Friday, December 12, 2014

The Hidden Button

The young couple lived in the house a week, a month, perhaps a year or more before making the mysterious discovery.  Inside the closet door in the master bedroom, carefully concealed, was a white circular button in a black vertical frame.  It was inside the right door where a knowing hand could reach around the casing and push it without looking.   

“Maybe it opens a hidden door to a secret room,” the woman said.  The man rolled his eyes.   

“Better would be a secret compartment filled with cash,” the man said. (Dream on, kids) 

“I’ve read about those secret safe rooms.  Wouldn’t that be cool?”  The woman watched a lot of television.   

“Maybe it sounded a buzzer in the kitchen for the wife to bring the husband a beer,” the man grinned.  
“You can dream on,” his wife said.   

The real function was far more mundane but no less crazy.  I told Dad I could hear this dialogue in my mind; the future owners of his house having this conversation in the years to come when they discovered his button.  To them, the button would likely remain a mystery forever, discussed on occasion when a new theory for the whodunit arose.  

The button, an old fashioned door bell was connected to the garage door opener for Dad’s car.  Not willing to wait the five seconds, maybe, for the door to go up once he reached the garage when responding to a fire, he installed it when the house was built.   When the Plectron went off (remember those?) he would reach into the closet as he finished dressing, hand knowing the way, and push the button.  By the time he reached the garage, the door was fully open.  Speed and efficiency out of the house didn’t happen by accident.   

“Maybe it was a panic or emergency alarm, like the buttons in a bank,” the woman would say, the mystery continuing.  

“I still like the beer idea,” the man would offer.  

“I told you, dream on.” 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Signing Event Next Saturday

I'll be signing copies of Mayday! Firefighter Down and Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family on Saturday, November 15th from 2-8PM at Maiolatesi Wine Cellars

Stop by the winery at 32 Cabernet Drive, Scott Township, PA 18447 for a great time. Wine, music, light snacks, and books! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Now Available for Pre-Order...Mayday! Firefighter Down

My new novel Mayday! Firefighter Down is now available for pre-order on the publisher's website. It should be out on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in a few weeks. 

Mayday! Firefighter Down

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Coming soon...Mayday! Firefighter Down

My new novel due for release this fall. 
Mayday! Firefighter Down is a great read in the genre of Dennis Smith’s Steely Blue and shouldn’t be missed. Ryman kept the firefighter in me interested and the writer in me waiting to see what happens next. 
Deputy Chief Michael “Mick” Mayers
Ryman hits one out of the park…. In Mayday! Firefighter Down you will see life though a firefighters eyes, but with a new twist. From the first dispatch, to the jaw dropping ending (or is it), Ryman takes you on a thrilling journey as a Truck Officer in a busy fire station, plagued by an arsonist.  Mayday! Firefighter Down is a compelling read; once you start you won’t want to put it down!
Fred Bales, CFPS, CFI
PA Senior Fire/Public Safety Instructor
“Chief Gary Ryman’s latest book, Mayday! Firefighter Down is an incredible read.  Ryman has blended just about all of the elements of a great American novel into this one including; Mystery, Murder, Greed, a sexy love story and Great Fire Fighting Action.  Once I started this book, it was difficult putting it down.  Gary has captured the essence of what a firefighter does in a twenty-four hour shift, better than just about any other….  The reality is non-fire service folks will be able to understand what we do, without losing the interest of the Firehouse Jake’s and Firehouse Jane's that take this amazing journey in Mayday! Firefighter Down.  I believe Gary has a best seller on his hands and maybe a Hollywood script for a fire rescue drama….  This book should be required reading for all aspiring and new fire fighters”.  
Chief Dennis Rubin

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: More Advice for the New Fire Officer

Comfort zones are a wonderful thing.  Avoid yours.  One of the most important, and difficult, things to do is get avoid simple acceptance of the status quo.  “We’ve always done it that way” are some of the most dangerous words out there.  On the flip side of the coin, change simply for its own sake, can be just as problematic.  The newest, latest, greatest, hottest change in tactics, tools, or techniques, isn’t always.   

Always what?  Well it’s not always great, or in some cases, actually new.  Recycling old ideas or techniques with new names and calling it progress has been part of the culture for a long time. 

So what is a new fire officer (or any fire officer for that matter) to do?  How about this for a radical idea—think.   

Think for yourself.  Don’t blindly accept either the status quo or the latest greatest.  Examine both with a high degree of rigor.  I’m not suggesting blatant disregard of standard operating procedures, whether existing or new, but there’s nothing wrong with looking at them critically.   

Challenge yourself.  Specifically select articles, blogs, and authors to read with whom you inherently disagree, and then try to read them with an open mind.  Evaluate their arguments dispassionately.   Look behind the data.  How was it developed?  Was the methodology valid or do you perceive flaws?  
They may not change your mind, but you will better understand the arguments others are making on a particular topic.  Reading in this way also opens you up to the possibility that in some cases, you might need to acknowledge your own pre-conceived notions may not be correct. 

Try to find a few fellow officers, peers and superiors, with whom you can have a wide ranging, non-judgmental dialogue on fire service issues.  A few adult beverages (the operative word being few) can sometimes help lubricate these discussions.  The response “that’s #($*& stupid and so are you,” is not the type of conversation you are shooting for.  An open and respectful debate can sharpen thought processes, expose unanticipated flaws in policies and procedures, and overall, be valuable for all participants.   

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out; all of this is easier said than done.  Comfort zones are called that for a reason.  They’re nice enjoyable places to stay where you don’t have to think.  Critical thinking in this manner is one of the most important tools of the fire officer and leader.  Get out of your comfort zone and try it. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Upcoming Novel Mayday! Firefighter Down

More announcements in the upcoming months, is the first shot of the cover of my new book the novel "Mayday! Firefighter Down" tentatively scheduled for release by October of this year. The publisher is thrilled and excited with the work they did on the cover, and I agree with them. Can't wait to hold the first copy in my hands.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Great New 5 Star Review for "Fire Men."

"Strike the box" is a term from the not too-distant past, used when fire fighters arrived at the scene of a reported car fire only to discover that it's a house that' on fire, and a full "box assignment" of three engines and a ladder truck is needed. Well, not only did Mr. Ryman strike the box of my expectations when I began reading "Fire Men," he went right to the second, third and fourth alarms.

Mr. Ryman begins his series of tales by putting the reader into a comfortable bed, only to jar them awake with a blaring alarm, getting them hurriedly attired in turn-out gear, and inside a house that's on fire--only to amp it up when a backdraft threatens his life and that of an already horribly-burned colleague. And I was right there alongside him, not only because of his powerful narrative voice but also because I've been there--as a fire fighter during the 1970s I was caught in a backdraft almost identical to the one Mr. Ryman describes, and I can say with a certain degree of authority that Ryman ain't lyin' about what it was like for him inside that inferno.

"Fire Men" has a tactile feel to it. As I read the various tales he tells I could smell the smoke, feel the leather helmet on my head, could hear the shrill screams of the mechanical 'Federal Q' sirens and the stutters of the air horns. I also felt the fire's heat along with the fear. Mr. Ryman begins with a literal bang and then falls into a series of random stories - and that was what he should've done, because it evokes what being a fire fighter is all about . . . of boredom one moment, empathy for the dead in the next, followed by sheer terror when all around it seems that everything is coming down upon your head.

"Fire Men - Stories from Three Generations of a Fire Fighting Family" is a well-crafted book that kept me turning the pages all the way until I reached its very satisfying ending. Buy it, read it and above all, hang-on as you ride the roller-coaster ride that "Fire Men" is.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Origin of the Maltese Cross

Although many fire department tools and symbols still in use have historical origins, the Maltese Cross goes back a bit further than most.  Around 1113 AD, a Benedictine Monk founded the Order of Knights Hospitaller, subsequently known as the Knights of St. John.   

Originally a charitable organization, the Knights were drawn into battle to defend their city against attacking Saracens.  The Saracens hurled containers filled with flammable liquids onto the defenders, followed by flaming torches.  The Knights were flamboyant in dress, wearing crimson capes over their armor.  The knights rode among their burning brethren, using their capes to extinguish the fires, demonstrating courage and gallantry. 

As a reward, the Knights were given the Island of Malta and the eight pointed symbol became known as the Maltese Cross, one of valor and protection.  Regularly used on badges, patches, and apparatus, the nearly thousand year old emblem has a lineage of honor. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

The most important six inches on the fire ground...

General James Mattis, USMC (Ret.) would have made one hell of a fire chief if he had so chosen.  Revered by fighters from private to four stars and probably disliked as much by those less aggressive, the forty-one year veteran was a lead from the front commander who went out with patrols and got blood on his boots as a General.  His radio sign—“Chaos.”  His command philosophies included sincere concern for those he was tasked to protect and liberate and a consummate scorn for our countries enemies.

Highly quotable, many of his pronouncements in the area of leadership and others are applicable to the fire service.  With just a few paraphrasing liberties, here are some of my favorites. 
“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure.  I cannot even spell the word.” 
“Fight with a happy heart and a strong spirit.”
“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts.  If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.” 
“Powerpoint makes us stupid.” 
And if you remember none of the others, keep in mind the most valuable one.
“The most important six inches on the [fire ground] is between…your ears.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

From the Hayloft to the Horses: The Birth of the Fire Pole

Getting out of the station fast and first isn’t a new or even recent interest for firefighters.  It’s something the brethren have worked on for over a century.  In the 1800s, multi-floor stations were the rule rather than the exception; a necessary configuration in the days of the horses.  Fast and effective methods for harnessing the teams, almost as quick as firing a diesel engine, had been developed.   

A hitch in the process of getting out the door as fast as possible remained, some thought. Getting from the bunkroom on an upper floor to the apparatus was slowed by the common use of circular stairs which were in place to keep the horses from trying to leave the first floor. 

At Engine 21 in Chicago, Captain David Kenyon saw one of his firefighters slide a wooden binding pole, typically used on a hay wagon during transport, which had been temporarily stored vertically in the loading area of the hayloft, when a call was received while he was working in the third floor loft.  Recognizing a great idea when he saw it, Captain Kenyon arranged for a hole from the second floor bunk room to the apparatus floor, and the crew took a Georgia pine beam and rounded and sanded it to 3 inch diameter.  Varnished and coated with paraffin wax, it was ready for service. 

Firefighters at the other stations laughed until they saw Engine 21beating them to fires, and eventually the Chief decided to have poles installed in all Chicago stations.  In 1880, the Boston Fire Department installed the first brass pole, which became the standard going forward.  

The poles became part of fire department heritage, memorialized on television and in movies—think Batman and Ghostbusters.  Now gone from most stations, another of the classic era trappings fading from use, the pole remains a memory of an important period which will hopefully not be forgotten.   

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Arson: It ain't like it used to be...

Arson is considered by most, and particularly firefighters, to be a serious crime. Pennsylvania treats it as a first degree felony.  Federal sentencing guidelines call for as little as five years in prison.  States vary, but things were a bit different in the old days.   

Here in my area, just a generation ago, but long enough for the statute of limitations to expire, a local fire chief was reliably rumored to have taken a fire setter back behind the station and administered an “attitude adjustment” to the offender which was probably more painful than what the judge ultimately meted out.  If our current crop of politicians believe laws and punishment for arson are stringent today, they are not students of history.  The first such law in Pennsylvania was passed in 1700, and stated “Whosover shall be convicted of willfully firing another man’s house, warehouse, outhouse, barn, or stable, shall forfeit his or her own estate to the party suffering, and be imprisoned all their lives in the House of Correction at hard labor to the behoof of the said party suffering.”  Apparently life with hard labor wasn’t a sufficient punishment as in 1718, the penalty was increased to death, and in 1767, they took away the condemned’s access to a clergyman before execution.  
As tough as the old Pennsylvanians were, they had nothing on the Babylonians in the days of Hammurabi, around 2000 BC.  “If in a man’s house, a fire has been kindled, and a man who has come to extinguish the fire has lifted up his eyes to the property of the house, and has taken the property of the owner of the house, that man shall be thrown into that fire.”  In both Japan and early Edwardian England, the older Babylonian concepts were continued; the penalty for incendiarism being death by fire, a rather poetic form of justice.  
While societal norms and our jurisprudence have evolved over time, most can probably think of a few incidents where we wouldn’t have minded taking a fire setter on a Marty McFly time travel journey back to meet one the judges from these time periods.  So if anyone knows where to find an old DeLorean….

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Birth of a Legend: The Snorkel

The once common Snorkel long ago became the fire service “Xerox” of articulating platforms.  If it bent in the middle, that’s what it was called.  One normally thinks of design, particularly of something as complex as aerial fire apparatus, as a long process involving engineering calculations and the development of sophisticated plans.  Didn’t happen that way… 

Back in 1958, Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn borrowed a tree trimming truck with a 50 ft. articulating boom and platform and attached a monitor nozzle to the basket.  A three inch hose line was strapped to the booms to feed it, and a new piece of firefighting apparatus was born.  Load and stability testing was done on the tree trimmer, and when found to work, the rig was painted red and placed in service.  Known in the “Windy City” as “Quinn’s Snorkel,” reputedly because the firefighter’s got so wet in the bucket and thought it resembled the diving device—I don’t see the resemblance myself—the name stuck.  

The original tree trimming truck was built by the Missouri based Pitman Manufacturing Company.  In 1959, a stockholder by the name of Art Moore acquired the Snorkel product line and established the Snorkel Fire Equipment Company.  
The first Snorkel was retired in 1968, and subsequently acquired by the Snorkel Company and restored at their St. Joseph, Missouri manufacturing facility.  While less common elsewhere, snorkel type apparatus remains in service in Chicago to this day. 
The author flying a circa 1970 American LaFrance "Aero-Chief" articulating platform in the early 1980s.

A great look back.