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That “Oh Sh*t” moment…..

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)

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)

It takes experience to Master it…..

A few nights ago, I was watching one of my favorite movies in a series of movies: Red Dragon. You may be familiar with them, the fictional tales of the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lector, Will Graham and Clarice Starling. Most of you may familier with “Silence of the Lambs”, but there are several books and movies that go along with that particular movie in the series. During the movie, a certain scene stood out to me. It’s funny how a single line, or event witnessed, during the normal course of any day can suddenly bring about an idea completely out of the ball park of whats actually going on at the moment! The scene was when the main character Will Graham is visiting Dr. Lector in a bunker with an oval track in it for which he is allowed to “exercise”. The exercise consists of being chained and shackled to the inner part of the circle and Lector is allowed to Walk. The history between the two is a rough one, as it is Will who caught and arrested Lector, but not before Lector brings Will to the precipice of death with a Stiletto knife. Investigator Graham is trying to get Hannibal to assist him in catching another serial killer, who’s first killing went astray from what he had planned. He had to murder a man in a sudden rush of panic, because the man caught the killer in his home. Upon Grahams critique of the sloppy, ill planned murder, Lector asks Will if he himself has “never felt a sudden rush of panic?” after which, Lector lunges at Will. Due to his shackles and chain, Lector is stopped short, like a dog at the end of its rope mere inches away from Graham. Will retreats a bit, as fear grasped him. “Yeah, that’s the fear we talked about” Lector reply’s, amused at his own display, “It takes experience to master it.”

Our own Lt. Lemon talked about fear recently, and our need to master it in order to do our Job. And to accept it, use it, rather than brag on our t-shirts about how we have none of it. The line in the movie got my wheels turning. He is completely right. Hannibals little quote there, got me thinking on fear, and the experience it takes to master it. What kind of experience must we have, before we become masters of it? How much experience does it take? I thought about it for a few days before trying to write about it. I wondered to myself, If I am a master of my own fear. How would I know it? Are their different kinds of fear? I don’t know, as I’ve said before, I wont pretend to have all the answers, but lets talk about it together. I’ll give you some of my thoughts on it, and please be my guest and let me know what you think on the subject.

Fear in theory, from a firefighter perspective, should start on day 1. There should be a little bit, not much, when you walk into the firehouse. It should be mixed with anticipation, and maybe a little anxiety. “Will these guys accept me?” “will I get a call today?” “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” There should be a bit of all this when the pager, or bell, goes off for the first time. There should most certainly be a pang of fear crawl up your spine when you turn onto the street of your first fire, and see the tale tale glow coming from down the way, or you see the column of thick black smoke rising above the tree tops. Of course there are all sorts of emotions and feelings going on during these times, but intermixed in all these is Fear. Un-knowing to you, you have been learning to master it from the first time you ever saw a fire truck. You saw them going down the road, on the way to the un-known. Or maybe you met them at the station, patiently waiting on what’s to come today…. maybe tomorrow…. maybe thirty seconds from now. You saw them, knowing or learning about what they do, what they may be called upon to do at a moments notice and see no fear. Fire fighters. If you told someone off the street ” hey, sometime today  your going to come face to mask with death and its going to be up to you to conquer his grip. The grip may be light today, it might be tight. But today, you will meet him.” Now assuming you’re a prophet, and not some lunatic grabbing people on the street and speaking on imminent demise and death, and this person believed you…. The fear would stay with them all day. Hell it would stay with them all week! But here these people are, goofing off, reading a book, cooking supper…. here they are standing with no fear in the face of what could happen today. It truly does inspire a bit of confidence. Now here you are, standing with them. They relieve your fear with a joke, or maybe a first day pep-talk telling you what they expect from you. All these little things, have already started helping you tame that fear. Standing along with these guys…. they have been doing this for a long time…..its gonna be ok. Little things, bit by bit by itty bitty bit start to tame that fear.

Training, from day one, assists you in the mastery of fear. Learning to tie certain knots, advancing hose lines, live burns. Riding down narrow streets at a speed you never even thought about doing in a CAR, none the less a 45,000 pound big red truck, But your driver is doing it with the ease of a casual sunday stroll. EMT training, looking at pictures and hearing stories of what others have done and experienced, and all other sorts of training all get you prepared for whats next. Slowly, one call at a time, seeing things, smelling and hearing things all in their own way help you in your quest of fear mastery. Whether your realizing it or not, it all builds up over time. Some fire fighters are lucky, they volunteer in a busy district, or get assigned a hopping territory right from the get-go. Some never see no more than a couple hundred calls a year, and there are those in-between who work their way into the busy areas. Each call, every job, every ride to the grocery store (if you get that damn nose out of your smart phone and pay attention), can teach you more and more about your job, your territory. Every aspect of what we do can be a learning moment if you let it. The more you learn, train, and pay attention to details, the more you master that fear.

Everyone is different though. The mastery of one fear for a firefighter may take many more experiences (or less) for another firefighter to achieve the same level of mastery. You will come to learn it on your own, and pay attention! Fear is something that’s more than an object to learn to go over like an obstacle in a confidence course. That fear, although mastered it may be, will always be there. It’s what heightens your awareness when you step out on a four lane highway. It touches you on the shoulder when you feel an amount of heat in a room that you’ve never felt before. It reminds you it is there when you ride a suicide attempt. It heightens your senses, and will melt away the iron in your fists when it is necessary. Un-checked, fear will lead to panic and a complete shut-down of all but your fight or flight instincts. A mastery of it, and it becomes a friend. A colleague that whispers in your ear when its time to go, when its time to fight, when its time to pay attention to what you’re doing. A two-edged sword that will cut the snot out of you when you swing it the wrong way, and the snot out of whom ever is in its path.

What do you think? I’m sure someone out there is ready to stand up and say, Hey Cap! I aint skeered! No fires gonna get me! Well, Brother, that’s good. Just don’t be on my line when the smoke hits the floor, and the little bit of light in the room left goes out. Because if the shiver of fear dont crawl up your back and whisper in your ear…. then consider the fire your own Dr. Lector. He’s there in the dark. His stiletto is sharp….. and  waiting.

“So you were hurt not by a fault in your perception, or your instincts…. But because you failed to act on them until it was too late…..”

Dr. Hannibal Lector

Ta,Ta for now….. Stay safe, and ride hard

Capt. Chaos

Whats that your saying, Brother?

When you think about brotherhood, what comes to mind? Do you think about firefighting, and the brotherhood built on living together, laughing, crying and fighting fire together? Do you think about those in the armed forces, fighting, bleeding and dying together? Do you think of police officers, upholding the laws of the land together, and keeping society from falling into a caveman state of lawlessness? Do you think of team sports, striving to be the best and winning the title or big ring together? There are many forms of Brotherhood. All of which are bonds forged in different fires, struggles, and triumphs. Bonds are strengthened, and bonds are broken. Brothers and sisters come and go, for one reason or another. I’ve been contemplating something over the past few weeks as I have hit a bit of a writer’s block in my postings. I was not sure how I wanted to approach what I want to talk about, and to be frank, I’m writing this now still a little un-sure. So I will begin, with this: How can we make Brotherhood better?

Again, I am going to be frank. If you don’t like a little rough language, stop reading right here. As always, I don’t hold back what I say, because it’s how I feel. It’s what I am passionate about. And I’ve been considering what I’m about to talk about, and whether or not I’m going to be able to stick with it. I don’t want to be  a hypocrite, something I hate. But its something I want to try my absolute best at, and I want you the reader, to try with me. Every morning, with a cup of coffee in one hand, and some type of breakfast in the other, I sit and listen. I talk too, but I like to sit and listen. And it’s not just around the kitchen table, its in the bay, it’s during training, it’s here and there. At some point in the day, SOMEONE is the topic of conversation. And you know what topic im talking about. Who is saying what, who’s done this, who’s a shit head. Lets be honest with ourselves, its like a damn sewing circle sometimes. Sometimes, that one person drives us absolutely crazy. Their personality clashes with yours like a freaking meteor crashing to earth, and were talking wrath of God crash too. Maybe you think their lazy, maybe you think they love the taste of the chief’s sweet ass on their lips. The reasons are as long as the reasons people get out of the service. I did a little research on the topic of “talking shit” about other people, and finally found what I was looking for. A Brotherhood that don’t talk shit.

I don’t know much about freemasons. I know it’s a pretty old secretive society. But you don’t hear much about what goes on there, and what their rules are. But I did find some stuff on the Internet that was very helpful in what I wanted to get across. I completely lost my reference, though, I remember what I read of it. The passage in one of their many books had to do with not talking about another Mason in a manner that you wouldn’t speak to that mason directly to his face. Furthermore, if you cannot speak to a mason in a way that isnt in a reasonably courteous manner, then do not speak to that mason at all. In a way, it’s the ol’ Golden rule on treating people like you would have them treat you, but its taken to another level. If you can’t speak of someone well, then keep your mouth shut.  This is a rule of Masonry that is taken very seriously, and punished harshly if broken. It continued on to explain how the state of society today is due to everyone speaking in a manner unfit for creatures of God. Now you may already be thinking of people you don’t like, people you talk about on a regular basis, and think to yourself “I’m not going to quit talking about this guy, because the fire service would be better without them”. I’m not asking you to stop talking about people, at least not at this second, I’m asking you to think about this: How much better would our brotherhood be if we could be better human beings toward each other.

But what about the people you’ve spoken about in the past Capt. Chaos? What about the Bung holes who take up seats on trucks with sorry asses?!? I’m not saying this rule is going to change that. More like, make a better approach to how you speak to, or of, someone. In a brotherhood where a rule like this is the norm…. Silence is Damning. Now think of that person you think is a waste of your precious air. Another firefighter walks up and says, what do you think about that guy over there, the one that’s always sleeping? Instead of your normal, F*$U THAT F&*I#KER IN THE F(*#$ F(@#*$ F(@*#(*@#$(*@#$ F!……F!, you politely look at the person speaking to you, and say nothing. In fact, after they are sure you have heard the question they asked you, politely change the subject. See? Silence is Damning. When everyone around you can find nothing good of you to say…. perhaps, just perhaps it’s not them….. its you. Remember part of the rule, if you can’t speak to them in a manner befitting the brotherhood, you shouldnt talk to someone at all? If this person approaches you and wishes to have a conversation and you can not find a way to speak to them politely…. then don’t. Turn and walk away. Hows that for a shot in the arm on how the guys think of you? They can’t even find a way to speak to you? Again: is it you?

After thinking about this for a long while, I decided not to be hypocritical and post this, without giving it a try. Luckily, thus far, I’ve not had to outright ignore anymore….. yet. But I do have someone in mind, I wont talk about him. But that has not stopped everyone else, and when the topic has come up, I’ve remained silent. No one has really noticed….. you know what…. .I just thought of someone else…. HA! Anyways, no ones noticed me abstaining from keeping the conversation going, but I honestly think they may eventually catch on. It takes…. Jeez it takes A LOT…. to get ME to not look at things positively. Even if I remain silent on your abilities, knowledge and commitment to the fire service, I’ll find something good about you. I WILL find something good in you, even if it kills me. But I’m digressing here….

What do you think? Do you think you can accept Capt. Chaos’ challenge to you? Hell, make it a new years resolution. Tell everyone you know, at the house, at work, what ever where ever, to read this blog. Make an honest to goodness attempt to STOP talking badly of others. If you can’t speak well of someone, change the conversation all together. People will catch on…. it might take some time, but they will catch on. As for me, I’ve actually enjoyed to experiment. I’ve been Frank to people, but I’ve been frank with a little bit of conservatism. Im not going to tell someone out right that I think you’re a lazy stain on the mattress, but I may Frankly bring up the subject that I think we need to do something about the stain on the mattress you have become. Ive not had to worry about speaking to someone I don’t want to…. I just don’t. They pass me by, get the grumpy coffee, and leave. I don’t have to say good morning, because I don’t care if they have a good morning, because people like you just bring MY morning down. Well…. It’s an Idea anyways. Please, be my guest and give it a try. Tell me what you think about it…. better yet, give it a try to tell me how it’s worked for you!

Stay tuned in guys, we’ve been cooking up some ideas here at the HQ, and trust me…. TRUST me, you’re not going to want to miss out!

As always, Ride Hard, and keep your front to the fire!

-Capt. Chaos

Ya Can’t Teach Heart

As you may have already read, the Lt. And I took a road trip down the road to a little place called Roanoke VA. to visit the King of Blogs: Willie Wines Jr. and …. uh,…. wait a minute, I’ll remember in a second…. anyways, must not have been important…. oh well…. where was I? Oh yes, Willie. Anyways, we were greeted with open arms and treated like family. We were given an awesome tour of the city, Highlighted with a visit to the Fallen Firefighters memorial, and Historic Roanoke fire Station 1. I’ve gotta tell ya, if you are ever presented with an opportunity to see either of these spots, you will be a FOOL not to jump on it. This place is a wealth of tradition, history, and a vision of past fire life long gone. There is a huge difference between a fire station, and a fire HOUSE and places like old #1 take the differences even further than the imagination can go. After the tour, we took a walk down to a local watering hole, and talked some shop. I have to admit, Willie and… jeez its gonna come to me I promise….. well THEY know what they are talking about when it comes to Blogs and the fire service, and they have given Lemon and I some things to think about. There is obviously no substitute for real world experience, and that statement goes for blogging AND being a firefighter.


Day two brought us to 13 house to do a ride along with Captain Wines and his crew. I personally know how important Sundays are at the house. Unless the call volume is just unusually high, Sundays are reserved as “easy” days. This is a fire house tradition dating back to when chaos was just a twinkle in great great great Gammy chaos’ eye. They are typically days when we can sit back and, even though we stay vigilant as our job requires, enjoy a day with our crews. Having a deaf-mute hanging around with his all too wordy compadre might could be an un-welcome addition to the day, But these guys never once showed it if it was. We were already running late due to Lemons hour and a half, epic saga of a shower, yet we were greeted with a fire house feast fit for a king. We were taken to some more places in the city, met some more Brothers, and learned a few more things about RFD. Everyone we met never once made us feel as though we were a bother at all. Brotherhood isnt somethings these guys talk about, its something they live. You walk into the room with these guys, and can feel it. RHETT FLEITZ!!!! JEEZ THAT’S THE GUYS NAME! Talks about critics, deals, and All the time! I KNEW I would remember eventually. So we get back to the house and hang out all day with the King and his crew. Rhett dropped by some BBQ for supper, Bless his heart were gonna have to teach that man something about smoke, meat and sauce! J/k Buddy! The Q was excellent! I don’t know how good of a time these guys had with us, what with not being able to get a word in with Lemon running his mouth the whole time, But we had an outstanding time. True Brothers All of them, and it was an absolute HONOR to get to do what we did this weekend.

Among the many conversations we had, one statement Willie said stuck with me. It stuck, because I’ve heard it before, something I hadn’t heard in several years. My dad said it, My former Captain said it. Two men that I look up to as someone I want to emulate. Someone that if I could be half the firefighter they are, im gonna be alright. And now, here’s Willie Wines Jr. saying it too : “Ya can’t teach heart”. Four words that really don’t look right in a sentence, but have more meaning behind them than an english dictionary. I’ve wondered many times, is “heart” something I have? Because obviously, according to many people in my life that I look up to, If I don’t, It’s not something that can be learned. I like to think I do, Because to me having “heart” is the difference between being a firefighter, and a fire service employee. Having “Heart” means your going to go the extra mile, and not even think it was the extra mile. You went the extra mile because its your natural instinct to do more than what is required, not because you were asked, or told to go the extra mile, or did it to get a pat on the back at the end. It’s just something someone with “heart” does. Do the people around me say, “he has heart?” or “you can tell his heart is in it”. I learned a lesson on heart this weekend with Captain Wines and Lt. Fleitz taking us on a tour of a fire house when there could have been other places for them to be. I learned a lesson in “heart” tonight in training doing bail-out drills, when I see who went out the window once to satisfy the requirement and those that did it again, and again, and again just to reinforce that they were getting this drill right.

Do you have “heart”? It’s a question I really think every firefighter needs ask the person in the mirror. I think “heart” is something that, although not taught, is something that a particular thing gives you. Everyone has it, but what pulls it out of you? I know a firefighter personally that has made the statement “firefighting is my job, photography is my passion”. Did that sit well with you when you read it? It didn’t sit well with me when I heard it. Yes, this is a Job, and yes you can be passionate about more than one thing in your life. But if you wake up in the morning, and head to the house dreading another day at work, should firefighting be something you do anymore? I shutter to think I hated my job. If I did, I can tell you this: I wouldn’t do it. Id find another, one that I WAS passionate about. A job that when I did it, I put my “heart” into. Is there a job out there that has your heart, and passion? If there is, please, for your own sake and the sake of others that are working their butts off to get their foot into the door of a good firehouse, go do it. Dont waste a position on the truck to someone who dreads coming in to it. I’m not saying this in an angry or spiteful way. I’m saying it because the fire service can ill afford a group of guys whose heart isn’t in it. Your not going to go the extra mile. The reason that’s so important, is because the extra mile is where the golden stuff happens. The extra mile is where a fire apparatus goes from being a work truck to a show piece, no matter if it saw fire that day or not. The extra mile is where a fire station becomes a fire house. The extra mile is where the un-savable has a chance. It’s where the danger lies, and where safety dears not tread. It’s the difference between training untill you can’t get it wrong, not training untill you get it right. The extra mile: where those with “heart” go, and where those without it stop just short.

Maybe chaos has it wrong. Maybe I don’t have a clue what it is, and I just don’t recognize it? I don’t know, I wont pretend to have all the answers. I just think its something everyone should think about. Untill I CAN figure it all out, and have all the answers, I’ll just have to leave it at that. It’s almost bed time, and I’ll be at work tomorrow…. I can’t wait. I’ll be there an hour early before shift change, the coffee will be ready, and so will I.

To Rhett, Willie and all the guys we met: Thanks so much guys for the awesome time! I hope I didn’t talk your ears off too bad. Everyone was more welcoming that I ever imagined, and the hospitality you guys showed was second to none! The river of Brotherhood truly runs deep in Roanoke! We hope to see you guys again sometime, but until then, Ride hard and stay safe Brothers!

                                                 -Captain Chaos

Red Light district

Ah yes, we’ve all seen them…. Perky young volunteer firefighters whizzing down the road at incredible speed. Trying their absolute best to shave off as many seconds as possible to get to that .0025 acre spot fire, a.k.a. Natural Catastrophe!!!! We’ve seen old women yank that Lincoln Continental off the road. Old men in their 1892 model Ford Pickup truck shake their fists at that young whipper snapper barely an ass hair’s width off their bumper. Frightened citizens all, coming to a screeching dead stop, right in front of that 27 and a half foot set of Goodyear All Terrain Eagle Pro Grip come Hell or High Water rubber streaks in the middle of a four lane highway (that will stay there as a reminder for three months). You know exactly what im talkin’ bout’ Willis! I’m talking about those wonderful Vollies and their awe-inspiring $2,100.95 set of pretty red twinklies!

One follower of ELAFF has brought up the subject, and I whole heartedly approved of throwing my hat into the ring, and giving my own personal ideas and thoughts behind the issue! Now, Be advised, this is not gonna be a bash on the little volunteers and get on my little high horse and wag my finger session. Quite the contrary, I intend to look at this from a neutral perspective. Are they, or are they not a useful presence in the fire service? If you ask a volunteer, of course they are! You aint no real fire man without em! If you ask a professional, its absolutely re-dunkulous and a totally silly excuse to drive like a demon off its ridilin. Without trying to make a 12 page essay on the topic, I’ll shorten it down to a few points.

One question you must ask yourself before you invest yourself into the red light stereotype, is about its practicality. What is the intended use? Well it has from what I can see, two useful purposes. 1: To attempt to save some time by letting people know in front of you to make an attempt to move safely over and allow the first responder the right of way. Anyone who has ever driven emergency traffic knows this is N E V E R the case. See the light, pull to the right is, at least right now, a fantasy. A wishful dream of emergency responders and police. Reality is more along the lines of: See the light, panic, jerk the wheel in both directions at once while simultaneously slamming on the break and let “Jesus take the wheel”. Not very practical, being as were here to HELP people, not cause them to take their own lives by way of accidental vehicular manslaughter. Yeah, live with that on your conscience. Useful purpose #2: Arriving first on scene, the lights allow passing motorists a chance to slow down, and see whats going on ahead of them so they may make a better decision on whether or not to continue going 55 mph in a 45 zone. Now this seems to be a little more practical. However, real life experience suggests that while some may do this, others will see it as a chance to see something awesome, speed up, and even be so mesmerized by the beautiful lights they actually veer toward them like a moth to a flame. So, here we have our practical uses for having red lights. There are some more variables though, you must consider.

One such variable is your ability to use something that unfortunately ALOT of people lack when it comes to red light usage: Commonsense. It’s a dying thing these days, commonsense. Some people have it, some don’t. Some people get it over time, some…. will never, ever possess it….. ever. One example is to go balls to the wall, red lights a shinin’ to, oh lets say a breathing difficulty. Your 3 miles out, but luckily the call is about 2 blocks from the station…. the currently staffed with some paid guys station. Time to let your engine loose and let the lights pave the way? Commonsense says: “no”. Dumbass firefighter behind the wheel says: “Well hell yeah!” I’ll give you yet another subtle example, this one from real life, personal experience. I hear my station get a stand-by 10-70 while I was monitoring one day at home. Of course this is go time, im in my truck and headed to the station before the actual tones go out. Were the red lights on? Yes. Page came out, 10-70 ( fire, to those who are fortunate enough not to be forced to listen to silly codes) and communications advised that this will be behind the residence, neighbors see someone behind their house through the woods, burning something and was worried their house might catch on fire due to embers floating in the air. (click) Red light off. What do I see when I get to the station? There goes the truck, balls to the wall, down the road and incoming firefighters with their lights a flashin’ as hard as they can go! This is what im talking about… commonsense. The neighbors were worried that embers from burning trash/rubbish were going to all band into a fiery flotilla of screaming death and march straight through the pine thicket to raze their home to the ground like a Roman army? Emergency traffic worthy? I think not. Yes, I have mentioned this through the Chain, and yes it still happens because nothing is said or done about it. Not my call.

All this boils down to, to me, is pretty simple. Should vols have the ability to have the red light in their car? That depends on the department. Do you have a crew and several trucks out the door within a min. and a half or so after the page? If so, then running lights in POV’s probably isnt necessary. Do POV’s often arrive on scene first, before the trucks? Lights, maybe useful. Do you have roads in your district that offer motorists the ability to get out-of-the-way safely?It all boils down to your ability to listen to a situation, and correctly assess whether or not driving a POV emergency traffic is WORTH the risk of plowing gammy and peepop off the road in order to get on scene. I know you love it, because I love it. Its awesome. We have the best job in the world! But my goodness, please be careful! You don’t want to live with the guilt of harming someone so you can be the one to put out that spot fire! Commonsense… the ELAFF word of the day!

Stay safe out there Brothers and Sisters!

-Captain Chaos

Lessons Learned…..

The fire service has taken a few hits over the past couple weeks. Asheville Fire Department lost a veteran captain and brother to a fire in a medical building. Dallas Fire lost a brother as well when the roof collapsed below him as he was making the roof in an apartment blaze. Lt. Krodle, and Capt. Bowen along with their families, both blood and fire, are in our hearts and minds. Love you guys. I titled this blog as lessons learned, but the lesson has yet to be taught. I’m not talking about the lesson to be learned from the tragic loss of two brothers in the service we all love. I’m talking about the lesson that needs to be learned from pointing fingers, naming names, and playing the blame game ( or monday morning quarterbacking as I like to call it ). Its time for some hard words my friends. Theres nothing more infuriating to me, when I read other blogs, and listen to other firefighters when they sit back in their chairs and give their  assessment on exactly what they feel was the cause of a tragic LODD. How can you sit there and play the blame game? Who the hell do you think you are? I PROMISE you that you’re not all that and a bag of potato chips when it comes to the fire service. Go ahead and listen to the Mayday from Asheville on youtube. Read some of the awful things some of our own brothers are saying about the situation. Can something be learned out of the ashes that we must sift through in order to try to make sense of what and how and why something went wrong? Yes. Can something be learned from pointing your dirty little fat sausage fingers at the men and women who worked that scene and took charge of that scene? Actually yes….. I’ve learned that there are a bunch of sorry ass firefighters out there that need to learn a lesson in humility, or maybe just a lesson in being a decent human being. You know NOTHING of what happened, how it looked, how it felt, smelled, or tasted. The ONLY piece of information you have, is excerpts of radio traffic you listened to over the internet. Its one thing to sit at the kitchen table, or in the watch room or out in the bays and talk about what MIGHT have happened, and what MIGHT we possibly do to adjust our own tactics and strategies incase something like this happened today. Knowing what we now know, what little that might be, what can we take away from this today to make sure that we go back to our home and families tomorrow? To me…. that’s how we make sure that someones tragedy does not go in vain. When you get online and spout ridiculous rhetoric out of your un-educated mouth ( well, typed from your un-educated fingers) for all to see, including im sure from those who actually were THERE, all you’re doing is spitting on the memories of ALL those loved and lost. Imagine the impact of your words on the people who were there. Walk a mile in THEIR bunkers for a while. You Dishonor yourself, and your profession with your filth. You should absolutely be ashamed of yourself, because im ashamed for you. Ashamed to call you brother or sister, and that you’re a member of MY family. Take a lesson from me right here, and right now. Keep your ridiculous assumptions to yourself, hang your head in shame, and get your ass on the rig when the tones go off. This is an honorable service you are being privileged to be a part of, so start acting like it.

R.I.P. Brother Bowen and Brother Krodle

Fraternally, and in Solidarity


Size ups and You: Getting the job started right

If you are reading this article, then you probably already have a really good idea as to why initial on-scene size ups are important. But humor me, for a small fraction of your time, and let’s have a discussion on Initial scene size up, and why its an important tool in the ol tool box. How many times, By JEEBUS HOW MANY TIMES, have you listened to the radio and heard an initial size up go something like this: ” Engine two ninety-six dash eight point three on scene, working fire.” And as you sit there, on the edge of your seat as though watching the kick off to the biggest super bowl in known history, that’s it. That’s it? What on earth just happened?  We saw it! He just kicked the ball, and it never dropped out of the sky into the waiting arms the receiver! Rewind! REWIND! Where did the ball go? It’s just floating out there somewhere in limbo! If you have ever done this, given a two-word size up of a working fire, this is exactly what has happened. But there is no receiver waiting to catch a sun baked pork loin to run it down a field. There are other trucks, full of men and women dashing to your location to put their safety on the line. Those brothers and sisters are coming and have no clue whats going on, other than there is a fire. Now, granted, ten seconds ago so were you. But now, there is already a plan of action on the way, and all others en-route have no clue what it is. When I am riding the rig, or driving it, my mind is already working toward what needs to be done. I like to think about priorities, water supply, and the conditions I am currently presented with. I like to fill in as many blanks as I can, before I get there. Obviously, the size up cannot go on for five minuets, but the more relevant information I can get, the better prepared I am going to be to perform during that first 5 mins.There are tons of extremely smart guys out there who can hear an address and no matter if its their first due area, or 25th due area, know ” oh that’s a residential area, full of single story 800- 1200 square foot homes”. Unfortunately, I am not one of them, and im sure there are many like me. I like to know what im rolling up on, especially if there is already a unit on scene getting the game plan together. Dont be selfish with the radio waves, but don’t sound silly either. I don’t want to know the color of the house, or size of the tree in the front yard. Just give me an idea of whats going on. Id like some readers tell me what your department does as far as initial radio transmitted size ups? Please don’t read this and leave it chicken turd! Dont use your real name if you don’t want to! Just help continue the discussion! Put yourself in that 2nd or 3rd due engine, with that first “working fire” size up. What are you thinking? What would you LIKE to know? Now, lets say you’re in that same engine, and instead hear a size up that goes more like this ” Engine two ninety-six dash eight point three on scene, Two story light frame residential, Heave smoke pushing from the D side, heavy fire on the A D Corner. Going into a offensive mode.” Does this size up give you any better of an idea of whats going on? Should there be more said, or maybe less? Do you think it even matters? The Chaos what you think!


Stay safe out there leather heads!

-Captain Chaos

The times, they are a changin’

Bob Dylan wrote a song, and an album, under the name of the title that I have named this blog. I always interpreted the song as a parallel to how the world, and the politics of nations, change at the drop of a dime. How the words of a single man, the bullet of a single gun, or the floods of a single storm can make the world view its own self in a different light. A few months ago I listened to the song, and began to instead parallel the words to the fire service. When I did so, I was pretty amazed at how well it really fit. Policies, funding, politics, and tactics… oh how they have all changed over the last 10 years! Equally, change in the mindset of the old vollies compared to newer, younger ones who get boat loads of information and ideas from the internet and magazines as opposed to getting it all from fire ground experience. As the song played through my mind, and imagining how things have changed, I began to recall the days not so long ago of my childhood. I thought about the era that my father lived in the fire service. My dad used to take me to meetings, training, and even the occasional fire call. What the old timers did back in those times, with the equipment they had, always fills me with a pride. Where does that pride come from? Am I proud of the deeds I bore witness to, knowing that I am now part of that tradition? Is it a pride that simply comes from donning the helmet, knowing that its my crew and I that people will call upon when they need help the most? Pride can be a funny thing when you think about it. Where it comes from, and what it takes to instill it in different people. You can see it on a new firefighters face when they pull their first helmet out of the box and try it on. Where does that look go after a few years? Where is that look when they are out in the middle of a freshly paved road in the middle of the summer and its 98 degrees out, directing traffic around a tree that’s fallen? Where is that look at 3 AM, and their tending to a ninety year old woman who’s concerned she hasn’t had a bowl movement in two days? I’ve noticed how that pride comes back when the color of their helmet changes. A whole new world of possibilities have come open. But where does that look go when their doing reports? When they lose their senior firefighter to another shift, and get a probie who is so damn smug looking when he pulls that brand new black helmet out of its box? Where exactly is all this going Captain Chaos? What is your point? I mentioned my father, and the old times for a reason. My dad was in a very unique position back in the 80’s, and you can see the pride in his face when he recalls those times. He was the only firefighter that worked in the town that he volunteered. More appropriately, he was the only one that was allowed off work when the pager went off. For many years, during certain times of the day he was the towns only line of defence in times of emergency. But this isn’t where his pride lies, when he thinks back on those times. His real pride shows when he tells stories about how well other departments worked with him in those times. They often trained together, and fought a great deal of fire together. Those other departments knew also, that when their neighboring department had a call, there was only one man going. If there was someone out there listening, and knew the time of day, and heard the call, they never hesitated to assist. They didn’t need to hear a call for help, or for assistance, they went to their own station, and responded along with him just because. They knew that they had a brother out there responding alone, and they knew that where ever he was going, there was a good possibility they knew who was having the emergency. Whether it be a friend, a neighbor, family, or the neighbor of a family friend. My dad recalls those days fondly, because they got the job done together. The times have changed since then, around home, and all over the country.

Now days, you can’t just go help, at least not without a good bitchin’ from someone. And I’m not talking about jumping up and responding all over the county that you live in. I’m talking about hearing a call dispatched a few streets over from your location, and you know that you’re the closest help by a long shot. It’s not your territory, but you want to go help. Believe me, I’ve done it, and got that good bitchin’. But I ask you this, if you’re the one needing help, are you going to refuse it based on what department is coming to help you? Where is the sense in the way we act toward each other now? Some would say its the fear that has become instilled in us as we read about firefighters and chiefs being sued, many times for simply doing their duty and the outcome is not what was intended. Granted that may be a part of it, but I think some of it has to do with departmental pride.  Its a problem happening all over. Fire Departments are losing sight of what were here for. Here is where pride becomes a funny thing. Departmental pride can be a double-edged sword. This kind of pride does reside in all ranks, but as the bugle count gets bigger, so does the pride. On a Chief level, It is a pride one takes on when they know that they are whom everyone looks to, to set the standard and be the example. It can become a force all on its own, causing decisions to be made based on pride and emotions, rather than whats best for the people whom they are sworn to protect. Dont get me wrong, there are many a good leaders out there who never let service to their community take a back seat to things such as pride. On a Company officer level, it can produce a very healthy competition between companies and stations. It can also be a breeding ground for resentment, anger, and jealousy. I blame Departmental pride on many problems in todays fire service.

Without getting too many people jumping up and down on their keyboards, remember that im saying that department pride is to blame for SOME of the problems today. I’m not talking about the pride you have in saying, “I ride the busiest Engine in the county”. I’m talking about the pride that causes you to cancel the first in engine, or send them to a water point, because they are about to beat you in your own territory. I’m talking about, not calling for mutual aid from the closest station because you don’t like Billy Joe Bob who is the chief there. Believe it or not, this type of thing happens every day, all over. Companies sit idle with a fire a quarter-mile from the station, because it’s not their territory. Departmental pride can be trouble when you start holding the word “Fire Department” on the side of the rig less important than the name or number that comes before it. I’ve never come to understand it, I can’t even BS a good justification for it. All I know, is someone is in need of assistance, and the wheels aren’t turning. What is wrong with this picture? Has anyone else noticed this trend in our beloved service? Some would try to argue that the people in need are THEIR tax payers/public and they expect to see the big red trucks that they are paying for. But we all know that they don’t read the side of the truck as its pulling up, maybe afterwards, but certainly not as the emergency is happening. And THATS when they are in need! What has happened since the era that my father is so proud of? Bob Dylan knows: “The times, and they are a changin”.

Do you remember what the first question, aside from maybe “whats your name?”, you were asked when you first walked into the fire house? Most of the time, in most departments everywhere, the first question of any potential firefighter is ” Why do you want to be here?” The answer should be just about the same from all. Anyone who answers the question without saying at some point in the next sentence ” I want to help people” , typically isn’t the kind of person we want. Some people just want to try something different, get away from the house one night a week, or join the “good ol’ boy’s” club. This is NOT the correct mindset. Chaos does not endorse it, and its most certainly not a mantra endorsed by ELAFF. If you’re not signing up to provide emergency service to your fellow-man, and put your neck on the line for your friends, neighbors, and perfectly good strangers, then you need to join something else. Go on down to the Masons lodge, or Shriners, or Four H Fair, I don’t care. There are other means to be a pillar of your community, and most are very good things to be associated with. But don’t sign up for the Fire Department. We are here for the public, whom put their complete faith and trust in us, on the worst day of their lives. Firefighters, Drivers, Captains and Chiefs need to remember this, and keep it close to their hearts. It is your absolute DUTY to make sure the citizens of your district, AND of those surrounding it, get the best and most timely help possible. It don’t matter what the name of your department is, all that matters are the words “Fire Department” on the side of every truck, and back of every coat. Train like you mean it, as if its your last chance to do it before the real thing. Protect and defend the people and their property with EVERYTHING you have available to you, not just what you like or want to have available to you. We can take a lot of notes, and learn a lot of good things from those that have come before us. Especially back when it didn’t matter who it was, just that someone was there to help. The fire service will always be evolving. Tactics and strategies will inevitably change. The politics, the people, the equipment will change. Our mission stays the same: Protect lives, Property, and stabilize the emergency. Those priorities have not changed in centuries. If you’re not doing everything in your power that your rank affords you to do so, its time to do something else! Take up underwater basket weaving! Whatever you do, NEVER mis-place the publics trust, or safety, with something so petty as pride. As always boys and girls, stay safe, and make sure everyone goes HOME!

Dont be scared to comment! Agree or disagree, you ARE after all entitled to your opinion!

follow me on Facebook: Captain Chaos   Twitter: CaptainChaos001 

Captain Chaos

Before ELAFF HQ begins full swing on the world-wide web with articles, videos, pictures and overall general pandemonium, I was asked to first give a short introduction of myself. A while back, I was approached by a cat that goes by the name Lemon. Lieutenant Lemon that is, and offered me a really well paid position of being a contributor to his up and coming web site. At first I said, “if it aint burning, I aint there.” But then, about two and a half seconds later, I realized that this was an opportunity to be a part of the hottest trend in the fire service. So after this revelation, and a righteous pummeling with fists full of cash, I accepted. So the big question on everyone’s mind will be “Who IS this outlandish man, and self-proclaimed Dragon King?”  I am Captain Chaos. I am that guy that’s on every fire department. I’ve been there, done it, twice, and have an awesome t-shirt and coffee cup to prove it! Actual time on the truck does not matter. I have an answer to everything, am never wrong, and will always have a story better than yours. Surely by now, you realize who I am. Through these shenanigans, I do hope that we will have fun together, and LEARN something. Whether you get a good laugh, our just plain out right offended, the point is to take something away from it all, and make you a better firefighter. I wont, because I’m already perfect in every way. It does not get better than this, but I digress. As time goes on, you will come to understand the ELAFF mindset. Keep your tray in its upright position, your hands and arms inside the rig at all times, and hold on! Excessive Leather Accessories for Firefighters is just getting started! Enjoy!

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