Archive | June 2012

Keeping the Faith…..

I have to admit, its been a little while since my last post for ELAFF. The busy season is upon us with part-time work, which I do many little odds and ends here and there with some of the guys at work. I have been slowly working on a small business project along with a good friend and fellow brother, Steven Sweatt who also posts web-netty nifty tid-bits he finds here and there on Facebook. Check out and like The Daily Hydrant on Facebook if you have a few mins. of spare time. He finds plenty of things to read about and watch when you have some time to kill instead of reading the recent “get Obama out of the white house” propaganda smeared all over the interwebz. On the front lines, I have been re-assigned to two different houses, and three different trucks in the past six months. The heads of the department have been doing their best to work with limited man power and a slew of other administrative obstacles that probably contributed to the moves. But the good part is that after nearly seven years, I am currently assigned to the Engine company I have been requesting, begging, and praying for since day one of the academy. With all the moves, I have been doing my best to study the streets, buildings, and many different little quirks and idiosyncracies of the territories I’ve been in. I’ll get to all that in another post though, as that is a whole thing all on its own.

Another of the many things that have been on my mind as of late, is how I want to proceed here on ELAFFHQ.COM. As our readers know, we’re out! Secrets over with, and our faces have been laid bare for all to see, although mine is much easier on the eyes! ( Just pickin’ Pete ) So I guess the real question has been, what now? Of course I plan to continue with my writing, just as before. Revealing myself has not changed how I feel, and it was never to mask myself to say things that I wouldn’t otherwise say any other time. It was fun. Talking with the Lt., we decided being anonymous was pretty much played out, and it was time to start working on a new chapter. I think whats best now, is to give the readers a little more on the face that can now be associated with the words. Eventually, I think people will lose interest if there is never a person behind the posts. So I guess it’s about time to let everyone in, just a little bit.

Before I get to that though, I wanted to actually write about something. A lot has happened, and although I wont get into it, that has shaken my confidence in the service lately. I have been having a hard time even with holding on to my on beliefs as to what the fire service is, how it works, and why. Its been piling up actually. Several years of hearing this, watching that. Reading all sorts of news from all across the country of brothers and sisters near and far making us all look bad. It almost seems for every GOOD thing we accomplish (or actually hear about accomplishing) to ensure the brotherhood and service shines like a new penny, There is a line of jack wagons to ruin it. The list runs from bored fire fighters setting fires, to Chief officers running their departments traditions and people into the ground on epic levels. I’ve been having a hard time as a union member, and whether or not its right for me to be in it. I believe in the IAFF, and their mission, so let’s be clear. What I am having a hard time with is being a member of a system of groups that have helped contribute to the condition our great country is in. There are those on one side who will point their guns to the other side and say “this is the unions fault!”, and there are those on the opposite side who point their guns and say “This is big business’ fault!”. This is a stand-off that’s been playing out for over a hundred years now, and its all being officiated by the Government whom promises both sides the world and delivers almost nothing but taxes and pacifiers. Once the big rubber nipples wear off those pacifiers, it starts all over again.

I guess I’ve been having a hard time living in between both sides. All are making valid points on whose right and wrong, but no one is coming up with real, tangible solutions to the problems. The same is going on with the service we all love. Sure, it’s not everywhere, but there are a lot of places where there is a big thick line between Administration or Boards and front line personnel that do the exact same thing. Firing off shots at each other, pointing fingers and blaming. The politics. I’ve been having a hard time with understanding this lately, and its taken a toll on my spirits. I do not understand it all really, and try as I may to do so, I’ve failed. I feel like I have been having one great big pity party! Well, I decided a few months ago that the pity party is over. I have to focus on whats real, whats right, and what I have to do to make sure it continues on the path of right. I am going to start concentrating back on what made me love the job in the first place. My very own north star. Keep the faith, is the term that seems to fit. Are there any struggles in your department, or life that feel like things have gotten beyond control? Maybe things feel like they have no end in sight, or that there is a better way but everyone seems to be too busy loading their guns with ammo to see it. Keep the Faith brother. Hold on to what you know, and what you love about what we do. Perhaps there is a corner to turn into soon, and once there its all down hill from that point. Just maybe, if you play your cards right, and keep at it, you will be in a position to make the change that’s needed. Remember this time in your life though. It may be your change that puts the guys in the same funk you’re in now! For now, its time for me to take inventory on what I have done so far, and make my plan for where I want to go. Prioritize. Keep the faith, and work towards one goal at a time. I’ll write more about them soon….

So the mystery of the faces and names of Lemon and Chaos now gone, WHO are they? Well, as seen in the video we posted a while back, my name is Matthew Ritter. A.K.A. Captain Chaos, A.K.A. The Shredder A.K.A. Tight Packer A.K.A…… well I  received numerous nick names given to me since I became a Fire Fighter in 2003. I fell in love with the job as a volunteer for Ramseur Fire Dept, and in 2005 I got a job as a Firefighter with a much larger department . I like to write mostly about the Volunteer end, though my experiences on the paid side have served me well in bringing something more to the table. Now a Captain with Ramseur, I am a second generation Firefighter, and 29 years old. Married to a wonderful wife of nearly 5 years, Gwyn, who puts up with all this fire fighting life not to mention my….. distinguished…… personality! You may have seen or Liked Captain Chaos on Facebook, I mostly post things there for fun. You can also follow me on Twitter @CaptainChaos001 . Now that I feel like I am getting out of my funk, and writers block, I’ll be back to posting on a more regular basis. Thanks as always for reading Brothers and Sisters! We’ve had a lot of fun with ELAFF, and hope you have too! Tell others about us, so we can all share ideas and keep things lively!

Matthew Ritter (Captain Chaos)

Death, Perspective, and the Garbageman.

“The garbage man doesn’t get excited when he turns the corner and sees trash, because he’s expecting it. Likewise, you should be expecting fire on every run.” – Lt. Andy Fredericks

The above quote by Andy Fredericks is one which permeates the fire service from coast to coast. It is spoken in many a firehouse, usually by an elder fireman to one with less experience, even if the speaker doesn’t know where the quote originated. If you aren’t familiar with the late Andy Fredericks, click the link above for a brief bio.

What Andy was getting at is obvious. The garbageman isn’t reduced to a hyper-ventilating, giddy, screaming maniac at the sight of trash because that’s his job, that’s what he trains for, that’s what he expects when he mounts his rig in the morning. In the same respect, firemen should expect fire. That’s often why people call us. They usually mention something about it in the dispatch. We shouldn’t be surprised, screaming the size-up and jumping around in the front yard, when we roll up and visually confirm the reported fire. Burning property is simply part of this job. Take a breath, make a plan, and execute it. Simple enough, so how else can the garbageman be related to the fireman?

I was recently reminded of this quote as I read an article in a magazine published for government workers. It discussed a 2010 NIOSH study on Solid Waste Collection workers, mainly the occurrence of fatal traumatic injuries in the industry. NIOSH investigates on-duty fatalities in almost every industry, just as they do for the fire service. This report was intriguing as it stated that, on average from 2003-2009, there were 85 on-duty traumatic fatalities per year in the solid waste collection industry. The fire service typically states an average of 100 LODD’s per year, which isn’t far off in itself, but the past three years have seen a decrease in those numbers. In 2010, the USFA counted 87 LODD’s. This number includes 15 post-duty deaths (which must be removed as those deaths are not counted in the solid waste report). Subtracting those incidents leaves us with 72 LODD’s, which was the number reported by the NFPA. This number is meaningful, but not accurately comparative. Taking the average number of NFPA recorded on-duty LODD’s from 2003-2009 gives us a useful result of 97. Just over 10 more LODD’s than trash collectors for the same time period. So, trash collectors experience almost the same number of on-duty deaths per year on average.

These numbers are still not in proper context, so let’s dissect them a bit further. In 2010, the NIOSH  listed 478,000 waste collection employees nationwide. The NFPA listed 1,103,300 firefighters in the nation for the same year. This means that there was a 0.018% fatality rate for the waste collection industry, and a 0.008% fatality rate for the fire service, on average.

Refuse collection is not the safest occupation by any account. They spend nearly their entire shift in traffic. They work around compactors, grinders, shredders, and all sorts of other nasty, destructive equipment. In addition, most areas still allow trash collectors to ride the tailboard. They are “in the hot zone” everyday, where many firefighters hardly see fire on a weekly or monthly basis. However, most in the fire service, and public, would still consider our profession to be more hazardous. The fact remains that the numbers show trash collection to be more dangerous than firefighting in the U.S.

So, what’s the point of all of this? I really don’t know. The numbers and similarities simply caught my eye and I thought that I would share. I’m not pushing an agenda or taking sides. I’m simply passing on some interesting information. It’s worth a thought. We can still cut those numbers down. Wear your seatbelt, maintain your equipment, stay in shape and eat right. Be prepared. Too many of these fatalities were potentially preventable. On the other hand, some of them just weren’t. Plain and simple. If we do the job that we are supposed to, somebody inevitably won’t come home. The garbageman faces the same odds as he collects the trash. We simply can’t eliminate the risk. All that we can do is minimize it, but not by taking shortcuts or making excuses. As of now, we may be better off than we thought…it just depends on your perspective.

I could have cut the post off there, but the topic of perspective stuck with me. Let’s continue with the summertime example of a swimming pool. You’re standing poolside, nice and warm in the sunshine, when someone in the pool encourages you to jump in. “The water’s fine!”, they shout. Of course, you know better. That water feels pleasant to them, but to your sun-warmed skin it will likely feel like diving into the North Atlantic in January. However, once the initial shock wears off, the water begins to lose its frozen bite. Your body begins to acclimate to the new environment and before long you find yourself wondering why you spent so much time allowing the UV rays to cook you on the deck.

The same issue arises when we discover new tactics for the fire service. We hear someone mention “transitional this” or “single-person that” and we wither up in fear. “No way, I’m not jumping in THAT pool. It’s freezing and cannot possibly be capable of sustaining life. It’s not what I’m used to.” At this point we must decide. We can remain outside the pool doing the same old thing as we burn up in the sun’s radiation, applying sunscreen to prolong the effects, but eventually succumbing to the scorching rays; or we can jump in and test the water. We may find that it is much more comfortable than our previous methods, leaving us questioning why we didn’t make the jump earlier.

There will likely be cases where this is not true. You will jump in to find that the few swimmers calling to you are absurd, and the water is truly unbearable (at least to your department). Don’t let this possibility stop you, though. In those cases, the solution is as simple as climbing back onto the deck of your old, tried-and-true methods and carrying on. A lesson learned and no harm done. That’s why we test new tactics during drill time first.

The message here, if there is one at all, is simple. Don’t let your perspective fool you. Take a look at the job from a different angle from time to time, you may be surprised at what you see.

– Pete (Lt. Lemon)


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