In the beginning……The Final Part

So, in my previous posts I have been walking through my life in the early years in the fire service.  In this last part, I will finish the story to my current status today.

Once I separated to the fire service, I found myself in Springfield, Missouri.  While I was finishing high school my family had relocated to Missouri and after High School I thought I would give it a try.

My first fire department in Missouri was a volunteer department which was in the process transitioning to a combination department and was also adding a residency program allowing people to live in the fire house.  After a very short time, I found myself moving into a remote station and getting to know the area at the same time.  Calls were not very frequent but the opportunity to serve a new community and have a cheap place to stay was excellent.

An opportunity for a firefighting job became available back in North Dakota at the Air Force Base as a civilian came available so I returned to North Dakota for about a year and a half.  When that opportunity didn’t work out, I again found my way back to Missouri.

After about 11 years of volunteering as a firefighter, I found the desire to be a full time firefighter coming back again.  An opportunity to work at the Springfield-Branson Regional Airport as a firefighter came available and I jumped at the chance.  I worked there for a couple of years and then decided that going back to full time firefighting was the right choice.  So after completing the testing process, I became a full time firefighter for Springfield, MO.

I started on a ladder truck and instantly loved the job.  Working on a cool truck with lots of toys (tools), the wide variety of work with each calls being a different with different tasks was what the ADHD tendencies in me needed.  This was also the haz-mat station which got me back in Level A suits and haz-mat response which I liked.  As time went along I transitioned from the Truck to an engine and from busy stations to slow stations.  Parts I liked, and parts I could have done without, but that’s why they call it a job and not a vacation!

During this time, I also responded to a tragic incident involving a train and people walking down the tracks which caused several people to loose their life on a beautiful day.  The loss of life was completely senseless and during the time which occurred, my job responsibilities included educating the public on safety issues and concerns which got me involved in the Operation Lifesaver Program which is a national safety program that specifically educates the public about safety concerns along railroads.  This program began to get me involved in the railroad industry and to begin building working relationships with several railroad officials locally.  The more time I spent working with this program, the more I began to have an interest in the railroad industry and emergency response during railroad emergencies.

An opportunity came along which allowed me to leave the fire service to work in the railroad industry for environmental emergency response.  It was a great opportunity both financially and professionally.  Unfortunately, an economic downturn caused downsizing in the company and the new guy “me” had to go.  A tuff time for my family and me but another great opportunity came along and I found my way back to my first love…the fire service.

Today, I work for a great organization who’s people are the very heart of the organization’s success.  While technically volunteer’s in their business, their actions and abilities are very much as professional as anyone who get’s paid to do the job.  Not only are they firefighters, they are medical responders, rescue professionals, problem solvers, care givers, and most importantly brothers and sisters who care very much about what they do and take pride in every response, every time they are called to help someone.

I am honored to have experienced many things, worked with a great number of super individuals who have taught me much along the way.  I am grateful for all of you I know, have known, and can call a friend or colleague along the way.

I am also excited about what the future holds and what opportunities will come my way.

For those of you who are on a journey within this thing called the fire service with me, I hope that your journey is as good for you and it has been to me and I hope you all the best and a safe and happy career.

Firedog

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In the Beginning… Part 2

When I concluded my last blog, I had been telling the story about how I came to be a firefighter right up to the point I graduated high school. So let me pick back up from there.

During high school, there was little doubt that I wanted to be a firefighter. It was more about how and where I was going to be come one. It looked like the military was the best choice for me. Initially, I had planned to follow in my Dad’s path and join the Navy. When we went to visit a Navy recruiter, the recruiter interviewed me and I explained to him my love of firefighting and that is what I wanted to do. I actually had a recruiter that wasn’t about his numbers and was good enough to tell me that if I was wanting to be a full time firefighter, I needed to see the Air Force.

So, after a short interview and completing an ASFAB test, It looked like I was in! Basic Training at Lackland AFB, TX and then on to Chanute AFB, IL for Firefighting School. Basic Training is what you would expect. During week four we all received our orders for where we were going to school. When I received my orders, they were not to Chanute AFB but to Sheppard AFB in TX! Something about being a waste water treatment specialist which was not what I was in for at all! When everyone was asked if there were problems with their orders I immediately raised my hand. Next thing I know, I am begging for the opportunity to be a firefighter even though I had already committed to four years of Air Force life. I started in one office, then another, then another. Each office would tell me to go see another down the hall. Eventually, I found myself standing in the office of a man with lots of chrome and stars on his shoulders and Major General on his name plate. While very intimidated by his rank, I wasn’t deterred from my mission of being a firefighter. The final question the General asked me was, “Why would I want you to be a firefighter in my Air Force Airman?” to which I replied, “Sir, I have 4 years of training as a firefighter and I love doing that more than anything. I even have the documentation here to prove what I say to be true”. After reviewing the training records from my days as an Explorer, he sent me down the hall to an office which issued me new orders to Chanute AFB to Fire School and I was on my way.

During my basic firefighting school, the training was broken up into four two week blocks of training. The First two weeks were basic training where we learned how to wear the gear, SCBA, and basic terminology about the job. Next we completed Medical Training which included CPR and Medical First Responder courses. Block three is when the training started getting fun. This was the ARFF Block where we learned how to fight fires on Airplanes. They built some REALLY Big Fires!. Block four was the structural firefighting class learning about fighting fires in buildings, houses, and other types of structures. As the fire school was winding up, I found out that my initial base assignment was going to be in Myrtle Beach South Carolina. Another firefighter in my class from Los Angeles CA received orders to Minot AFB in North Dakota. After some begging from the guy from California I agreed to switch orders and go to North Dakota. Usually when I tell people this, they think I am nuts but for me it was a great choice. You’ll learn more about that later.

Once I graduated from Firefighting School and a short leave with family in Missouri, I headed north. On my way, I stopped by my old High School and watched the rest of my class graduate. I had graduated early and so I stopped by in my Dress Uniform to see some friends and to congratulate them. It seemed strange to be there! I had already been out of school for 5 months and done so much since then.

Soon, I was at my base and getting settled in. Of course there was continued training to learn more about the job and to begin to learn the different fire apparatus assigned to the base. When I tell young firefighters today that when I arrived at the base, the firefighters still rode on the tailboard of the trucks they can’t hardly believe it but I have pictures to prove it. My first year at the base was great. I continued my training, began getting assigned as the driver of some of the trucks and joined the Minot Rural Volunteer Fire Department. As the shifts rolled by, I continued to train, to learn, and even began fighting fires with the volunteer fire department. My very first fire, a car fire along a highway. Completely lost and all thumbs I survived my first battle with the dragon and despite my poor performance, the fire went out. (I think it was because there was nothing left to burn!).

By the end of my second year at Minot, I had completed all my continuing education requirements, learned all the fire apparatus at the station and was signed off to drive all of them except one, and was trained in the fire department alarm room (dispatch) and was pulling an 8 hour shift there each 24 hour shift day. Times were busy with the volunteer fire department also. Not much rain had made for a bad fire season with many range and grass fires plus a multitude of other emergencies also. I still had one goal that I hadn’t been able to realize yet. Become a certified driver for the P-15 ARFF Firefighting Vehicle.

What’s a P-15 you’re wondering? Only the biggest, baddest fire truck ever built!

The Air Force P-15 was assigned to bases with Large Frame Aircraft like the B-52 and the KC-135 both of which were assigned to Minot AFB. 6100 gallons of water, 515 gallons of AFFF Foam Concentrate, it discharged this mix of agent from two turrets mounted on top

This is the truck I worked so hard to become assigned to drive. Simply Awesome even in the pictures.

of the truck which were operated by firefighters standing on the roof to operate them. When discharging at maximum capacity, the truck was able to discharge at 2400 gallons of water per minute. Only a chose few were even allowed to test to become a driver and usually not until they had been at the fire department for 5 years. But, after some persistence I was allowed to test and passed. This allowed me to be assigned to the truck as the driver during our duty shifts. Something I worked very hard for but after this accomplishment, I truly began to believe I could do whatever my mind set me to do.

During the third year of my enlistment, somebody named Saddam Hussein decided to pick on some little country next door and got the US Military all stirred up. People were moving up and our fire department was put on standby for deployment. Part of the Air Force Fire Protection mission is to provide fire protection for forward operating bases which meant stateside firefighters would be moved up to those forward operating bases when needed. Our personnel were moved up in two groups with the first group leaving 4 months prior to another group including me. First to Egypt and then on to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During this time I had the chance to go on a refueling mission with one of our assigned aircraft and got the opportunity to see a Stealth Fighter before the public knew they existed. Saw a few planes with holes in them etc but nothing compared to those on the front lines. Finally, just before the 4th of July of 1991 I returned back to Minot to finish my enlistment.

In January of 1992 a Canadian Pacific freight train derailed in the small town of Burlington ND. I responded with the volunteer fire department and as we were enroute, we could see the derailment site and it appeared that the whole town was on fire. When we arrived, we set up portable master stream devices to protect railroad tank cars of LPG and attempted to prevent them from burning or exploding. I was assigned to operate one of the supply engines for the master steams. We hauled water that day with Concrete Mixing Trucks, Gasoline Tanker Trucks, and fire department tankers from 1/3 of the state just to try and keep those tanks from exploding and taking out the town. I will never forget being proud to have the skills and knowledge to do my job right and at the same time scared out of my mind wondering if I was going to live through the day. Fortunately, nothing exploded and I did live through the experience. I learned a lot of things including that train derailments are a great place to eat. The railroads contractors brought with them a cook trailer and the food was incredible. Darn near steak every meal if you wanted it.

In February of 1992 I received my honorable discharge from the Air Force, I headed south to Missouri. While I was finishing up High School, my family had already moved to Missouri and so it was time for me to find out what Missouri was all about. But that will be the next part of the story!

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Be Safe,

Firedog

In the Beginning…..

Many who choose this service for one reason or another has their “story” about how they came down this road.  A moment, an experience, a memory, a family tradition, all are examples of individual’s stories.  While I have told this story many times in voice, I don’t recall a time where I have put my “story” to print.  So I have a few minutes and well,  “here it goes”.

Believe it or not, my “story” begins in kindergarten.  During a field trip, we visited the local fire house in Houghton, MI.  On the day we visited, much of the class had the regular tour which spent equal amounts of time with the station, the truck (yes only one), the gear, and so on.  I remember vividly that the truck had a bell that each of us in class took time to ring.  While the rest of the class continued on with the tour, a firefighter stayed with the truck and realized my fascination with it.  So, he stayed behind the tour with me, and showed me everything on the truck.  What was behind every door, what every tool was and what it was for and so on.  Yes for those of you who are asking it was just the firefighter and I.  Today people would raise an eyebrow and wonder if it was ok.  Back then it was totally ok.  Trust wasn’t an issue and it was just pure appreciation for the trade of being a firefighter and someone taking the time to show “a future firefighter” the job that he obviously was very proud of.  I am thankful that he did because it set me on a course of interest in the job.  I was so impressed that for weeks later I would only draw the fire truck.  There is also a funny connection here…..The fire truck was lime green!

Fast forward a few years and I was now in Elementary School and Rockford Michigan.  My Mom had purchased a subscription to “Ranger Rick” magazine.  There on the front cover one month was this picture of a motor vehicle accident with firefighters, police officers, EMT’s and Paramedics, and even a Medical Helicopter working the scene.  I can still see the image to this day and I was fixated on that image and how great it must feel to know how to help when people are hurt.  Also during this time, we had a family friend from our church who worked for the local ambulance company.  I always wanted to ask him about the types of calls he had experienced but my parents strongly discouraged this because they told me he didn’t “like to talk about that stuff” with kids.  None, the less, I always liked talking with him and even got the chance to see him in his ambulance transporting a patient to the hospital.  The call must have been pretty serious because they had a police escort to the hospital blocking intersections so no one would slow down the drive.  Pretty cool to me!  Dad also had a friend who was a Michigan State Trooper and one day he came by the house and showed me his patrol car.  One would figure that I might have chosen that path because my Dad had planned on being a Trooper after his tour in the Navy had he not been extended past the test date for the academy.  A huge influence was this brand new TV show called EMERGENCY!  About these two guys who were firefighter paramedics in Los Angeles County California.  It was pretty cool!  I was already finding my heart very fond of Red Paint and Shiny Chrome.  A path had begun to form.

Fast forward again a few years and I was now living in Minnetonka Minnesota.  Again a family friend from church was a volunteer firefighter in Eden Prarie Minnesota.  He realized early that I had an interest in being a firefighter and his fire department staffed a rescue on Friday and Saturday nights and asked if I would like to ride along.  I said I would and so my parents dropped me off at firehouse with the Rescue on a Saturday night and the ride began.  It started slow.  One hour then two went by without a call.  We stopped at the local Perkins Restaurant for supper.  I was reminded that sometimes they just didn’t get calls but before the sentence was finished, the first call came in. A hockey player was injured at a local rink.  Kind of comical thinking back to all of us walking out on the ice with the crew and sliding around just to get to the player.  He was hurt for sure but not too badly.  I helped load him on a stretcher, into the ambulance and on to the hospital.  One call down.  Then it was absolutely non-stop!  A car crash, another medical call, a dumpster fire, a car fire, and next thing I knew it was time to quit for the night.  I was so terribly disappointed that it wouldn’t continue and wanting to do it again as soon as possible.  Unfortunately I would have to wait almost four years for me to be able to ride again.

Fast forward a few more years to Madison Wisconsin.  A year or so after moving to Wisconsin from Minnesota I had the chance to ride along again in Eden Prairie.  As before, we started slow but then things picked up and had another awesome night!  About this point in my life the hook of being a firefigher was firmly set!  Now as a freshman in High School one day I noticed these hand made picture collages in the hallways at school which said “if you think this is cool, come to the fire house on Monday night”.  So, I arrived to find out the local fire department was starting this thing called an Explorer Post.  It was going to not only be about firefighting, but also about law enforcement and EMS and would be called a public safety post.  They discussed meeting nights, uniforms, and this thing called a ride along.  They would be with the local PD and EMS for our area.  Fire was all volunteer so no ride along but if the fire whistle blew then we could come to the station and stand-by in case extra help was needed.  So I went to meetings, was issued a uniform and began riding with the PD first.  Don’t get me wrong, I did some pretty cool stuff.  Run radar, rode through 3 high speed chases (First time I ever was over 100 in a car!) and many other activities.  But I really found a love for riding on the ambulance.  Friday or Saturday nights it didn’t matter.  12 hours 8pm to 8am usually.  Most of the time didn’t sleep a wink at the station just hoping for a call and was usually disappointed but not always.  Football games meant EMS standby with a crew and when a player was hurt, I was right there with the crew tending to the injury and transporting people to the hospital.  I learned how to take vital signs, administer oxygen, spike an IV Bag, backboard people and many other skills I still use to this day.  I absolutely loved it!  In fact, I loved the fire stuff so much, I actually had my senior pictures taken with the pride and joy of the fire department.  Engine 1 was a beautiful Emergency One pumper that I was very proud off and loved to ride on every chance I got.  I received valuable training from the Fire Department and even learned enough to teach other Explorers about what we were to do on scenes.  (Yes, I started this training thing early!)  Plus, I was able to document everything that I learned in training with the fire department so well that those experiences would prove invaluable for the next part of this story.

However, that will have to continue for another post.

Be Safe!

Firedog

So the journey begins….

So, today I begin an adventure that my wife has encouraged me to do some time.  I am going to enter into a world that I do not know and am going to begin doing something that I have never tried.  I am Blogging!

For those of you who know me, you know that I can be a man at times of many words, many of you might even go so far as to say too many words too often.

Unlike some of the blogs that I have read up to this point, my blog is going to have a cause, a purpose, something that will keep you wanting to keep up with what is being said, and why it’s being said.

This is going to be about training from the viewpoint of someone who has despite their own best efforts, has miraculously managed to work up through the ranks.  Along the way, many observations about the brothers and sisters that I have served with along the way.  Many of the habits, traditions, cultures, jokes, and ideas that have come along the way.

Some of the time, you will find discussion on current events.  Something that has buzzed across the various trade outlets as the hot topic of the day.  Sometimes I will discuss something from the past.  It may be a significant event, a personal experience that warrants reflection, or others.

However, what is posted here will be mine.  My own thoughts, ideas, comments, and opinions.  Based upon my training, experience, and sometimes just my gut telling me the difference between right and wrong and what it may have to do with the topic of the day.

For those of you who will follow my journey through this blog, I hope that you will find it interesting, informative, enlightening, or if nothing else at least entertaining.

Thanks for following me on this journey.  It will be nice to have company as we travel together.

Firedog