Finish Strong

I transferred to a slow house two years before my retirement. I didn’t think I’d ever do that but I did. I had a conversation with an Engineer from the field that I have a bunch of respect for one afternoon at our admin office. He wasn’t trying to convince me to do it, but we talked about not having anything to prove and how it gets tougher as we get older and the toll waking up at night takes on us. So, after a second shoulder surgery I took his accidental counsel and went to Station 25 from Station 7, my dream assignment for the better part of the last six years.

It wasn’t totally about slowing down. Actually, that was probably only about 30% of my motivation to go. Station 25 is closer to my house and, having three young children, an elderly mother, and a disabled brother made it a logical choice.

I’ve learned that it truly does get harder after we crest the half century mark. Because of that I don’t fault the guys who do go to a slower house and slow down themselves. But I didn’t want to do that. You know, go to a slow house and sit on my hands for 24 months. Partly because that’s just the way I’m wired and partly, being candid, because I feel like I cruised during my years at the busier houses I worked at sometimes. Irony.

Before I get ahead of myself I need to say that I was blessed with an awesome crew during my time at Station 25. Awesome comes packaged many different ways. The awesome of Engineer Jerry Henegar, and Firefighters Todd Blandin and Chris Howe came package as support, positive attitudes, and a willingness to try new things and go all out.

A legendary football coach once said something like  this;

“If something goes badly, I did it. If something goes fairly well, we did it. If something goes great, you did it.”

There’s absolutely no way I could have done any of it without this crew. I’m pretty proud of the great things these guys did during these last 2 years if I do say so my own self.

Chris Howe designed a station patch that, I think, did more for 25’s image than anything done before it. “Old Dogs, New Tricks” summed up what we were all about pretty well. It said, “Yeah, we’ve got some miles on us. If you’ll shut up and listen you might learn something”.

Old Dogs – New Tricks 25B

Our first year together we decided to improve our fitness level and we did so well that the following year none of the other stations in our battalion would accept our challenge to beat us at the department fitness test. Even when it meant having 50 of your hydrants detailed in the spring by each station you beat.

August of last year I had the “bright idea”, I get a lot of those, to offer a 4-hour tactical class on attic fires at the tower on three consecutive shift evenings. These guys wrote portions of the class on vertical ventilation and put together nozzle specifications and demonstrations. There was no complaining, no griping, no halfway jobs. They blew it out of the water!

Our final act was this May at The Metro Atlanta Firefighters Conference. I had been nursing a concept for a class for the past several years and when I suggested it to them, like always, they were all about it.

“Calm, Cool, and Collected in Chaos” was a class in arousal control techniques. The techniques are applicable to highly confident firefighters in their prime as a firefighter survival tool. They are also extremely beneficial to new firefighters who struggle in their face pieces. And, as I learned and what made me finally pull the trigger on the class, the techniques are good for older guys who suddenly start struggling in their masks too.

We wound up giving the class to 11 firefighters from as close as Metro Atlanta, Alabama, Florida, and as far away as Wisconsin.

After about an hour in the classroom explaining the techniques we spent the rest of the day applying them.

First, we demonstrated how to stretch your bottle’s air supply after you’re fatigued and your low air alarm is sounding. These folks started out with about 1200psi. Firefighter Todd Blandin created a consumption course we could do quickly with tires we had on the drill field. When their vibra-alert activated, they sat down and started breathing the way we taught. After 30 minutes most still had air remaining and I’ve seen guys go nearly an hour!

Part of Firefighter Blandin’s consumption course to “TIRE” them out
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing to extend your air.
I’m never at a loss for words or pass up an opportunity to use them.

After this we put them through the SCBA maze and then the disentanglement prop. We stressed that the objective was not to see how fast you could finish. The objective was to utilize the skills we had taught them. We wanted them to apply them so that they could actually feel their respirations and heart rate slow after just a couple of breathes.

Disentanglement Prop

Firefighter Howe did a great job coaching them through the Disentanglement Prop.

Engineer Henegar did the same in the SCBA Maze.

After lunch we had a final practical. We started them off rapid dressing as we gave them their assignment. Then they took a 2 ½” house pack off the hose bed of Engine 25 and carried it to the burn house where we had them drive a truck tire about 8’ with a sledge hammer.

By now most of them were at least out of breath so we’d have them stop and take a couple of breathes from their diaphragm the way we taught them and enter the burn house where they followed a charged hose line doing various tasks. However, we were blaring emergency radio traffic while strobes were flashing. This was all in an effort to stimulate their senses so they could apply their new techniques.

After rapid dressing while paying attention to your assignment the student takes a 2 1/2″ House Pack off Engine 25

The student carries the House Pack 50′ to the burn house where they drive a tire 8′ to simulate forcing entry.

When the subject of retirement comes up guys always ask if you think you’re going to miss it. Everybody answers that they are going to miss the comradery and the guys. I am too. But I’ll miss training too. I was glad God blessed me with this crew for my last charge. I was hopeful, and had actually planned, to give the attic fire class another three dates before I retired but family issues took priority. I had also offered to give Calm, Cool, and Collected to the present recruits but never heard back from the powers that be. So…I guess this was my last hoorah.

Regrets? Not really. Do I feel like we finished strong? Dang skippy I do.

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