By Anne Gagliano
Wednesday morning at FDIC means Opening Ceremony. The large ballroom is packed, the elaborate stage is set, and the impressive show begins. Enter the bagpipes—the heart and soul of FDIC; their enchanting music will echo throughout Indianapolis for the remainder of the week. Bobby Halton gives an impassioned speech, once again proving what a gifted speaker and leader he is. Chicago firefighter Larry McCormack receives the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, and we are both touched and moved by his genuine courage and humility. His beautiful young family is there to support him, as well as many of his fellow firefighters; they’ve driven a very long way just for this moment, proving yet again what an amazing brotherhood firefighting really is.
The halls of the convention center are now packed, for the attendance is at its full peak. As we make our way from place to place, the bagpipers march the corridors, stirring us with their haunting, unique music. My dad is half Scottish, and he once told me that when a Scott hears the bagpipes, it “steels his heart for battle.” I get it, for there is something ancient and majestic in the wheezing strains—noble, warlike, even a bit frightening. When the English heard them they trembled with fear, for there were no fiercer warriors than the Scotts. It is fitting that this is the instrument of firefighters today, for no one battles death more savagely than they. Bagpipes are played for the thrill of living at this event, but they are also the sound of firefighter funerals, and this thought hits me as we stop to watch them pass by. I sense that the recently fallen Lt. Rich Nappi is near, watching over his brethren, cheering them on from afar. This image pierces my heart as I glimpse the stoic firefighter faces all around me, for I realize that any one of them could be next, including my own dear husband; I feel a lump rise in my throat. I force the grim thought from my mind. Today is good; today they are all alive and strong and vibrant, celebrating life and striving yet again to better preserve it. These brave warriors will not go down without a fight.
My husband Mike and I separate for the rest of the day, as he has to go do what he does, and I don’t. But later that night we join our buddies from Seattle, Steve and Jaime Crothers, for dinner. We connect with them on every level and have an incredible evening of deep conversation and much laughter. Bobby Halton is there—he’s everywhere—and we get to say hi to him again. After dinner, we head over to the F.O.O.L.S. party to say hey to the folks. Along the way we run into friend after friend on the streets, which is what makes FDIC so fun. For a while, a distant town is your home town, populated with dear family. We stop and visit with Chief Bob Burns from New York and are mesmerized by his stories of his family and of his great city; we find ourselves longing to go there and see New York as Bob does. Frank Montagna is with Bob and he, too, is delightful to chat with.
We finally get to the party, where we find hugs, loud friendly firefighters, and very loud music. The mood is festive—it’s one big street party. Anthony Avillo is there, and I’m pleased I finally get to see him, for I got to know him and his wife Nicki when they came to Seattle. We had a blast with them! Anthony is this year’s Instructor of the Year Award recipient, deservedly so, and we give him our sincere congratulations. As is typical of guys like him, he shrugs off the honor with self-deprecating humility, saying he deserves it no more than anyone else.
Thursday I am put to work, for I am here to promote Fire Life along with fellow columnists Kevin Shea and new firefighter cooking columnist Kipp Rix. Meeting Kipp for the first time, I find him to be both charming and enthusiastic. This guy really loves to cook! He tells me of his lifelong dream of having his own show on the Food Network and how this might soon be a reality for him. Fire Life is helping pave the way for that; we’re lucky to have him on board. He hands out chili samples (from Ian’s Chili recipe) to the crowds as they pass, and I hand out copies of my relationship columns. It’s a bit intimidating to try to “peddle” your stuff, hoping people will like it and be interested, but to my delight, I’m met with support and approval again and again and again, which is encouraging beyond words. I find I’m engaged in interesting conversations with firefighters from Hawaii to South Carolina; I even get serenaded by Loretta Lynn’s cousin! He sings: “I’m proud to be a coal miner’s cousin.” Will wonders never cease?
But the gem of the day is Diane Feldman. Diane is the busiest lady at FDIC, hands down. Yet here she is at the Fire Life booth, lending a hand to help promote the Web site. Not only is she there, which would be enough because of her immeasurable influence, but she is decked out in comical, cheerful regalia to draw even more attention to the booth. Draped over her very pretty dress is a ridiculously out of place red firefighter apron that reads, “Keep Back 200 Feet.” To complete the ensemble, she has added two Hawaiian leis, one around her neck and one on her head. Who could help but notice her? My heart is deeply touched by this show of devotion to her columnists; where would we all be without her?
Just a day and a half to go, then “Indy” will be over for us. I’ll share these last few memories in my next column.
(Photo by Jim Duffy.)
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 26 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.