday, October 3, 2011

Beautiful Fall Leaves

The changing of the season and the leaves falling from the trees reminded me of an experience I had years ago. Initially it came in as a small brush fire. The middle of the night dispatch was accurate as far as it went. I rode the left well of the wagon as we made our way down New Hampshire Avenue, the siren needed only infrequently at this hour with little traffic to impede us.

As we made the left hand turn onto the side street, I could see the column of flames in the air. Not typically what you see from a brush fire, but it was obviously coming from the wooded section near the edge of the neighborhood, so I didn’t think much of it. Another left onto the dead end roadway, and we were there.

There was definitely a brush fire. Unfortunately, the center of the burning brush and leaves included a van, fully involved. At least the column of fire in the night sky was now explained.

I dismounted and grabbed the nozzle of the inch and a half trash line from the running board, and started making the stretch toward the fire. Paulie, one of the career guys, flaked the line out behind me. The driver put the pump in gear and charged the line. I opened the nozzle and moved in toward the burning van, killing the burning brush in front of us as I went.

Reaching the van, I directed the nozzle into the interior, sweeping the stream across the ceiling then whipping the nob around. The fire darkened and seemingly went out inside the vehicle, but looking down, it was now shooting out from under the van onto my boots and lower legs. It got my attention.

Backing up a couple of feet, I swept the underside of the van with the stream. Now the fire flared back up inside the vehicle. Paulie left to go back to the Engine and pull another line, while I continued playing ping pong with the fire.

He returned with the second hose and we worked the brush and van together. Moving toward the engine compartment, the stream hit one of the vans front wheels. Bright beautiful colored flames came off of it.

“Shit,” Paulie and I said simultaneously. It was magnesium, which was a bitch to put out with water. You typically used sand or a special extinguisher. We didn’t have either this night.

I looked behind me and saw that the engine officer, Lieutenant F, had seen the same thing. He had a length of three inch on his shoulder and the Humat valve in his hand as he humped toward the nearest hydrant. He knew the tank water alone on the Engine wasn’t going to cut it.

Paulie and I kept working the lines. We were trying to keep the fire underneath the van knocked down and away from the gas tank. The hydrant supply established, the lieutenant supervised and moved from line to line behind us. He was an old fashioned officer. No way was he calling for help for a small brush fire.

We attacked from two directions, hoping to end the table tennis match with the fire. I kept pushing it away from the gas tank while Paulie knocked it down in the van again. He could tell the gas tank made me nervous. I knew they seldom caused problems, but they also weren’t typically exposed to fire for this long.

“Don’t worry kid. If that tank goes we’ll be frigging heroes, and we won’t feel a thing,” Paulie laughed.

It lightened the mood, which was his purpose. Slowly we got control, and with the coarse straight stream, were even able to put out the mag wheels.

Then came the drudgery; draining and re-racking the hose. The sun began to rise by the time we were done. Back at the station, I collapsed into my bunk for a half hour or so until the day shift crew came in. Just the routine noise they made ruled out further sleep. Good thing I was only twenty and didn’t require much rest.

Yeah, the colorful fall leaves are a wonderful thing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Common Sense

I read a great article recently by Jerry Knapp in Size Up (Issue 2, 2011) He is emphatic in his interest in firefighter safety, but argues quite persuasively--at least to me--that perhaps we have moved away from common sense, personal responsibility, and managing our people instead of expecting technology to do it.

He begins with a discussion of a New York state law requiring fire departments to purchase bail out bags for their firefighters if they handle buildings over one story (and who doesn't) high. This gets to the root of a politically incorrect opinion I have held for years; namely that many of the firefighter survivial classes are incorrectly focused primarily on techniques instead of something more important--situational awareness and size-up. Let's teach how to avoid getting into trouble in the first place rather than simply how to get out of it. As one who has done the head first ladder slide for real, I can tell you that if you have to do it to stay alive, it comes real natural.

Knapp's seat belt discussion is a good one as well. I full agree that seat belts make things safer. However, instead of coming up with workable user friendly designs, the apparatus instead now has bells, buzzers, and interlocks to make us use them. This raises a few issues. Not forcing the manufacturers to come up with something practical, they add costs (and profit) to pieces by the addition of bells and whistles. It also challenges some of our bright young firefighters to come up with ways to by-pass said safeguards; a lose-lose situation. Lastly it shows our difficulties in managing our own people and culture. As Jerry points out, if the Lieutenant in the seat turned around and made sure everyone was buckled in before the wheels turned, would we need a computer to tell us the rig shouldn't move? Will this change? Definitely, but it will take some time. An analogy would be the path taken to mandatory SCBA usage and the equipment we have today versus thirty years ago. I suspect some of our more "seasoned folks will nod their head at their memories of this.

While there is nothing more important than safety, common sense needs to come along for the ride.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Justice? I don't think so.....

As a teenager, riding the ambulanced educated me first hand to the ugly side of human nature. The baby's name was Bucky; one that I remember even though the call was thirty plus years ago. His little body was bruised, battered, and covered with cigarette burns. He stopped breathing on us a couple of times, but we got him going again, at least in the short term.

Bear, the guy driving that night, had all he could do not to punch the mother right in the face as she sat along side him for the run to the hospital. We knew what had happened to this kid and who had done it.

Bucky died the next die. We were told the parents got eighteen months; one for each of his. Didn't then and doesn't now seem like justice to me...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Country Mom's

The boy sat on the ground next to the barn, holding his injured arm. He had been directing his father, who was backing up a horse trailer, and somehow his arm had gotten caught between the trailer and the building. His dad quickly realized and pulled the vehicle forward, freeing him. They called for the ambulance, and being only a short distance away, I took a ride over.

The injuries didn't look serious. There was no laceration and no obvious deformity, and otherwise, the boy was in good shape. Naturally his mother was frantic.

"Is it broken?" She asked me.

"I don't know, Diane, I didn't bring my x-ray glasses with me," I joked trying to calm her and lighten the mood. "He needs to go down and get a few pictures taken. He's going to be fine."

"He's okay?" She looked for further reassurance.

"He's going to be fine," I answered.

She looked at him sitting there.

"Get up," she told him. The boy, his father, and I all looked at her quizically. She grabbed a nearby hose.

"Strip," she told him.

His dad and I tried to dissuade her, without success.

"He's been working with the pigs all day," she explained to all of us. "No son of mine is going to the hospital smelling like that. Strip," she told him again.

He did, right down to his boxers, and she hosed him down right there. His father and I could only grin at each other. Just a country mom.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Get in the boat!

The recent flooding in the northeast reminds us of a regular problem in such incidents; the refusal of some people to heed evacuation warnings. They wait until it is too late and then call 911, forcing emergency responders to risk their lives unnecessarily.

One story I've heard, and I'm sure the same or similar conversations were conducted hundreds of times this past week, went like this. A rescue boat pulls up to an isolated residence with a couple of occupants who ignored earlier evacuation orders.

Responder 1: You need to leave now. We're not sure we'll be able to get back in to get you if you don't.

Occupant 1: We'll be fine and you can't make us leave. (This is just one of the myriad responses, most dependent upon the blood alcohol content of the occupant.)

Responder 2 then hands Occupant 1 a pen.

Responder 2: Okay, then write your name and age on your arms.

Occupant 1 and 2 together: Why?

Responder 2. So we'll know who you are when we pull your bodies out after this is over.

The occupants got in the boat.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Country vs City

Roger R was a part time cop for the township, but a full time fire fighter, and later officer, in the City of Scranton. About 3:00 AM one weeknight early in his tenure as a cop, he called us out for a dumpster fire down from the Country Club.

I got up and muttered my way to the car, not particularly happy to be woken up for this. He was waiting when I arrived on scene.

“What’s going on, Roger?” I asked him when I got out of the car, ignoring the dumpster blazing away.

“The dumpster's on fire, Chief” he answered apparently dumbfounded I apparently hadn’t noticed the dumpster on fire in front of us. I could almost see his thoughts through his eyes. “Damn, these guys in the country aren’t too bright.”

“Let me explain a few facts of life to you, Roger” I proceeded calmly, still ignoring the dumpster. “You’re not in Scranton tonight. This is the country. This is how people get rid of their garbage out here. Don’t bother us with this shit again!” I raised my voice at the end.

He looked sorrowful. “We’ll put it out for you this time.“ I smiled so he wouldn’t think I was pissed, and a bit chagrined, he got back in his patrol car and went on his way.

He learned. We never got another call for a burning dumpster from Roger again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not Deja Vu All Over Again....Luckily.

In the aftermath of Irene, thoughts turn to an earlier storm. In June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes wreaked havoc throughout large portions of the northeast, including little old West Corners. Dad and the rest of the department worked for well over twenty four hours straight during and following the storm rescuing trapped people, pumping flooded cellars, and various other incidents.

The department had what looked like a pretty decent-sized boat; at least it looked decent before Agnes came. It was a V-hull with three rows of seats and an outboard motor. There was only one pond of any size in town and, on a normal day, the boat wouldn’t even float in Nanticoke Creek, which flowed through town. The boat was plenty big to serve the community.

When Agnes arrived, Nanticoke Creek didn’t stay small for long. It raged over its banks and flooded a big swath of the surrounding area, including a nearby trailer park, trapping a number of folks who had ignored evacuation orders.

Dad and the crew got the boat ready to launch. There was no problem floating it now; plenty of water was available. Not a strong swimmer, he was nervous, but he had a job to do. They got the boat in the water and started upstream. That’s when the trouble began. The boat and its motor were no match for the now rampaging creek. At full throttle, the boat would do little more than stand still. The boat would go cross stream, if angled properly to handle the current, so they adjusted.

There were no swift water rescue teams or Gumby suits then. Thick hemp ropes, hip boots, and waders were the primary tools to get these people out. Going cross current, they walked in to the stranded folks by holding onto the side of the boat operating cross current. Not a textbook maneuver, but it worked. Nobody died, but there were a whole lot of very tired firemen after that.

The boat? Well, shortly after the floods were over, a “For Sale” sign went up on it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Shaker Makes New Memories

It’s not often the east coast experiences an earthquake, 1897 by some accounts being the last one in the Virginia environs. The DC metro area including sections of Maryland and Virginia are used to major incidents, other than snow, an inch of which cripples the entire area. I waited an hour and a half before trying Mike to see how things were first hand. A fast busy was followed by a connected call, which surprised him as he couldn’t make calls at all, so busy were the circuits.

“Did you feel it?” I opened.

“Oh yeah, you could say that. I was riding the squad and we were on New Hampshire Avenue on an 8 inch high pressure gas main leak. “Montgomery County Squad 15 is a heavy rescue with a 32 ft. walk-in box, not a small rig.

“I was putting my airpack back in the bracket when the squad starting shaking. I thought somebody was screwing around in the back until I stood back and could see the whole thing moving.”

The officer was Fitz, a captain. “He came around the rig and yelled for everyone to get dressed again.” If the gas main ruptured, it could get interesting real fast.

Luckily it stayed quiet after that, Mike told me. I’m sure 5.8 is nothing to get excited about on the west coast, but it’s different back east. This will not rise to the level of where were you when Kennedy was shot or on 9/11, but a lot of people will remember it for a long time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Damn Those Were Good Cookies....

Sometimes the taste of the simplest foods brings memories shooting into my mind. In this case, it was nothing more than a slightly stale chocolate chip cookie.

The screams cut through us like a well honed knife, over and over. Peter and I were waiting for the Rescue and could do nothing but listen. It was early Sunday morning, and where the call placed the accident, I figured a car had gone into the ditch. I almost didn’t go, as it sounded like it would be a minor routine deal, and I had a bunch of plans that morning.

The young lady had definitely gone into the ditch. The car had then rolled and with her not wearing her seat belt, she had been partially ejected. Unfortunately, she had gone through the windshield and was now pinned by the car which was on its roof.

We were able to barely get to her to try to calm her a bit until the rescue got on scene, but that was all. It didn’t stop the screams. When the rescue arrived, we had the crew pull every stitch of cribbing off. The air bags were set up and we started to lift. Greenfield arrived and began to add their cribbing to the pile. We had to build multiple Lincoln Log towers with the 4 x 4 lumber, then lift again and build higher. The pile was decreasing a lot faster than it was increasing. It was taking a lumber yard to get this car up.

Slowly we began to get access. The mud and the proximity of the ditch were complicating factors, greatly adding to the amount of wood we had to use to maintain the stability of the vehicle.

With only a few precious pieces remaining, the car was finally high enough that we could slide her out, and onto a backboard. Her injuries were not severe but it took a while before we could get close enough to verify that. She was a lucky kid.

A couple of weeks later, a thank you note and a tin of home baked cookies arrived at the fire house from her. She was a pretty young girl, going to school and working part time. That she’d taken the time to bake those cookies to say thank you meant a lot to me and others. By the time I got one, they’d been there for a few days and were starting to get stale. Didn’t matter; damn those were good cookies.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


That the Probie was not a rocket scientist was apparent. Like all, he had to go through an initiation—hazing some would call it. Unlike most, he fell for everything they threw at him.

The water fountain was a case in point. A standard brown industrial model with a silver curved outlet and drain in the center of the bowl; identical to the type the kid had to have seen hundreds of times before in elementary school. The three guys working him over weren’t much past him chronologically. They were ages older experience wise, however.

“Don’t you know one of your jobs is to make sure this water fountain is full,” one of them told him.

“Jesus, you don’t want it to run dry,” said the second.

Unaware, the Captain walked out of his office and dumped the remnants of ice and water from a cup into the drain and turned back.

“Holy shit, you don’t want the Captain having to fill the thing for you do you?” said the third. The Captain pretended to hear nothing and with a slight shake of his head, returned to the stacks of paper work in his office, having seen this, or similar routines hundreds of times before.

From the look on the rookies face the three knew they had him hooked and proceeded to other tasks while watching the kid out of the corner of their eyes. Probie found the largest pot he could in the kitchen and proceeded to fill it with about five gallons of water. Lugging it over, he tipped the awkward vessel up to fill what he was convinced was the fountain reservoir. The drain, not sized to take more than the small stream from the quarter inch outlet, immediately overflowed, soaking the kid and the surrounding floor. The Captain walked out of his office, surveyed the wet floor and Probie, shook his head again, and returned to his office. The laughter from the three “older” firefighters was loud, but another lesson was learned, and tradition passed on.

Monday, July 25, 2011

RIP Ralph

We lost Ralph this past weekend, a shock due to the unexpectedness. I have to believe he's in a better place now, and will be playing golf every day while waiting for the New York Giants to take the field this fall.

I'm guessing there might be an ambulance up there, hopefully orange and white in color. It probably doesn't get much use, but that will be fine with Ralph; he spent more than his share of time running calls in one on this earth.

If there is an orange and white camper, as we used to call it, up there, he's staffing it with John, who we lost a few years back. Ralph and John were the Mutt and Jeff of ambulance officer's who could finish each others sentences and were inseparable.

Ralph's wonderful wife Pat asked for the picture of the three of us for his wake. She said it meant so much that it was in the book. It means a lot to me that she would think so but feels so very strange to look at it now as the last man standing.

RIP Ralph, you will be missed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Why?—a simple question firefighters should be asking more.

Why don’t we have more cost effective access to technology? From the time the first firefighter entered a burning building, visibility—seeing through smoke—has been an issue. Bulky hand held infrared cameras became the so-called solution. Heavy, costly, and typically limited in quantity, they gave one or two guys the clear knowledge of what’s around them while everyone else continues to do it the old fashioned way—blind. Why doesn’t every SCBA face piece have a head’s up display with an infrared picture?

We’ve known for around two hundred years that sprinklers are our best friend in controlling fires and yet they aren’t required in new construction in some states. One state—Pennsylvania—actually repealed their mandatory sprinkler law after a rabid lobbying campaign by the building construction boys. Why?

We continue to open roofs manually that we’ve reached with aerial ladders or platforms. How come there isn’t an automated device attached to the end of the stick that can quickly and safely open the roof, controlled by an operator on the ground or ladder. Why?

How come we train our people in artificial environments that bear about as much relation to real burning buildings as Congress does to a deliberative body? Ooops, I forgot. We used to train in real environments but can’t anymore. Nevermind.

Finally, do you, like me, wonder why the simple practice of painting a piece of equipment, that is used in hundreds of industries, the color red and putting the word “fire” in it’s name automatically increases the price three fold. Why?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Technology, a wonderful thing?

Technology can be a wonderful thing—sometimes. Twice in the last month, I’ve been able to watch video of fire ground operations, and see my son go in the door—exciting and heartwarming stuff—at least to me.

“Michelle, come see this, it’s great.” She stared silently at the computer screen, hearing the sirens from incoming apparatus, the breaking of glass in the building, the thump of ladders hitting the exterior walls. Music to my ears. Her face had a pinched look, lips drawn together.

“There’s Mike,” I pointed to a firefighter going in the doorway of the burning building. There was a narrowing of her eyes.

“Are you trying to make my acid reflux act up on purpose?” she asked.

“Why, this is just good solid work here—nothing out of the ordinary or exceptionally dangerous.”

I don’t want to know if that’s what he’s doing all the time, and I definitely don’t want to see. Look, there’s fire up there over his head where he just went in,” she said.

“That’s fine,” I said, “they’re getting it from the inside.”

“Thanks, I’ve seen enough. I don’t want to know.”

I remember my Mom used to enjoy seeing an occasional fire, until I joined. Then her reaction became similar to Michelle’s. I guess it’s a good thing YouTube didn’t exist when I was coming up……

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Few Blurbs For "Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family."

Just a few blurbs for the book..... From the first page, Ryman hits the nail on the head. He provides a riveting look at the fire service as whole and the evolution of the business over the last two decades. Every fire fighter should read this. Old ones to reminisce, young ones to appreciate where we came from.

Fred Bales, CFPS
Pennsylvania State Fire Instructor Past Chief, Greenfield Fire Company

This guy caught a lot of fire. "Fire Men" is a must-read around the firehouse or your house. Gary Ryman is a master storeyteller.

Tiger Schmittendorf Chief

I absolutely loved this book! It's full of adventure and suspense and family and friends and wrapping it all up with a great big bow is the complete dedication these firefighters have. They truly are a breed apart and this book gives us a look into their extordinary lives. What a teriffic read!

Hildy Morgan Executive Director, Wyoming County Cultural Center at the Dietrich Theater

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Release Date

Well, I've signed the contract and we're getting closer. I've been quite negligent regarding posting here, but do have good news. My book, now titled Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family will be released on May 1st by Tribute books. The last many months have been filled with editing and the selection of pictures. Now, everything on my end is done. April will be a long month of waiting.........