“Who IS This Guy?”

Photo by Mark Haugh.

By Anne Gagliano

As I was unpacking after returning home from FDIC International, I came upon this piece of paper in one of our suitcases. On it I read the following:

 “Notice of Baggage Inspection:  To protect you and your fellow passengers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is required by law to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection …. At the completion of the inspection, the contents were returned to your bag.”

It’s always a tad unnerving to realize someone, a stranger, has gone through your private things–inspecting, touching, then returning them to your bag. Things like your underwear or your toothbrush or your dirty, smelly socks; the normal kinds of items one finds in a suitcase. We’ve gotten these notices before, so it’s nothing new to me. But this time I found myself first irritated, then concerned, embarrassed, and finally completely belly laughing as I too began to go through this bag. I could imagine the unknown inspector observing the contents one by one and finishing in unnerved, disturbed perplexity as he thought, “Who IS this guy?!”  See if you can guess the character of the owner as the following items were unpacked in this order from the suitcase:

  1. A man’s razor, cologne, and deodorant in a small toiletry bag—so it must be a man.
  2. Several men’s T-shirts, all extra-large—so it must be a large man.
  3. A few pieces of cheese—?
  4. Some smashed crackers.
  5. 16 patches with laughing skulls.
  6. Some books and DVDs—all with pictures of fire on the cover—??
  7. An umbrella—OK.
  8. 44 Cherry Ripes—???
  9. A pair of ladies high-heeled black shoes—s!#@*?!

I’m genuinely surprised we weren’t hauled off the plane for this one. But please, allow me to explain. This is but one of four bags that we took to Indy with us; the other three contained the more “normal” items. This was the “overflow” bag that I always take with me to FDIC, as was mentioned in my last column with tips to surviving the event. An empty bag is essential to transport all the treasures your firefighter accumulates while on his or her magical mystery tour to fire dream land. And my firefighter did acquire the treasures, let me tell you.

The T-shirts. No FDIC trip is complete without the T-shirts. Shirts that were gifts from other fire departments. FDIC keepsake shirts. And shirts that were given as tokens of appreciation from various groups my firefighter is involved in. The extra bag is needed just for these alone. And I will be squirreling some of these away to bins or to charity just as soon as he’s not looking.

The cheese. What can I say? I bring snacks. I try to bring healthy, sustaining ones, as we often find ourselves going a long time without eating. Skipping breakfast, skipping lunch, but never skipping dinner. The dinners are the highlight. Observe the photo: This amazing group was at the PennWell Book Authors dinner. Every person here is a celebrated fire author of accomplishment and incredible achievement. Even the one clowning around down front, Frank Ricci. I too am pictured, but this is a polite courtesy; the others refuse to let me sit this one out.

The patches. Another treasure both sought and given. Exchanged, collected, relished. My firefighter brought his newly minted Station 31 patch, which he helped design. He displays it like art with pride. It is art, and it is worthy of pride. All firefighter patches are. And he has now added a new beautiful assortment to his cherished collection.

The books and DVDs. Ah, the books. Hand-signed by the talented authors, my husband Mike’s heroes and old friends, and some new ones too. Mike Dugan’s new DVD, Size-Up, Rick Lasky’s Pride & Ownership, Sean Gray and P.J. Norwood’s DVD The Evolving Fireground, and William R. Mora’s Preventing Firefighter Disorientation. And a new author to us, one we got to have dinner with, the talented keynote speaker from the Honeywell dinner we attended, British firefighter Ben Walker. We now have one of his books, Fire Dynamics for Firefighters. There were more in other bags too. More morsels of knowledge and wisdom and experience that will be savored and treasured by my firefighter for years to come.

The umbrella. I have said before that I was a Camp Fire Girl and I always plan ahead. We do massive walking at FDIC, both indoors and outdoors. Sometimes it rains. This time it did, a lot. We even got a massive thunderstorm. But no worries; I had my umbrella. And the bagpipes still played amidst the thunder at The Claddagh, ye old Irish pub. A little rain never stops firefighters from celebrating life.

The 44 Cherry Ripes. You may be wondering, what is a Cherry Ripe?  And why did we have 44 of them in a suitcase?  A Cherry Ripe is a most excellent candy bar from Australia. Cherry and coconut smothered in dark chocolate. Mike and I love them. Mike asked our dear Australian brothers, Rick Owen from Melbourne and Phil Paff from Ipswich, to bring him one as they were coming to FDIC this year. They brought 44. Firefighters, over the top and generous. This is true everywhere, even Down Under.

The ladies high-heeled shoes. Those were mine. This was a combo bag, an overflow bag, packed in a frenzy as I tried to make everything fit. Frenzy and sorrow, as leaving Indianapolis always is. It’s hard to say goodbye to such cherished friends. Friends we usually only get to see once a year.

Let me re-state that. These people are more than friends, they are family to us. Family that lifts each other up in times of trouble. Family that laughs with you, cries with you, and is always glad to see you. And family that accepts you just as you are, even if you have disturbing, random items in your suitcase. They never ask, “Who IS this guy?” because they already know.


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 31 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.


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