I was walking out of Kroger when he passed me coming in. It seems like I can spot a Maltese Cross on your jacket from a mile away. Maybe most firefighters do that too. Maybe I’m weird. Maybe a little of both.
On a different occasion I bumped into a very old gentleman with an FDNY cap on and we chatted for awhile in the same parking lot. I would have loved to sit over a pot of coffee and hear his stories from the “war years”. You know, report from Engine Company 82 stuff but a few moments as we were getting into our vehicles was all I could get that time.
Anyway, I finally caught up to him. He was moving so fast it looked like I might have been trying to invite him to an Amway meeting. “Sir…SIR! Sorry to bother you but I noticed your jacket. I was just curious where you worked.”
He turned to answer. He didn’t seem frustrated or bothered just not super engaging, not yet anyway. But it’s funny. I happened to be wearing my IAFF tee shirt and I suppose he noticed my Maltese too. That’s when the brotherhood kicked in.
“I worked in Wethersfield, Connecticut!”
For many of us in the south we have an image of northeastern firefighting. In our minds, until we rationalize it, every department “up there” has multiple fires every day. Those firefighters are pulling hose up old high-rises. They are jumping from fire escapes with toddlers in their arms. They are making a push from an apartment hallway, face to the floor, heavy fire coming out of an apartment door.
“Oh yeah? I’m assuming you’re retired. When did you go?”
“I retired at 62!”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you now?”
Now I’m really intrigued. Here is a northeastern firefighter who pulled hose for, give or take, 40 years. I asked if he had retired in the office and he told me he had still been on the rig. And here he was, moving through Kroger like he was training to beat Kyle Williams in our department’s annual Physical Ability Test and quickly approaching the century mark.
I wish we’d had more time to talk but I asked him what the secret was to his longevity. He told me that it was simply staying active. He said he was always looking for something to do.
“Do you have any injuries that nag at you?” He told me briefly about a fire they had where the truck was slow in getting on scene. They had laid a 5” supply line down the street and it had to be moved. He strained his back moving it to the side of the road so the truck company could get in.
“It didn’t bother me until we got back to the station. But when we got to the house I couldn’t move.”
Sound familiar to any of us? Adrenaline acting as an analgesic until the dosage wears off.
Then he volunteered this opinion…
“I’ve noticed that, down here, you don’t go inside much. That was always what we did. Go inside and put the fire out…ya gotta get in there and get it!” His enthusiasm couldn’t be hidden.
I replied, “I don’t know about that! (I was almost a little offended actually) Getting inside was always our goal too, at least at Cobb. In fact, when I first started at Cobb, for years, we preached fighting fire from the unburned side. Say, we had a garage fire, for instance, we’d always go interior and put it out coming through the kitchen from inside.”
“But, all of the latest UL studies are showing that we should punch the fire in the throat with a straight stream from the exterior and then go in. It takes a lot of energy out of the fire and make the interior more tenable.”
Let’s just say…we didn’t see eye to eye on that one.