Monday, January 26, 2009

The Mailbox Massacre and The Knob

All I can say is.....thank god it wasn't me (this time).

Our usual drill night arrived, although I wasn't sure I was going to go...I'd been sick most of the day, but we got toned out about an hour before drill for an overturned bicyclist in a ravine...., and I figured if I could respond to that, I could drag my butt to drill.

The first half hour of drill was a repeat of what I like to call "The Chinese Fire Drill"---essentially, our chief sends everyone out on all three rigs, and everyone practices their driving skills. We ride around the village practicing turns and trying not to run down small children, and then meet up at a designated spot and everyone switches rigs (Hence the Chinese Fire Drill----we haven't left anyone standing on the side of the road yet, but it's only a matter of time...)

--I did my gig behind the wheel, managed not to make an ass of myself or hit anyone, and pulled over to switch out with another "newbie".....I plopped down in my exterior jump seat (WHY it doesn't have a seatbelt is beyond me, but that's coming up in my next conversation with the chief) and decided to kick back and enjoy the ride and the opportunity to zone out and not think for a little while.

We head down a street that has a cul-de-sac turnaound at the end of it....the driver makes the first part of the circle turn uneventfully...doesn't seem to be cranking the wheel hard enough.....and I sit up a little bit straighter in my seat.

Now I'm nervously eyeballing the line of six mailboxes anchored into posts on the interior of the circle---and the side of the engine seems to be cutting it pretty close......and then CRASH!!!! (scrape, grind, crumple, crumple,, crash.....) ---and the rig shudders to a halt.

The entire line of mailboxes is now half upright, half jammed up against the side of the rig.I hear one of the senior guys in the compartment say the understatement of the year....."Uh oh".

I jump down to assess the damage.....everyone else piles out and we all stand there looking at each other thinking...."how fast can we fix this before any of the homeowners figure out what's going on?" ---Mike pulls the rig forward (which now has a very nice scrape running the length of it) ---we grab the sledge out of the side compartment and the cordless screw driver.....and with two of us playing lookout for the neighbors....start hammering the posts back into the ground and screwing the boxes back onto the posts.

Then we hauled ass out of there. The mailboxes looked ALMOST the same as they did before we slaughtered them.We get back from our relaxing drive through the countryside, and Chief has decided we're going to do an outside live burn. I'm still pretty new to the SCBA, but I'm more comfortable getting it on (properly)....As we head into the back burn area of our department, Glenn yells over to me "get your pack on" ---so I gear up and get off the rig.

There's a decently sized bonfire burning merrily away (s'mores anyone?) and now all the newbies (including yours truly) are standing around it waiting for some direction. And its pretty warm......and I'm starting to perspire a little bit.....And now a bead of sweat is working its way from my forehead to the tip of my nose.......and it's starting to bug me a little bit.

I instinctively swat the nose area of my face to stop the annoying tickle....only to realize that my mask is in the way....and I can't do a damned thing about it. The mildly annoying tickle is now driving me half out of my mind......and other rolling beads of sweat have decided to join the party on my face......I might have ripped my mask off right then and there to get some relief.....but at that point the fire has burned down enough to suit the boss, and he walks over to me and says "I want you to get on the knob".I blink at him.....he looks at me waiting confirmation.....I blink again and say......"I'm want me to do what on the what???" .....He replies....."get on the knob....take the nozzle on the hose" I get it..........

I get comfortable "on the knob" (ok, I'll admit it here, I'm ALWAYS going to smirk when I hear that) and work on putting out the fire, and do a decent job of partner blew through his air tank so I passed off the hose and we went to start changing out bottles and cleaning up.

Damage report for the night......a couple of mailboxes and a newbie's pride(and a huge amount of relief on my part that I wasn't the one behind the wheel....because we all know if anyone besides that kid was going to trash something with the was probably going to be me.....)But the upside...... I LOVE DOING THIS JOB!!!!

Next week? Trench Rescue!!! (this ought to be interesting...)

Stay safe, buckle up, and until next time...

Private Benjamin

First, if I have to explain who Private Benjamin is, you're clearly up past your bed time....move along and find something else to read, because no explanation is forthcoming.

The drill du jour (is it wrong that Tuesday nights are fast becoming my favorite night of the week?) this week was not really a drill per se; we had a company rep come in and demo the Holy Grail of SCBA's. The MSA (may we have a moment of reverent silence for the MSA) is, to my inexperienced eyes, the Cadillac of air packs. This thing does everything but make julienned fries.

I tried it on with the mask and couldn't believe the difference between it and our Scott packs. It's like comparing a Yugo to a Porsche. Holy comfortable Batman.....and then you have the air regulator, which slides into a notched area off the bottom of the mask and hangs there until you need it, then you just flip it up and it snaps right in.The fumble factor has been reduced to sits on your lower back/hips, so no more shoulder strain, and the mask doesn't fog....ever. Here's what I thought was the coolest part--you can cross fill an air tank....and then walk buddy breathing required. Oh, and when you're changing the bottles? You basically can just drop/slam it into the threading gyrations trying to find the clip.

Then we got the price tag and after the black spots dancing in front of our eyes replaced the gleam of avarice...we all smiled politely and put everything back the way we found it.

Maybe if we win the lottery.

On a major positive....our department is going back to Cairns helmets.

Right, so after Mr. MSA clears out, we move on night. I know that every drill night isn't going to be something practical, or fun, or neccessarily useful....and I'm a bit of a clean freak, so normally I dive right in, but they brought us outside to ......The Pod. Have I mentioned in previous posts that I have spider issues?

The Pod is a storage container out back of our department that hasn't been cleaned/straightened out since before the invention of the wheel. It started out as a semi-fun treasure hunt: "Look! I just found the front wheel to a motorcycle!!" But then we started hauling out all the boxes to move a rack and that's when the eight-legged denizens of the Pod went on the move. EVERY single slightly sodden box I picked up dislodged a herd of arachnids....and these filthy buggers were BIG...and they were FAST.

I managed to repress my initial urge to run screaming into the night.....until one of my fellow members sidled up to me and said softly.."I don't want to freak you out, but don't move.......ok?" The blood ran cold in my veins and my breathing halted....."What is it.....ohpleasegoddon'ttellmeIhaveaspideronme" .

My arms were full of two cases of antiquated souvenir mugs from the 1994 convention.....he says....."I can't get it, it's kind of buried in your hair". I froze.....and then (either real or imagined) felt it working its way toward my scalp.

I screamed at an audio level that only dogs could hear.....the two cases of mugs hit the dirt (astonishingly enough, only one broke) and I leapt approximately four feet in a straight vertical jump....this was followed by the requisite flailing at my hair and begging the question "is it out? is it out? is it out?"

One hour of our line officers smirks at me and says....."I think we finally found your nickname.....Spider" .

Friday, January 16, 2009

Throwing Ladders

I ambled into drill tonight fully expecting yet another evening of videotapes or chalk and talk.Noticing that the projector and a/v system wasn't set up, I inquired "What are we doing tonight?"...The 1st Asst. Chief grinned at me...."Hope you're feeling limber, we're playing with ladders and hoses tonight"


Here's the gig....I have what I like to call a "situational" fear of heights. There are certain circumstances that inspire that ooogy feeling, and others that, inexplicably, do not. To the casual observer, there's not much to differentiate between the two, but as I've tried to explain...If I think that there's a chance I might accidentally fall, and it's an open exposed setting, it's not a happy place for me.On the flip side, I have no problem standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, or, when the World Trade Center was still standing, leaning forward and resting my forehead against the floor to ceiling windows of Wild Blue and looking down the gap between the window and wall all 110 stories to the ground.

To further elaborate....roller coasters...indoors, in the dark? (Rock N Roller Coaster)...can't get enough, can ride it ten times in a problem. Superman at Six Flags New England?Not in this lifetime, sucker. I'd refuse to ride that thing at gunpoint. My hands are getting sweaty right now just thinking about it. Obviously bungee jumping is right out.

Having not scaled too many ladders in my lifetime....I simply had no idea how I'd feel about it until I got up there. But I'm getting ahead of myself......Drill Step 1.) They took all the newbies and never-ever drivers out in our apparatus (what's the singular of apparatus, is it apparati?) with the line officers to get a feel for driving the big rigs.LOVED IT. I could drive that thing all the live-long day....and I'm good at it. Driving is an instinctual talent for me; I'm not rattled by the size of the vehicle.

Four newbies...three rigs.....rotating off on three vehicles every ten grinning like the village idiot the entire time; "Can I play with the lights? What does this do? What happens if I push THAT....What's this dial for?" --you get the picture.....holy annoying Batman. My captain has the patience of Job.

Drill Step 2.) Ladders. We drive the apparatus up to the training buildings...and we start with the single story flat-roofed burn building. After a brief explanation of what type of ladders are used, and for what purpose....we run drills on pulling and throwing. "Well, ok...this isn't too bad" I thought to myself.Ladders, as my friend Kenzi has told me so often, are heavier than they appear. "Let me just grab this end and JESUS MURPHY that's heavy".....

Now we have multiple ladders in position, and it's time to cut bait or fish. My sole fellow female recruit takes one look and says "nope, not doing it". I see the looks going around the group and realize that if nothing else, I'm going to take a whack at it, because as I've said so often, it's the rare occasion that I back down from a challenge; personal or otherwise.

First things first is the leg lock on the ladder. Not anywhere as easy as it looks. After contorting myself like Houdini I finally manage to hook my foot back through the ladder rung (Keep in mind that this is the same foot that took the beating falling off the treadmill two days ago...that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.)--finally accomplish that, and it's time to climb or step off.I choose to climb.

What in the name of all the tea in China was I so worried about????? This is NOTHING. This is CAKE. This is....can it be? Why yes, I do believe it can be.....FUN!!!! I'm absolutely astonished (not quite as astonished as I was at reading about our Governor's hijinks with the Emperor's prostitution ring ---oh Elliot....we clearly never knew ye) at how little impact this is having on me. I step onto the roof and look down, feeling like I've crossed some invisible "acceptance" line within the department.

Oh wait, I still have to get down......hand plant, foot plant, swing my hips around....second foot plant...second hand plant.....what the hell.....this is NOTHING.....I'm INVINCIBLE........ ;) (and I'm in full turnout with SCBA by the way).Hooray!!! Maybe I actually CAN be a firefighter!!

I believed, way down deep inside, packed away with all of my other hidden insecurities, that maybe heights and ladders were going to be my Waterloo. I crossed the Rubicon and felt a wave of something....belonging? .....fate?......dunno. But I felt like I belonged.

We repeated the exercise on the training tower to the third problem.

I'm elated.....I'm a fire geek........and I've found a home.

Rolling hose? Not loving that so much.Until next time........

My First Night Call

I'm not a morning person.

I never have been, I never will be. I like to roam with the creatures of the night.

Fact of the matter is that I do my best thinking,writing, meditating and brainstorming in the very wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately for me (or for my coworkers depending on your perspective) my nocturnal habits don't mesh so well with my work schedule.

In order to arrive at my desk on time ( I use airline schedules when I state that I was "on time"--that gives me about an hour's leeway), I need to be up (meaning vertical), showered, dressed and out the door by 7:25 a.m.If you've never met me, you may not be aware that I have a lot of hair. I mean a LOT of hair. It's on the longish side, and it's thicker than a McDonald's milkshake. It takes me at minimum 20 minutes with a professional strength blow-dryer to get all the moisture out. I COULD go to work with my hair wet, or damp, but I don't want to frighten old ladies, dogs and small children with my Roseanne Rosannadanna coiffure.

This means that I have to drag my sorry butt out of my comfy bed at 6:00 am, (snooze button) 6:10 a.m. (snooze button) 6:20 a.m. (ok, one foot's on the floor) 6:30 a.m. (SHIT!!! I'm late!! --mad dash for the shower). I don't enjoy this morning ritual, but I can't seem to go from alarm buzzer to bathroom in one easy step.

The POINT of all this is that I don't wake gracefully if woken early (there's an exception to this rule, but it's not for public consumption). In high school my friends would call and if still abed and my parents volunteered to rouse me, the usual response was "NO!!, for the love of humanity, don't wake her!!"

So I went to bed last night fairly early and conked out quickly, which is an anamoly. My pager, the volume of which is set on "stun", went off at approximately 1:00 a.m.This is how it went down:"DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE!!!!"Wha? WTF?? My eyes pop open, heart slamming in my ribcage....holy crap, those are MY tones....make wild grab for light switch behind my bed, knocking over said lamp and breaking it in the process. Right the lamp and turn it on, make valiant effort to leap out of bed in a single bound.My adrenaline fueled legs become hopelessly entangled in the sheets and comforter, which my brain does not acknowledge (my brain is still on a beach in Hawaii getting a well-oiled rubdown) and I vault into a "half-pike with a full twist" face -plant onto my bedroom floor, trailing the twisted remains of my bedding behind me.

I've now spent a full 60 seconds extricating myself from my Venus Flytrap bed, and realize I've blown any chance of putting on Big Girl clothing, so I jam my slippers on my feet (can't find my shoes) and grab my pager, keys and coat and gallop down the stairs (waking all my neighbors en route no doubt) in my nighttime regalia (colorful jammie pants and wifebeater tee)...I hop in my car like Burt Reynolds in a Smoky and the Bandit movie (PUT ON MY SEATBELT) and screech off up the road to the department.

At this juncture approximately three minutes has elapsed, I haven't blinked yet, and I don't remember exhaling. I pull in ahead of a couple of other members, we all dash to the bay and begin the Turnout Chinese Fire Drill. As we're running to the truck, we get the announcment--false auto alarm, business owner on site and calling off the alarm.

Dejected, I put my gear back, sign in on the sheet, say my good nights and head home.Swell, it's now 1:30 and I am WIDE AWAKE....I've had a nap and an adrenaline surge, and I'm ready to take on King Kong....but I have to be up in 4.5 hours.One hour of restless channel flipping and pacing later, I force myself to lie down and count backward from one million (and somewhere in the dark recesses of my twisted brain, I'm hoping that the tones drop again since I'm already awake).

Until next time....

The Rookie Turnout Throwdown

Also known as “Mel’s Big Humiliating Day”.

We had an OSHA refresher class at my department today. We had great attendance and two other departments were also invited.The morning started out innocently enough; we covered our SOP’s and the newly mandated Rehab Standard, then moved on to Blood borne pathogens, and finished up the chalk and talk portion with an overview of PPE and SCBA’s.

The OFPC officer then announced that we would be heading out to the apparatus bay to practice donning and doffing our turnouts and to get a little more hands-on with the SCBA’s.Someone in my department then piped up from the back of the crowd…”Hey, let’s have a little contest with donning the turnouts” (mental note to self---find that guy…and kill him) …and I started to sweat. I can get everything on in the proper order, that’s not an issue. However, SPEED is still a major sticking point for me.

We all pull all of our gear out and place it on the ground in front of us. Then I see the Asst. Chief from my department and the Chief from one of the visiting departments in some sort of confab with the OFPC officer and all three are grinning and looking at me and two fellow newbies. “This can only end badly” I thought to myself.

The visiting Chief then spoke the dreaded words…..“Folks, we’ve decided to shake things up a little bit. Since our hosts have three new recruits, and our department has three new recruits, we’re going to have a Rookie vs. Rookie Turnout Contest. We’ll be timing them for proper attire, individual best time, and overall team time”.

They cleared the floor like it was some sort of twisted American Bandstand spotlight dance contest, and lined us up facing each other. The firefighter I was facing looked like he was 15…..and he grinned at me as if to say….”Sayonara Sister, I’m going to bury you”. I began chanting (in my head, I was already going to look like an idiot, no need to look like I was Looney-tunes on top of it) “boots, pants, suspenders, hood, coat, helmet, gloves….no problem….boots, pants, suspenders, hood, coat, helmet, gloves….I’m screwed….boots, pants……”.

A hush fell over the assembled crowd….the OFPC officer stood in the middle between the two lines, and started a 10 second countdown to begin.Boots, no problem……Pants (and snaps), no problem……..suspenders up and hood on….I’m cooking now and still on par with my teenaged nemesis across the way……..coat…..damn it… hands are shaking and I’m having trouble with the snaps…….I start sweating profusely……..AARGHHH…..I lined up the snaps wrong………damn it……..The Junior Mint is almost done…….then I start hearing “done!”….”done!”…….crap…….ok, got the snaps straightened out….now I have to hook the clips……..please God, I’ll be a nicer person if you just get me out of this without making a complete ass out of myself…….FINALLY, the clips are hooked, helmet on, dragging on the gloves as my team yells “done” almost as one, but I’m pretty sure I was dead last.

The Rookie Throwdown turned out to be a Rookie SMACKdown. At least I had my gear on right.If there’s one thing that’s more certain than death and taxes, it’s that I’m going to be marching myself down to my department to practice those damned snaps until I can do it in my sleep and in nano-seconds. In the dark. Blindfolded. With gloves on.

I did pick up one small tip…..grab that hood and jam it on while you’re down there grabbing your pants and suspenders.I suppose in fairness, and in a feeble attempt to save face, that I mention that our visiting department’s turnout coats feature zippers and Velcro, not a row of snaps and a row of clips. My theory is that if I can shave my time down with snaps and clips, when it comes time to add the SCBA, I should do significantly better time-wise. Right? Right?????

Until next time…stay safe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Unused Resources, Lost Opportunities

I’ve been struggling with something for a bit, and decided rather than trying to be politically correct, or trying to avoid sounding like I’m giving a good friend a shameless plug…..I’m going to give a good friend a shameless plug for all the right reasons, and if you don’t like it…..too bad; Freedom of Speech and all that.

Have you been to ? No? Why not? If you weren’t aware of the existence of the site, I’ll give you a free pass, providing you march yourself over there to check it out. Do it today.

If you know about the site, but haven’t checked it out, then I’m going to assume that you and your fire department or ambulance squad or firematic organization have none of the following issues:

  • Recruitment---got all the volunteers you can handle? Are you drowning in new recruits? Are you drawing younger members by the dozens?
  • Retention: --are your drill nights attended by 90% of your members? When the automatic alarm call comes, are you fighting off eager firefighters or dragging them off the truck based on seniority? Do your members show up in droves when you have a (pick one) car wash, blood drive, pasta dinner, equipment fundraiser etc. And are they all there for setup, event management and breakdown/cleanup? Or is it more like my department, where the same 8-10 people show up for everything but you don't see the others until you get an "exciting" call?
  • Funding: --Don’t need more cash? All your members are properly outfitted (leather boots for everyone….hooray!!!) , you’re all driving in brand new or late model apparatus, you have a rescue boat, rescue snowmobile, brush truck and you have plenty of dough to keep the lights and heat on? You’ve never applied for a grant or thought about it because you have more funds than you’ll ever need?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.See, there’s a member on who has dedicated years of his life to helping out ailing departments. Tiger Schmittendorf ( has almost 30 years of fire service experience coupled with a career background in sales, marketing and public relations. He has the expertise, unique fresh approach and brains to back up his promises.

Are Tiger’s services free? No. He’s an educator and leader, not a privately funded philanthropist, but he does deliver.

Show me the money you say?Sure, not a problem—Here are just a few of the grants that he wrote and obtained for some folks who decided they needed his help:

  • $1,000,000 - Wrote narrative that helped eight (8) local fire departments secure grant awards for interoperable communications systems as member agencies of a communications coalition in Erie County
  • $275,000 - Department of Homeland Security SAFER Grant to cover advertising campaign, tuition scholarships and training reimbursements to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters for the Doyle Hose Co. #1 Volunteer Fire Company

And that’s just a sampling.If you are experiencing any of the difficulties that most departments are now facing with budget cuts and reduced staffing, then do yourself a favor and go to , contact him and ask him what he thinks.

It’s not going to cost you a dime to check out his info and initiate a conversation.

I think you’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Continuing Chronicles of the FNG(irl): My First Drill

Driving snow? Check.
Visibility Zero? Check.
Icy Roads? Check.
Arctic Temperatures? Check.

Drill Night Game Plan...tapping hydrants in the village? Check....brrrrrrrrrrrr........

"Drop your ____ and grab your socks newbies....we're going out to practice tapping hydrants....right've got two minutes to get your turnouts on"....And thus began my first drill night.

Trial by fire? Yup. Worth it? Oh hell yup. Did I love it? YES!!!

There must be something wrong with me.

Am now on a first name basis with the spanner wrenches, and have figured out the fastest way off the truck and WHY wrapping the hose around the base of the hydrant is so important.

I would, however, like to talk about rolling hose....this is about as much fun as a root canal. And we rolled a LOT of hose tonight. I can see me having a love/hate relationship with the hose.

The Continuing Chronicles of the FNG(irl): The Swearing-In

It was a little daunting for me at first, because I was being sworn in at the monthly business meeting, and other than the chief, didn't really know too many others, and the room (apparatus bay) was PACKED to the rafters with the members.

Here's what I can tell you about my department....everyone is named Frank, Bill or Ernie. I figure I have a 35% chance of getting it right. Oh, and I'm old enough to be my Lieutenant's mother. They also take their Sunshine Fund 50/50 raffle very seriously. :) I made a crack about robbing the pot and got the glare of death from the guy going around the room with it. Lesson learned.

They conducted the business meeting first (the entire meeting was held in the bay due to the department being used as a voting location), which was completely incomprehensible because of the background racket. I sat with the other new recruits and couple of seasoned ex-officers.... they certainly do like their beer in that neck of the woods.....

Finally we were called up to be officially brought into the department...we were handed a sheet of paper with the oath, and the first sentence read..."I, (state your name) do solemnly swear...." and I stifled a giggle, because all I could think about was that scene from Animal House. Then the other female recruit leaned over and said quietly, as order was being called, "I'll give you a dollar if you say it" ....and I nearly lost it.

Next stop was dinner (thank god, my stomach had been growling for more than an hour, and it was becoming amplified enough to be heard over the din---one banana and a couple of slices of turkey do not a full day's meal make)....and then.....turnout gear.

The first pair of pants were made for a ten year old. I couldn't get them over my KNEES, never mind my hips. Pair number 2: I could have stood in the one pant leg and had room for a compatriot in there. What were these? Fire Police pants? Pair number 3....NOW we're getting somewhere....except for the huge rip up the backside. I thought I was getting a breeze from somewhere.... Pair number 4, I'm starting to perspire...Hallelujah!! They're older than dirt, but they fit.....uh, except for the suspenders...but isn't that what duct tape is for?

The jacket: first hands were somewhere around where the elbows should matching jacket to the 10 year old's pants........but then a brand new jacket that fit perfectly appeared from nowhere and I was in business.....until it came time for the boots. I explained that I had a pair given to me by a friend (thanks Siren) but this declaration was met with dismissal....."No, no, no....we'll find you a pair, don't you worry about it" .....mmmmmkkkkkk......Five pairs of boots later and we've managed to nail down the fact that I need a 6 or 6.5 in a man's boot....which of course they don't have. I could have taken a bath and stretched out in the pair they tried to give me.

Gloves and hood? Easy stuff comparitively speaking. Then the helmet. I was smart enough to grab one of the salad bowls with the easily adjustable headband.

Then while my new recruit friends went galloping off to the bar, I made nice with the Captain and got a working tour of all the apparatus, including compartments and a dry run through donning and doffing gear. I've been accused of many things, but I've never been accused of being stupid. I'm going to be on that guy like a remora on a shark until I get up to speed.

Thus outfitted with a pager and plectron....I went home and played fire dork; set out my clothes...made sure it was all easy-on, easy-off....set up my plectron, set up my pager...tried to settle down (to no avail)...then kept obsessively checking said pager and radio to make sure they were working....
Stay tuned...for now, I'm off like a prom dress.