BY TOM BRENNAN
This has got to be the great-est job in the world! It is so rewarding, filled with so many potential friends, international transcendence, adventure, sorrow, self-gratification, and-of course-humor. But everyone has some funny moments-some to share and perhaps some just as funny but not to share. But those humorous and memorable events from which we get some lessons or behavior changes that make us better firefighters or leaders for the rest of our career are truly special. So this month, as some relief for both you and me, I will share some of those memorable moments in my life in the hope that you won’t have to reinvent them yourselves.
“Do exactly what I do!” was the first and only order that I was able to decipher from the gruff, Irish brogue that snapped at me over a shoulder. The shoulder belonged to the new captain that I had to report to after 10 weeks of probationary school. “Lower than whale dung,” we were told we were for the next three months, so naturally there were no questions. Bells clanged. “Let’s go, Truck,” was the cry, and down the stairs I went onto the side of the fire truck-my first run.
An apartment over a store, and smoke was showing itself in colors that I had not seen before. A lady was holding a baby out past the bricks as if she would drop him anytime. “Help with this ladder, kid,” I was told by no one in particular. Portable ladder up, woman and child down! Oh, oh-where was the captain? “Captain’s gone to the second floor,” I’m told by three or four faceless voices. Finding the door and the stairs, I find my target in some white-soled boots on the landing at the top of the run of stairs. It’s smoky, but I can see. Sure, it is the captain. He didn’t respond to my questions, but then he was “God” and didn’t talk to me anyway. So I lay down next to him to await further orders.
My first fire department line-of-duty injury was shin, lip, nose, and forehead abrasions as the rescue company pulled me down the stairs feet first-after the unconscious captain was carried with proper respect, first! How the hell was I supposed to know that he had been knocked out by an earlier heavy smoke condition? I should ask more questions when there is time-Chapter One, Lesson 1, A.
“Be more professional when on the radio!” This was the order to all officers and their aides from Valhalla. “Knock off the familiar chatter and job chatter!” they were told. Well, that day we sure needed help! A strip store with 12 occupancies on a main avenue with fire in the middle three stores on arrival (what else did you expect?). “Second alarm! Second alarm!” The verbal order from the chief to his aide, who was still grieving from the chastisement of the day.
After a little thought, Jack pushed down the telephone handset in the dashboard and said, “12th Division to Brooklyn, K.” “Go ahead, Division 12!” crackled the anxious dispatcher, who was already fielding more than 10 additional calls from the scene. “It is within the purview of the Fire Department of the City of New York to protect the lives and property of the citizens in its day-to-day activities and responsibilities.” Pause. “Therefore, under these considerations, the on-duty deputy chief hereby transmits a second alarm for this location!” Much more professional than, “Get us a second alarm at this box!” Be sure your orders and directions are clear and an improvement to situations-Lesson 2, A.
“Damn, I am trapped!” I came down the gooseneck ladder of the fire escape to the top-floor balcony without venting first from above. Now the fire had blown through my ladder to the roof and was out the windows to the side and below me. I was totally cut off from any escape except by gravity. I could hear the engine operations below me and inside on the floor that I was “waiting” on. “Great guys, they’ll have this in a minute!” I prayed.
“Hey,” said a voice through the smoke on the balcony below my level on the adjacent exposure building. “Put your halligan hook on the rail of the balcony above me and swing down and I’ll catch you!” were the directions shouted at me from Arnie, the roofman from the other truck. “Nah, I don’t think so,” I muttered to no one in particular, “I will wait here for the Engine XXX bus,” I smiled to myself. Plan your moves better-at least know where your personal escape is all the time! Lesson 3, A.
“We are tired of listening to you Browns-ville guys and your ‘fully involved’ reports,” we were told by communications powers-that-be. It was useless to try to tell anyone how much there was to do in front of these routinely exploding buildings. Keep your sense of humor; this will pass too.
Five-story apartment house, Eastern Parkway, exposure problems all over the place except above. We need big water and help. “Ladder 120 to Brooklyn, K,” slowly. “Go ahead, 120.” “Well, we have a fire in a five-story multiple dwelling that is 45 feet by 80 feet. We have fire on the first floor and venting on all sides of the building, we have fire throughout the second floor except for a bathroom window in the shaft, we have fire on the third and fourth floors and extended to and throughout the fifth floor and through the roof. This @#$$$@# building is fully involved!” Lesson 2, A-passed on to our first student. More next time.
TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995). He was the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999).