Disclaimer: My knowledge of comic book canon is extremely limited and skewed greatly by feature film adaptations. Please excuse any incorrect or non-canonical information in my opening analogy and focus on the greater message.
Batman and Superman. Both comic book superheros, but for different reasons. Batman is an average man, except that he has limitless financial resources and some martial arts training. His advantage over crooks and robbers is found in a state of the art suit, belt full of gadgets, and some exotic vehicles.
Superman is an alien. Due to some kind of gravitational difference between his native planet and Earth, he has a number of superpowers including super strength and being able to jump high/fly. He is also somehow able to deflect bullets. He wears a “uniform” when saving people, but his superpowers are still available when in civilian dress.
How do the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight relate to the fire service? If Batman loses his gadgets and suit, he’s just a rich guy with kung fu moves. If Superman loses his cape and tights, he still has his powers. He can still fly, leap tall buildings, and shoot heat rays from his eyes. Superman doesn’t rely on a technological advantage, but instead has a basic skill set creating a physical advantage.
The fire service is constantly evolving its “tools of the trade”. Every expo debuts a new “game-changer” which promises to revolutionize our trade, and these breakthroughs often involve new technology. This is not a new trend, nor is it isolated to the fire service. Every industry has been undergoing the same pattern of technical advancement for decades, even centuries. Pieces of equipment that were common place when I joined this profession were rare or non-existent when today’s senior members came on the job. Thankfully, the “salty vets” are still around to remind us that the job can be done without the fancy toys. And so, this is my message to my fellow “youths” of the fire service.
The tools we have at our fingertips today are incredible. Read a training manual from just 20-40 years ago and that becomes evident. I can only imagine what will exist when we retire. However, this job was around before today’s technology and was completed without it. Today, we have the advantage of being able to learn from the “seniors” who worked before the time of high-pressure SCBA’s and TIC’s. They can teach us how to search when the TIC dies, attract attention when our PASS doesn’t work, and how to stay calm and have a chance of survival if our SCBA fails. They know that we need a sound foundation in the basics, or we will be lost when the technology inevitably fails. However, they won’t be around forever.
We will one day be the seniors. We must make certain that we retain and pass on the same values. Don’t let the next generation become reliant on circuit boards and sensors. They fail even under ordinary conditions, and we are firemen, we can find a way to break almost anything. Learn from the senior members. Learn how to function “unplugged”, if necessary. If the knowledge isn’t readily available within your agency, then search it out. There is still valuable information to be found in old training manuals. Just keep in mind that changes in building construction, building contents, and accepted practices have left some old tactics invalid. Continue to gather and store this knowledge in your mental toolbox and dispense it as new faces join the ranks.
Accept, embrace, and utilize new equipment as it is introduced, but don’t rely on it for absolute survival. Remain grounded with a solid base of basic skills that don’t depend on a battery. Be like Superman, and teach future generations to do the same.
On September 11th, 2012, my wife and I participated in the Colorado 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. I had been planning on writing a longer post about the event, but it would still ultimately fall short of sufficiently describing the experience. I’ll leave you with a handful of words and images instead…
I climbed in memory of FF Lincoln Quappe of Rescue 2. The participants gathered in the parking lot below the amphitheatre, beside retired FDNY Rescue 4. As the pipes and drums played at the foot of the towering rocks which frame the amphitheatre, and we prepared to climb before a beautiful mountain backdrop, the morning stood as the antithesis of the day which we were remembering. The only commonality…110 stories. Beyond that, we can never truly understand the unfathomable circumstances that met the Brothers that day.
There were 72 fire departments represented from 11 different states, along with law enforcement, members of the armed forces, relatives of 9/11 victims, and supportive civilians.
In all, 1,700 gathered to climb the stairs in remembrance. A staggering number for an event like this.
Yet, only a fraction of the number of lives lost on that day, eleven years ago.
Thank you to the Brother who took the time to make us feel welcome on what was surely a busy morning, and thank you to the family who allowed us the honor and privilege of joining them that evening.
I usually do not post or write thus far about any experiences I have had at work. I like to write more about the volunteer side of the fire service and brotherhood, But yesterday….. yesterday I’m going to write about. I am going to write about this because it is a story that needs to be told, and everyone needs to read and think about when it comes to a “routine” call. As I’ve noted in past posts, I am a volunteer and a Career fire fighter. I work on the Engine crew at a station that houses an Engine (Crew of 3) a squad ( Crew of 2) and Battalion Chief. Yesterday we were dispatched to a reported fire alarm with an activated smoke detector coming from the Boiler Room. We respond to several of these a day…. as do most of you, and everyone in the city does. Upon arrival, we found nothing showing and the BC assumed command as we all made a 360 looking for anything out of the ordinary. With no Knox box, we had a key holder on the way with a short ETA. The only thing notable we found was the sound of what we suspected was a compressor of some sort, no smoke or hard rattles that would give away a problem with the compressor…. just that it was running. We waited for the key holder to arrive and let us in the building so we could investigate further. Alarm panel confirmed boiler room smoke detector, so we along with the key holder proceeded that way. When we made our way downstairs and opened the door to the basement boiler room, we all noted the odor of something, something mechanical or to that effect. We looked in to see a very slight haze at the ceiling level, nothing we’ve never seen before…. it was almost not even there. You could just see it in the light, and could see through it straight to the back wall. Our suspicion was that this was like every call we had seen like this, either a light ballast or maybe the pump, we could now hear again, was overheated. When we proceeded down the stair case to see what was going on, The squad Captain went first followed by my captain, me and the squads operator with the key holder close behind. As soon as the first captain made it down, he immediately turned around with a look on his face like he had just seen a ghost, and said ” We gotta get out of here”. Right as he had said that, his knees started buckling under him and he started to go down. My Captain reached down and grabbed him and looked back at the rest of us and told us to get out and get O2. Backing out, we saw that the squad captain was getting out with the help of the engine captain so the squad operator zipped out to get the supplies. The key holder didn’t seem to understand what was going on, so on my way out I grabbed his shoulder and pointed him to the door and said “Out… Now!” As I gently urged the man to the outside door, I also broke into a direct run to the engine passing the BC on my way. He was asking “whats going on?!?” as I ran by and yelled back “man down inside”. When I caught up to the operator getting supplies, I saw he had the med bag and O2 as instructed, so I went behind him and grabbed the Defribulator…. just in case. By the time we had got back to the door, Both captains were making their way down the hall and out the door. The BC was advising everyone assigned to the alarm what was going on, that this was now a Haz-Mat scene and we went to work on the Captain. He never lost conciousness, but In a short few second of being in that room, he had lost some motor function. After getting some O2 and getting outside, he was already getting better. We assisted EMS with packing him up and sent him to the hospital for observation.Working the scene now as a Haz-Mat, we were able to get crews in, shut down the system and begin to ventilate the room. The call is still technically “under investigation” but we learned that a malfunction in the AC system caused a freon leak in the poorly ventilated room, displacing all the air.
It was a simple call. “Routine” as some would call it. But in a matter of 5-8 seconds, we went from a routine lunch interruption to a “man down” situation. I am sure that everyone has been to these calls…. fire alarm…. light haze…. lets figure out whats wrong real quick and get back to the house type of call that happens every day, everywhere. But the stars and planets lined up just right to turn the routine into something we’ve never seen before, and it happened in the blink of an eye. Simply put, try to be suspicious of everything brothers and sisters. There is no such thing as routine in this job, and I don’t want you to see the same look in your brothers eyes when you realize you are in a place you don’t need to be, and have that sudden “Oh Sh*t” moment. Stay safe, but be aggressive….
-Matthew Ritter (Captain Chaos)