Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Day, First Day pt. 2

As promised, here is part two of my wildly successful blog from last week. Ok, wildly successful is a bit of a stretch. If you haven't read part one, you probably should. As you may recall from waaay back on last Sunday, I wrote about how station 22 celebrated my last day as a firefighter at the station. BTW, the Halloween picture they used for the cake now has a nice spot on the refrigerator for everyone to see. I can't thank my wife enough for that little nugget.

Anyway, let's get to my first day as a lieutenant at station 15. It was Monday morning and I had been assigned to the ladder for the first half of the day. Nevermind the fact that I've never ridden ladder 15 in my career though that didn't discourage my bosses from putting me in charge of it on my first day. It is, after all, the best way to become efficient, right? My cousin always tells me that putting myself into uncomfortable positions is the best way to grow. By 8:30 Monday morning, I was a little skeptical about that bit of advice.

I showed up to work with 4 gallons of ice cream, a mandatory gesture for a firefighter doing something for the first time and I was pretty sure my day would be full of firsts.

I checked my equipment, did some paperwork, put up the ladder with the crew, and helped with the housework. So far, so good.

The morning came and went with little action. The afternoon, however, was a different matter. I was hoping for a fire alarm, or a CO (carbon monoxide) check, or something minor to get my feet wet.

Uh, wrong.

My first ever call as a lieutenant came mid afternoon. It was a report of a fire. Half-way to the scene, one of the responding companies reported heavy smoke showing and they weren't even close to the fire yet.

Ready or not, this was it. We ended up being the second ladder on the scene and the fire was mostly out which meant I didn't have a lot to do. Most of the firefighters there were friends of mine or, at the least, acquaintances and this was their first chance to see me in my bright red, almost glowing new helmet.

Startling me from behind, a guy named Billy pounded on my helmet with a pike pole three times, almost breaking my neck. I turned and smiled. He reminded me that even if I was a lieutenant, I was still a "newboy" in his eyes.

Before we left, I heard every joke about how I should roll in the ashes and soot inside the fire building to knock some of the shine from my helmet. (Which I didn't do in case you're wondering.) I've heard that joke about 100 times since as well.

We headed back to the station. It wasn't more than a half-hour later that we received another call. And again this was a report of a fire only this time we'd be the first ladder on the scene. To make my life a little more stressful, this was reported in a warehouse with, yes you guessed it, another column of smoke from the distance.

Here's where I got lucky. The ladder crew assigned to me that day was a very experienced crew and for the most part my job was not getting in their way. Alright, I had a little more to do than that but you get the picture. I did more on that call than the first but since it turned out to be a car on fire inside the garage of a repair shop, it was contained before it got into the walls and most of my work was after the initial knockdown.

And still my helmet looked like a shiny red apple.

Back at the station, my wonderful, lovely, stupendous (am I laying it on too thick?) friend, we call him "pup," let me know that the Captain of another ladder company had called and was pissed at me for something I did on the fire. My first day and somehow I was upsetting captains.

I decided to call him back right away so I could take my lumps and clear the air. There was only one problem: the tones went off again and I got the CO run I had hoped for earlier. Of course, throughout the CO run, I couldn't think of anything but why the captain could be angry with me.

If you didn't realize by now, my stress level was entering the red zone.

After the CO run, I dialed the captain's station (I know phones don't have dials anymore but could you cut me some slack here?)

The captain's initial words were, "Congratulations on the promotion."

The calm before the storm.

I said, "I heard you were upset with something I did on the fire earlier."

"Oh yeah?" he said, sounding genuinely surprised. "And what do you think that was?"

I had probably done at least ten things wrong but I wasn't about to give him any additional fodder. "I don't know, cap."

I could almost see him grinning through the phone when he said, "Who told you that I was mad?"

I realized the joke before I even said Pup's name and my face undoubtedly matched my helmet.

After a quick laugh, he said, "They're messing with you, Doug. I only wish they had told me before you called so I could have been a part of the joke. I would have let you have it."

I said, "I'm glad they didn't"

Good one, Pup.

That evening I moved to the engine, where I am infinitely more comfortable. The rest of shift was uneventful and I survived my first day as a lieutenant.

Oh yeah, I forgot. At lunch, they presented me with a toy "light stick."

Uh, "Star Wars" again. Thanks 22's.

Will it never end?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Last Day, First Day

Friday was my last day as a firefighter at Station 22. After 11 years at the station, the guys and I have become more like family than coworkers. I've been through some of the best times and some of the worst times with these guys and leaving 22's was a pretty tough thing to do.

On the fire department there is a tradition that a person getting promoted, or as we call it "getting made," must buy steaks for everyone at the station. Well, Friday night was my night to buy steaks.

You see, I've been promoted to Lieutenant. Among other things, being promoted means I have to vacate my firefighter assignment in order to move into another station where a lieutenant is needed. On Columbus Fire Department, that will likely be a different station each day until I can bid on a permanent place.

This blog is about my last day at 22's as a firefighter. Part two will come in the next week or so and will be about my first day as a new lieutenant. To celebrate my promotion, several people stopped by the station to wish me well, which meant more steaks. My wife and son, some of my best friends on the department, and my battalion chief to name a few. Fifteen steaks in all and I haven't even gotten my first paycheck.

As anyone who follows my blog will know, firefighters don't simply stop with congratulations. There has to be some sort of razzing and the act of getting promoted doesn't lessen that harassment in any way.

The first thing I found was a little announcement on the dry erase board. Here's a picture of what it said:

I feel the "Star Wars" reference needs to be explained. Since this is my blog, I can explain it in any way that I feel will cause me the least embarrassment. Let me preface by telling you that I like to go to movies on their opening night. Maybe it is because I like the atmosphere, maybe because I can't wait, or maybe I am just a sucker for the hype. But whatever the reason, that isn't what's important.

Anyway, several years ago I had some friends who were going to the premiere of one of the new "Star Wars" movies. I was invited and thought it might be fun to go with my friends. But I had a problem--I worked that shift. Trying to be as nonchalant as I could, I asked one of the guys to work for me that night and in return I'd work for him on my next night off. I didn't see it as a big deal.

Boy was I mistaken.

My friend worked my shift as planned. I wasn't there but apparently during the evening news when the reporter did a story about the "Star Wars" fans waiting in line, my friend accidentally let it slip where I was going. (Yes, Mike, I'm talking about you.) So here I am standing in line for "Star Wars" (which I hated btw) while the guys at 22's were rolling on the floor hysterical at the knowledge that I took off work for such an event. They couldn't wait for my next shift.

For many years, my life became Chewbacca noises on the house intercom, jokes about carrying a "light stick" as they liked to call the light-sabers, and dressing up in line (which I absolutely have never done).

In fact, one night we responded to a house where the kids were playing "Star Wars." My genius firefighter buddies thought it would be funny to ask the parents what they thought of a guy taking off work to go stand in line for a "kids" movie. And then, like always, they'd add their line about me dressing up in costumes, which again is not true. Leave it to a firefighter to not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Back to Friday night. My lieutenant gave a wonderful speech about how great I am. Remember, this is my blog and I can tell it however I please. When he finished, my chief made some equally nice comments and then they presented me with a Star Wars-wrapped gift.

Again with the "Star Wars." Arrgghh.

With everyone watching, I was terrified to open the package, expecting an action figure or a light stick. But it wasn't "Star Wars" memorabilia at all. My gift was a firefighter knife with an engraved blade reading: Lt. Doug Brown. E22. It is awesome.

But the jokes weren't enough for these clowns. My friend and top harasser, John, insisted that he is going to call every station that I go to and make sure the firefighters there are aware of the "Star Wars" incident. Is it too late to resign from the fire department?

On top of everything, a couple of my close friends gave me gifts that I could never thank them for enough.

And finally, there's the cake...

I hesitate in showing you this but decided we're all adults here and my coworkers' time and energy shouldn't go to waste. Thanks to my lovely wife they were able to get a picture of me in my most embarrassing Halloween outfit (yes, honey, they squealed).

So here it is for the world to enjoy--a picture of me at my worst. All this and I didn't even win the costume contest that year.

All joking aside, I'm going to miss the guys at 22's as much as I'd miss an infected in-grown toenail. No, I'm kidding. I'll miss them like cousins who move far away. Well, maybe fourth cousins. Alright, fifth cousins tops.

And there you have it, a snippet of my last day at 22's. My next blog will be about my first day as a new lieutenant. I have no idea how that blog will turn out but hopefully I have good things to say. I'm at L15 on Monday and I'm well-aware that the guys at 15's make the guys at 22's seem like choir boys.

What did I get myself into?

"Star Wars," anyone?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Random Firehouse Fun

After my last depressing blog, I felt like writing about something a little lighter. With the threat of injury or death so near, firefighters have to have ways to lighten the stress. This blog showcases a few of those examples that I have found comical.

The Viper
There is an unofficial fire department prank that is done at every station at some point. We call it the viper. It's very simple to do and all you need is clear tape or a rubber band. While no one is in the kitchen you tape or bind the sink sprayer so that it is locked open. Then you sit back and wait for the first guy or gal to turn on the faucet. With its positioning it is perfect for drenching their shirt. Those initial seconds of panic on their faces as they register what is happening and react are priceless. You just have to be careful not to nail a chief or an officer who doesn't have a very good sense of humor. I've seen no less than two sprayers ripped from the sink in anger. I'm not saying it is any less hysterical, but if you're the one who did it you’d better look out. So it costs us twenty bucks out of our pockets to fix, it is well worth the cash.

Alarm clock

When I first came onto the fire department I had a lieutenant who occasionally took the brunt of a firehouse prank or two… Or fifty. The other units especially loved to mess with him. When he worked overtime one night before my shift started, the other unit taped an alarm clock to the back of a locker in his bedroom. Then they set that alarm for three o'clock in the morning. I was in the kitchen waiting for roll call as the previous unit guys explained their latest prank. Our station captain was in the kitchen with us when our lieutenant entered the room.

Our lieutenant had his head drooped forward like he was ashamed of something. “Uh, Cap,” he said while rubbing the back of his neck. “I had a problem with your locker last night.”

The Captain’s eyes bulged. “My locker?” he shouted. “What did you do to my locker?”

“Well, uh, I had to break into it last night. I cut your lock. It seems your alarm clock went off at three in the morning and I couldn't sleep.”

“I don't have an alarm clock in my locker.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t find one. I think someone’s clock fell behind the locker.”

By this point I was dying inside trying to hold in my laughter as were the other guys. The Captain stormed from the room to check the damage with our lieutenant hot on his heels. I don’t think he ever realized that the guys were screwing with him.

Storm watch

As a rookie firefighter the pranks are endless. Storm watch is one of my favorites. It was around dinnertime and it was raining pretty heavily. The weatherman on the evening news reported a heavy storm was coming and you could sense in the air that it was going to be a busy night.

"Hey rookie,” one of the guys yelled. “You got storm watch." The new guy looked at us like he had no idea what we are talking about which, of course, he didn’t because it was total BS. “You don't know what storm watch is?” we asked.

He shook his head.

“I can't believe they didn't teach you about this in the Academy. Don't worry, lieutenant, I'll teach him. Come on, rookie.”

The lieutenant shook his head. “I don’t even want to know.”

This is where we gave the rookie an umbrella, had him grab his coat, and assigned him a radio which was turned to a channel that no one was using. Well, no one but us. Next, we helped him put a ladder against the side of the firehouse and showed him to the roof. You have to be careful with this prank and make sure there isn't any nearby lightning. Once he was situated on the roof in the pouring rain we told him to report the weather conditions every 5 minutes on the “special” radio channel. Then we went back into the warm inside and listened to his prompt five-minute reports.

By the way, don’t tell our chief about this. ;)

The firehouse has a million of these stories. Every once in awhile I’ll talk about them here.