Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Something a little different today....

I had an entire 'other' post in mind for today. However, when I got home Jack Cottet had sent me the letter that follows. His candor, selflessness and obvious love for the fire service is all over this letter. I hope it gives you all a better sense of why I felt he was one of those great folks I've had the good fortune to have been around.

So without further babbling from me, here's what Jack had to say:

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Thanks Bill for the kind things said about me in your Blog concerning the volunteer fire service. I do want to make the point that the fire service is a team effort. Unlike the movie “Back Draft” where the star --- Kurt Russell seems to do it all and the rest of the characters are just in support roles, in real world firefighting whether paid or volunteer it is always a team effort.

The thing about it that has always appealed to me is that you can make a real difference in someone’s life and have a real good time doing it. Firefighting is like being in a fight or battle in which the odds are against you so the challenge is great but most of the time you end up winning. I feel the challenges in rural firefighting are greater than in urban settings, even though the buildings are much smaller, because we don’t have the water supply; we have longer runs and must rely on personnel not on duty in stations.

Having been involved for over forty years I can tell you there are lots of changes today however much also remains the same. Forty years ago we needed good leadership to have confidence in, we needed a few good guys or girls to pick up the line and get it on, equipment to supply water and protect us and a little luck. It really hasn’t changed that much today the basics are the same.

What has changed is a lot more concern about safety and accountability for personnel than in the past. I do most of my firefighting today from the front seat of my vehicle, talking on portable radios. The portables were unheard of (almost in the old days) -- but today we remain in constant contact with each other by radio. When we put people “in harms way “ in a building we need to talk to them so they know that we have ladders at windows on all four sides of the second and are in the process of venting the roof. We need to be able to tell them that it looks from the outside like the fire may be in the walls or attic or it looks like they just hit it good, all of which is visible from outside but may not be from the inside due to no visibility.

The team effort comes about like this; we have an old guy like me calling plays for a guy a little younger to execute. In our case often that is my best friend and his crew consists of his son or sons, with his wife running the pump outside. What you call a family affair, they all know they can depend not only on each other but also on the guy driving the tanker the people on the corners controlling traffic, the medic on the ambulance and on and on.

Perhaps a real “war story “ tells it best. A few weeks ago at midnight the bell hits for a “job” at the local motel (known as the “no tell hotel”).

Automatic mutual aid is en-route from three other departments; they are sending their best to us just like we do to them when summoned. On arrival we have heavy fire in the center unit of a 10-unit motel it has breached the roof (a good thing) and is 30 ft. in the air. Looks we are going to lose the whole place due to horizontal spread to the other 9 units.

First engine has several family members on board. They hit the hydrant (fire talk for lay a hose from it to the pump). The Captain and one man advance a 2 inch diameter hose with a big smooth bore tip on it into the burning room. His wife sends the water as the door gets popped open courtesy of # 2 son. Down on the floor and crawl under the heat to the center of the unit. Look up --- nothing but orange fire in the attic . Hit it hard with water. Surprise here no water comes back to scald – it is evaporating. Hit it harder and longer – ah steam visible from outdoors means it is working. Water expands 1700 times the original volume, the resulting cloud of white steam is the visible evidence that things are going well.

Meanwhile back at the ranch -- or motel, Command has been very busy. Back up water supplies have been established , incoming units have been assigned the job of a search to be sure the No Tell is truly empty as the owner assures is the case. Another group is assigned to ventilation on the roof. A thing called a trench cut is being done. That means a chain saw is cutting a two foot wide swath across the whole roof to stop the fire and expose it so we can whack it from below. Simultaneously the light tower on a mutual aid rescue is up turning midnight into noon in the motel parking lot and salvage efforts are being initiated, which means we are putting down plastic covers over the furniture and contents to control water damage.

In under 20 minutes it is over, fire’s out, units being returned. A bunch of well trained volunteer “professional” firefighters have done the job, no one got hurt, the motel will be repaired and we didn’t even get mad at each other, well not real mad anyhow. This is what firefighting is really all about. As you can see there was no single star, just a well trained group, several really --- that did what they are supposed to do. The individual’s thoughts are now turning to “look at the clock --- it will be 1am before we get out of here and I have to work tomorrow”.

I often think that two groups of people are the most under appreciated of all in our society. One is our military for what they do for us and the blood they spill on our behalf and the second is the fire service. Paid or volunteer makes no difference, these people run into buildings that others are running from, sometimes with the horrible results of 9-11-01 still in mind and still possible. I could go on and on, for example of how our little fire department reacted on September 11, 2001 and how proud I was of that reaction

But enough for now.

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And here's the pic he sent along...



So that's it for today... I hope you enjoyed this 'other side' of the story.

As usual, thanks for stopping by and please feel free to leave a comment, it lets me know you're still here and reading all of this!!

6 comments:

Firehawk said...

Bill,

That was a great story Jack sent to you. From all I've heard from actual fire fighters, movies always get the whole job wrong. I guess the truth isn't good enough for the Hollywood people.

Bill said...

I liked it too.. it's funny, it was really nice to hear the 'same old Jack' in his words all these years later.

I can tell you from experience they definitely don't get firefighting right... 'Back Draft' however got a lot of the 'sounds' right, the roaring... snapping, screaching sounds...

The rest however was, as they say, a movie.

Comfort Addict said...

What a great guy he is.

Bill said...

CA - Yeah, he is, and you know what? Letting you folks see that for yourselves has been a reward all its own!

Karyn Lyndon said...

What a great story and a great pic!

Bill said...

Karyn - Thanks, I'm really glad he shared it with us!