Firefighter Training, Firefighting

Back to “Normal” La Dee Da…

Back to “Normal” La Dee Da …
Chief Billy Goldfeder, E.F.O.
Fire Engineering Contributing Editor
Battalion Chief, Loveland-Symmes Fire Department, Ohio

Kevin D. Schott
Carlinville (IL) Fire Department

Editor’s note: It’s been said, “The more things change, and the more they stay the same. And who among us has not taken time out to take stock at one time or another-to ask, “Where are we going?” Often, if our “size-up” is to be complete, this question leads to two others: “Where are we now?” and “Where were we?” The authors have gotten caught up in a similar type of exercise. They are pondering the “status” of the fire service within the framework of the song “The Beat Goes On,” a big hit for Sonny and Cher, who were popular during the mid-’60s and early ’70s. They were known as “rock & roll’s hottest couple from 1965 until 1967, according to Bruce Eder (“Spotlight on the Artist,” Barnes & The words of the song are at the end of this column.

Another horribly “normal” week in our fire world…. and the beat goes on.

While the civilian population of this country continues to “recover” and
“move on” from 9-11…and the beat goes on.

And as the American flags continue to disappear, firefighters continue to do their jobs…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

As I read about civilians becoming “tired” of the constant reminder of last year’s murders, firefighters continue to make sure that NO ONE EVER FORGETS. As far as I am concerned, spend time every day, and take every opportunity to make sure they remember. Wear the memorial shirts, display the stickers, fly the flags, and forward the stories. I want no one to forget. I don’t care how “painful” or annoying it may be to some civilians–they need to always remember…and the beat goes on.

Actually, it’s the ones who are “trying to put it in their past” that I respectfully want to never forget. “Life” isn’t that simple. We are not “back to normal,” and I doubt we’ll see “normal”–whatever it is, anytime soon. Actually, “normal” needs to be redefined because what seems to be “normal” clearly includes the deaths of our brother and sister firefighters. Until 9-11, many civilians seemed to be oblivious to what many firefighters do. Following 9-11, as horrible as it seems, the deaths of the 343 brothers in New York City nationally brought to light what firefighters do…and the beat goes on…History has turned the page, uh huh.

I just read about the horrible deaths of St. Louis Firefighters Derek Martin and Rob Morrison…And men still keep on marching off to war. And then we remember the “Keokuk (IA) 3,” the “Worcester (MA) 6,” the “Fire Department of New York Fathers Day 3,” Bret Tarver in Phoenix, the two firefighters in Manlius, the brothers killed in the Texas church fire, the two in Ashton, Illinois…Hear the song? And, there’s also FDNY-EMT Andre Lahens, who was killed by a drunken driver two weeks ago…History has turned the page, uh huh. And Roslyn (NY) Captain Frye, who was killed by another drunken driver a few weeks ago, and the Roswell, New Mexico, chief and medic, and the Miami Township firefighter and the Detroit firefighter…Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain; La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

Chester County, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, is filled with many sharp, active, progressive, and aggressive fire companies. Recently, another horrible “beat” in our job occurred when Upland Fire Company rookie Mandy DeRosa was doing what she was trained to do–responding to a fire scene–when a crash occurred. That crash killed off-duty Media Fire Company EMT Catarina DiGiacomo and left two neighboring fire companies reeling…The beat goes on. Only a few miles away, a 14-year-old Christopher Kangas, from Brookhaven, Pennsylvania, a junior firefighter was responding on his bicycle to a reported fire when he was struck by a teenage driver and died from severe trauma to the head, according to the police. A firefighter on a bike? That’s how they do it there. These kids are trained by the time they reach the age of 18. Don’t judge how “they” operate. We all operate a little differently…The cars keep going faster all the time. La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da, and the beat goes on.<.i>

Don’t go looking for the point of this message. I’m not sure there is one…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da). I just felt like writing…I’m not going to start preaching about firefighter safety.

Next year, I will have been a firefighter for 30 years…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da. I have heard the suggestions, ideas, and innovations, but I will continue to maintain that most of it comes down to aggressive training, experienced and competent fireground leadership, radios that work, enough people to get the basics done, bosses, budget people…Bums still cry “Hey buddy, have you got a dime?” And politicians that genuinely care…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

A writing “expert” once told me that, I should provide some answers, suggestions, ideas, or direction when I write. I asked, “Why?” He replied, “It is expected.” OK…fine. So here are some suggestions:

Have plenty of staffing, train aggressively but safely, get radios that work, don’t drive like a lunatic, know where you firefighters are at all times, make sure those who run your fires have a clue. Wasn’t that easy?…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

It isn’t that simple. So, while we all spend time trying to make the job just a little safer, maybe we could pass this to friends or the civilians who sometimes just don’t seem to “get it”–the ones who have to vote when you need the support and the bucks to do the job. Maybe, then, the music would stop for just a little…La dee da dee de, la dee da dee da.

Kevin Shott’S “Thoughts”
After receiving several e-mails from Chief Billy Goldfeder, I decided to put some of my thoughts (following his ideas) down on paper. Or maybe they are just the rants and ravings of a tired firefighter.

“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. This position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which a fireman has to do, believe his is a noble calling. Our proudest moment is to save lives. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even supreme sacrifice.” New York Fire Chief Edward Crocker, 1899-1911.

Sonny and Cher recorded “The Beat Goes On” when I was young. Chief Goldfeder’s observations and comments touched me so that I felt compelled to sit at my computer and pound on the keys.

History has turned the page, uh huh. I have been notified of the funeral arrangements for Captain Brian Hickey, Rescue 3, FDNY, who was murdered on September 11. That was his first day back to work after having been seriously injured in the Father’s Day Astoria Street fire, which killed three firefighters. His job as a rescue captain was to pull people out of burning buildings, to haul them out of holes and wrecked cars, and to pull them out from under subway trains and the fuselages of crashed planes. He presided over a company of men so admired that fire buffs all over the country would line up to bid at auction for their cast-off garments.

Brian Hickey also kept active with the volunteers on Long Island, where he got his start in the fire service. He was an instructor with the Nassau County Fire Academy and a commissioner in Bethpage. As a Bethpage commissioner, Hickey became known as a vocal critic of Long Island’s firefighting system–something that angered many of his volunteer peers. Hickey made his point bluntly in one fire service publication:
“Nassau County is approaching an era that will soon be called to judgment because the cost of running the volunteer fire service.” He decried “outlandish” equipment purchases and “outrageous” budget increases in local departments without corresponding improvements in service. “I’m a loudmouth, but I’ve been around long enough to see what is happening,” he said. He wasn’t concerned about whether his views made him unpopular in his hometown. “You don’t realize until you are older what your job really is. You realize it’s more dangerous.”

And now a great husband, father, firefighter, and advocate for all firefighters is gone. Silenced by the murderers of September 11…and the beat goes on; the beat goes on.

The Washington Post (April 30, 2002) describes the vigil of John Vigiano, 63, FDNY retired captain, at the World Trade Center, as he waited for word about the discovery of his son John’s body. John, a New York City police officer, and his brother, Joey, a firefighter-Vigiano’s only children–both perished there. Vigiano, the report notes, has a fire department radio clipped to his jeans. Vigiano hopes John will be found, but he knows the chances are slim. Since September 11, Vigiano has gone to the site every day at first; he now goes two or three times a week.

A search and rescue dog found Joey in the rubble in October. He still waits for word about John. The rest of the city and the nation seem to have moved on, but hundreds of families like the Vigianos have not even been able to find the remains of their loved ones. Only about one-third of the 2,823 people killed at the World Trade Center have been found and identified. A memorial service for John will be held May 23; Vigiano is hoping John’s remains are found before then.

Other fathers join Vigiano at ground zero-some to check on each other and their families, since their sons had been found. Others still wait and hope.

And men still keep on marching off to war.

33 firefighter line-of-duty deaths reported so far in 2002 …. Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da…

Maybe this message is only to vent my frustration. Maybe it is about my love of the fire service. Maybe it is about firefighter safety. In July 2002, I will have been a member of the Carlinville Fire Department (CFD) for 20 years…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

I will be retiring from the CFD. I have devoted my life to the fire service, spending countless hours training, seeing sights that no one should ever have to see. I will continue to be a firefighter with the 183rd FW, Illinois Air National Guard.

I have heard countless excuses, suggestions, and ideas on how to keep firefighters safe, but I will always maintain that it comes down to aggressive training, experienced and competent fireground leadership, enough people to get the basics done, bosses that care about their biggest asset–their people, and politicians that have a clue…and the beat goes on.

The “Illinois First” Grants have done some great things for many departments. But some of the money has purchased just “big red trucks” and firehouses–things that are visible to the public to ensure votes. But I’m here to tell You that those “big ticket items” do not ensure great fire departments or firefighter safety. Fire trucks that are staffed with inadequately trained firefighters are just big red trucks. Fire stations that are not built on a foundation of “people first” and “training for firefighter safety” are nothing more than buildings with big red trucks parked in them…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da…

“Firemen are going to be killed right along. They know it, every man of them…firefighting is a hazardous occupation; it is dangerous on the face of it, tackling a burning building. The risks are plain…Consequently, when a man becomes a fireman, his act of bravery has already been accomplished.”
FDNY Chief Edward Crocker, 1908

Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain…La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

The Beat Goes On
The beat goes on, the beat goes on.
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.
La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

Charleston was once the rage, uh huh.
History has turned the page, uh huh.
The miniskirt’s the current thing, uh huh.
Teenybopper is our newborn king, uh huh.

And the beat goes on; the beat goes on.
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.
La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

The grocery store’s the supermart, uh huh.
Little girls still break their hearts, uh huh.
And men still keep on marching off to war.
Electrically they keep a baseball score.

And the beat goes on; the beat goes on.
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.
La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.

Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce
Boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss.
The cars keep going faster all the time.
Bums still cry, ‘Hey buddy, have you got a dime?’

And the beat goes on; the beat goes on.
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.
La dee da dee dee, la dee da dee da.