140 Years of Fire Engineering: The Back Page from ‘Random Thoughts’ to ‘On Fire’

Mike Ciampo

Celebrate with us all year long as we commemorate 140 years of Fire Engineering magazine. Look out for exclusive archival content and features leading up to our November 17, 2017 anniversary. Above, Mike Ciampo shares some thoughts on the magazine’s anniversary.

Mike Ciampo, Lieutenant, FDNY: For many of us growing up in the seventies, following in a long line of family volunteer firefighters, I was exposed to the fire publications that arrived at our home. Like many other youngsters couldn’t wait to look at the photos and see what the pages revealed. I was a little bit too young to understand all the technical information but by about the mid-seventies my firefighting mind began to develop. I remember it like it was yesterday when Report From Engine Company 82 made its way into my house. I snagged it and read it in the back seat of a 1974 Ford station wagon on our way to vacation.

When I got home from the trip and grew older I couldn’t wait to pick up Fire Engineering and begin reading the articles, but to be honest the one I couldn’t wait for was the no nonsense, straight forward, street smart tactics and techniques written by Tom Brennan. His Random Thoughts column to me was the highlight of the magazine and probably played more of an impact on the rest of my career than any other publication, article or writings. While still in high school, I couldn’t wait to get home from one of the sport activities to see if the next month’s issue arrived. Tommy’s passion of writing in simple yet effective ways gave me the ambition to want to become a big city firefighter at a young age.

After graduating high school, I met Glenn Corbett (now Technical Editor of Fire Engineering) who was soon to become another one of my mentors as we both attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City together. Our daily commuting sessions were full of fire talk, everything from tactics to fire service history, building construction and quizzing each other for tests on the ride in (I often wondered if the professors thought we were cheating when many of our answers were very similar). Often as we walked the then seedy streets of Hell’s Kitchen and the west side of Midtown, we would venture down a block or two to look at a building where they had a “job” and luckily the Chief was in our fire science class so we critiqued it. We both will probably never forget going on a few “field trips” with Battalion 9 to burnt out apartments to look at construction and do field training in fire investigation. As we graduated our lives took us to other states but our friendship and brotherhood never faltered.

After we both got our feet wet and back together on the east coast, he encouraged me to write articles from my experiences from the streets of Washington, DC and the Bronx. Little did I ever envision that when he took me to the offices of Fire Engineering I would become part of the team. For me it was like walking into the halls of Congress and my mind saying “what am I doing here”? The staff was so kind and treated me like I was the important one, inside I was like don’t these people know the amount of firefighters they are training and reaching with their works. Luckily over time, I started writing and then became a lead HOT instructor for the FDIC Hands On Training programs: Portable Ladders and now Truck Essentials.

Years past and even though I’d become a little seasoned, I like many still waited patiently for the mail carrier to arrive so I could flip open the back cover to get to the back page and be educated or have my mind refreshed. Then I flipped to the front to read his Editor’s column; Tom’s passing saddened all of us, especially the ones reading his works. I’d like to think his writings had a hidden influence on me. After a good job, weird incident or when something went bad or a lesson learned or reinforced, I’d write an email and send it out to a couple of firefighting friends of mine and just say I was passing it along. Unbeknownst to me, these were passed onto Bobby Halton who contacted Diane Rothschild and Glenn Corbett and asked what do you think? Well can you imagine when they hit me with writing the back page; STUNNED didn’t even begin to touch the surface. I was like you must be kidding, the sweat hopefully not showing on my brow, plus I asked “you want me there, that’s sacred ground to many of us”. As I was encouraged to tackle the project, so many things were rolling around in my head and somehow I found the courage to say yes.

As time has passed over the last couple of years, I still remember when we were trying to come up with a title for the page, we hemmed and hawed over lots of them believe me, but then Diane blurted out what about On Fire. Glancing down on my notepad I was writing the ones down I liked; on the top of the page I had written Random Thoughts and when I put the two together on paper I knew that was the one. I want to thank the staff of Fire Engineering for their continued devotion to provide superb training to the fire service for 140 years and for allowing me to share my experiences and writings on the back page, truly some “Random Thoughts, On Fire.”

Ray McCormack, Lieutenant, FDNY: Generations of firefighters have read your pages to gain insight into the fire service. The lessons your authors have shared have been insightful, interesting, thought-proving, controversial and amusing, something for everyone. I came on board early in my career as a reader and then author. The breadth of coverage has been constant for 140 years. The fire service owes a debt of gratitude to a publication that moves us forward. The reason we read is to become informed and better firefighters, once you have that desire to learn you’re on your way to being all you can be. The gift is the magazine.

Joe Pronesti, Assistant Chief, Elyria (OH) Fire Department: I wanted to send a special thank you and a happy birthday to a constant companion not only to me but to millions of my brothers and sisters in the fire service, Fire Engineering first appeared on my radar when I was probably 10 years old, my dad was on the job and when he worked especially on weekends my mom would take me to get a bite to eat then drop me off at the fire house where I would hang out and unbeknownst to my father allow mom to go shopping. It was a win, win my mom didn’t have to drag me around the mall and I got to hang out at Elyria, Ohio fire station 1, dad wasn’t always thrilled however.

Anyways, at station 1 there was a watch room where there was stacks of two types of magazines, one had firefighters in it and the other, well let’s just say there were less clothing involved inside. I would sit for hours and look at the pictures(in the fire one) and marvel at the fires and firefighters in action, by the time I was 16 I had my own subscription to Fire Engineering and while still fascinated by the pictures I started reading articles by authors such as Pressler, Manning, and of course, Brennan.

Flash forward to today thirty years later whereas I have been honored to have been published in this publication multiple times, and that’s the heart of Fire Engineering and what separates it from many trade magazines, it allows opinions, techniques and ideas from everyone, even a guy like me with few literary skills but the passion for the job of firefighting.

We live in a society now that is so fast paced where members of our service can receive technical information in a variety of means some of this is good, and some of it in my opinion is bad; but while we can debate this all day, the power of Fire Engineering can be summed up in the picture below, I recently taught a class where I was using the youngest attendee as an example of how we as fire service leaders must remember our job is to mentor and instruct, someone snapped a picture of this and after seeing the pic and seeing a tweet from Editor and Chief Halton mentioning the birthday of FE it brought to light what the goal of Fire Engineering is first and foremost about and that is keeping members of all ages, experience and vocation, i.e. paid, volunteer, etc. safe and in the know. Below is the picture of that young firefighter named Andrew and let us all remember that us old guys and gals have an impact in shaping the future of the fire service and we must use our old friend Fire Engineering to help us do that, we may know what is explained in the pages monthly or on line but kids like Andrew may not.

Happy Birthday Fire Engineering and THANK YOU!

Dennis Rubin, Consultant, D.L. Rubin & Associates: I would like to be among the many to congratulate Editor-In-Chief Bobby Halton and the entire Fire Engineering Family on occasion of their 140th year of excellent support to the Fire Rescue Service. Fire Engineering is the standard bearer for the printed word in our industry. Further, in recent years, they have become equally well-known for producing the very best in education and training programs at the Fire Department Instructors Conference held each spring in Indianapolis, Indiana Seems like only yesterday, that I attended my first FDIC conference that was held in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The conference was only a fraction of the program that Fire Engineering leadership has guided FDIC towards today. One has to wonder if the founders of the great institution, known as Fire Engineering, would believe the impact that their publication and support services has had on our industry? Without a doubt, Fire Engineering has made the fire rescue service a much safety place to work and volunteer as well helping fire departments to be more efficient and effective in helping our customers.

Now, on to my personal connection and experience with the amazing institution called Fire Engineering. In 1981, I was serving as a station lieutenant working on the “C” shift, trying my best to continue to learn about being a good fire fighter. The notion of being a company commander was all new to me, so I was aware that it was up to me to better prepare myself to perform my newly acquired duties and responsibilities. Concurrently, I was attending the fire science program at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) as a full time student. The GI Bill was being utilized by many of my fire fighter classmates, so most fire related classes were offered twice per week to accommodate the 24/48 hour shift work, which fit my schedule perfectly. I was lucky enough to have a tremendous Program Chair by the name of Louis A. Zuccarelli. “Mr. Z”, as he was affectionately called, had been a volunteer fire fighter years before in the great state of New Jersey. He took a sincere interest in the success of all of the fire science students under his charge. In fact, Mr. Z insisted that my associate’s degree would transfer into the University of Maryland’s Fire Administration curriculum. I will forever be in his debt for that advise, that I likely didn’t value enough at the time (I was scheduled for all advanced classes to meet U of Maryland rigorous entry requirements).

Immediately following one of Mr. Z’s sessions, the Professor asked me to stay after class. I must admit that I was a little nervous about his request, I flashed back to my days spent in a Catholic school, when my knuckles was swell as a result of after school sessions. However, this meeting was only about good news. Mr. Z was aware that my engine company had responded to an interesting and unusual incident. The purpose of staying after class was threefold. First, Mr. Z asked me to give him a detailed briefing of operation from that night. The dedicated instructor paid great attention to every aspect of the verbal case study review that I was providing. In fact, some of my classmates were hanging back and I realized that they were listening very intently to the information that I was sharing as well.

This story’s headline was a mean spirited person had discharged a tear gas canister in an over-crowded night club in the downtown area of the City. Dozens of people were injured by this senseless act. The patrons that were exposed to the released chemical were experiencing mild to severe respiratory distress as well as irritation of mucus membranes with emphasis on eye distress and discomfort. I told my professor about setting up a mass causality (MCI) operation to include triage, treatment and transportation (tracking was not a part of the plan back then). Many ambulances were summoned and would be used to resolve this declared major event. As I relived this event, Mr. Z was busy taking notes of what I was saying.

The second purpose of staying behind, the instructor asked me to help him with a research project that he was going to pursue. The work would be taking an in-depth look at all of the aspects of the impact and patient treatment of tear gas products on the unprotected human body. After this significant response experience, I was glad and in fact looking forward to helping with this task. Maybe this newly researched (learned) information would be useful at future emergency response events as a company officer and/or someday as the incident commander to provide overall scene leadership, command and control. By today’s slang language, The Rube was All-In! for this project.

The third part of the discussion was the request to take my personal operational experience learned from this incident coupled with the joint research findings that the Professor and I would conduct, and incorporate all of the information into a fire service journal article. Mr. Zuccarelli was in need to do both, research and to be published (Mr. Z would say, “Publish or perish”), to keep the college leadership happy with the fire science department head’s performance. So, this project was a perfect fit of both of us. Mr. Z insisted that the fire journal article could only be published in Fire Engineering Magazine. Being a long time fire service member and knowing the expectations of his management facility members, the professor guided this project perfectly towards a successful outcome in the most respected fire service magazine in the US.

In May of 1981, Fire Engineering Magazine did publish our article which was entitled, “Tear Gas Prank in Busy Restaurant Triggers Incident that Yield Lessons”. The magazine masthead indicated that the edition was Volume 134, Number 5 and the article appeared on page 22. The listed authors were Lieutenant Dennis L. Rubin and L.A. Zuccarelli. I cannot express the excitement and motivation that my very first Fire Engineering article delivered to a very young company officer. For Mr. Z it seemed like it was another day in the life of a very experienced professor, but underneath that cool exterior, he was pretty excited by his name in print as well. Based on this very first work, I was pleased to be asked to speak at several state and regional fire service conferences, discussing this case study and our research work on tear gas products (both military and civilian grade).

Because of the success and hoopla that this first article generated, my next solo article was soon to follow. It would appear in October of 1981, Volume 134, Number 10 on page 31 (this one was close to the magazine center crease). The title of this effort was, “SCBA Training Maze Created with Donated House and Other Local Help”.

Briefly, this story discussed a training prop that was built in an old home that was donated by the Fairfax Hospital Association to the department for a two year period. The hospital purchased an existing home that would be raised to allow for the planned expansion of their campus. Letting us use it for training was great community outreach and likely a good tax write-off. Another group step into help us with this project. The Northern Virginia Home Builders Association was shopping for a community based project for their current training class of apprentice carpenters. The hope was to give back to the community in a significant way and to allow the new workers a chance to run a major, challenging project from beginning to end. Our SCBA maze was just the ticket and after about two weeks of work (about 4 hours per day) for the student carpenters, the ribbon was cut and advanced breathing apparatus training was underway for the next 24 months.

By today’s standards, this would be a mundane story to be printed in Fire Engineering . However, in 1981, this was a leading edge project and Fire Engineering Magazine was very willing to print our innovative story. Many departments benefited from this magazine article, in that our department received many inquiries to solicit the construction drawings and plans to build their own SCBA maze. Once again, I was personally and professional rewarded beyond any and all expectations by the Magazine printing this piece. I was asked to go as far as southwest Colorado to help plan and design SCBA mazes (not too shabby for a baby fire lieutenant).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mr. Richard Pratt Sylvia was the editor and Mr. Jerry W. Laughlin was the associate editor of Fire Engineering in 1981. I will forever be in their debt for allowing me to join the Fire Engineering family in the smallest of ways, so long, long ago. Later in my career, I would work with Jerry Laughlin on several projects and at the Alabama Fire College. Likely that would have never happened, if it weren’t for the magazine articles published in 1981 and the relationships that were forged with my new friends at the Magazine.

Over the last four decades, I have written and published several hundred magazine articles as well as four textbooks (two published by Fire Engineering Books). Further, in the past three years, I found myself as the host and voice of the Fire Engineering Blog Radio Show entitled “Contemporary Issues in the Fire Rescue Service” (my mother would be so proud, she would always comment that I had the perfect face for radio). Dozens of well-known, highly respected and motivated guests have graced the airwaves with me, discussing emerging issues that are currently challenging our service. Finally, I have presented training topics at about ten FDIC programs after coming into the Fire Engineering fold. I would say that without that very early and on-going amazing experiences offered to me by Fire Engineering and the leadership of Professor Lou Zuccarelli, none of my articles, books, radio broadcasts or classroom presentations would have even been possible.

To that end, here is the most sincerest THANK YOU to everyone one at Fire Engineering, past present and future employees. Please accept a tip of this old timers fire helmet. This Fire Engineering Team truly makes our fire rescue service all that it can be every day and at every level. Enjoy your Happiest One Hundred & Fortieth Birthday F.E! Here is to many, many more celebrations!

Joe Nedder, Retired Firefighter, Uxbridge (MA) Fire Department: I joined the local Volunteer fire Department on April 2nd, 1977, in the age of Johnny and Roy, the two Firefighter/Paramedics who were the stars of the TV show “Emergency.” I was newly married, had moved to town and had a few friends who were members and were encouraging me to “come up Wednesday night and join!” Like so many small fire departments, they had their way of doing things, and you needed to conform. Well, I dove in head first and was all consumed in anything fire. My quest for knowledge and skills had begun. After a short period of time I started looking at the stacks and stacks of fire service magazines laying around. Many of them were Fire Engineering. What I found was that FE was more technical in nature, something that I appreciated as I was a sponge thirsting for knowledge. You see, even though I was a member of a small Town Volunteer Department, I wanted to be the very best I could. I learned and saw that firefighting is really universal. It’s not “the way your town does it,” but rather common skills, common knowledge, and most of all common sense.

After a while, I purchased my own subscription in 1979, I think. I have never let it lapse since! As time went on, I became a Fire Instructor and Training Officer and started to share my skills and knowledge with others. But the quest for knowledge continued and I started to seek out additional avenues of education. My Mentor, Assistant Chief Jack Peltier of Marlboro, Massachusetts (now deceased) kept telling me that I should attend the FDIC (Fire Department Instructors Conference). Jack told me of the great fire service educators (Alan Brunacini, Harry Carter, John Norman, John Salka, to name a few) that were there to share what they know along with one giant equipment trade show. I got my first taste of the FDIC in 1996 and have not missed a conference since. Between the Conference and the Trade Show, I have furthered my knowledge and have kept current. In fact, it was at the Conference that I first heard the words “flow Path” from Steve Kerber, and learned to “read smoke” from Dave Dodson! In addition I have made a lot of great friends who share my passion. In 2010. I taught my first class at the FDIC and have taught every year since and I am honored to say that I will once again be teaching at the 2017 Conference. In addition I have written numerous articles for FE and even wrote and published a Fire Service Textbook.

All this really happened because a young small town volunteer “fireman” wanted to learn more, found a stack of Fire Engineering Magazines at the firehouse, and took advantage of the knowledge that was written within. Though I am retired, I still teach, and as such must continue to keep myself current and knowledgeable, so I still read Fire Engineering monthly , and always look forward to the FDIC!


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