Monday, July 18, 2005

Taking a break today..

From all of the ‘project talk’. For those of you who are enjoying that topic, I assure you there’ll be a lot more to come, but, I don’t want this place to turn into just a DIY discussion spot.

A fellow by the name of Jack Cottet contacted me by email this past weekend. I’d mentioned Jack, in passing almost, in the post about a month ago about my friend Larry Flint. Then last week someone ‘Googled’ looking for Jack, and his article on ‘Rural Water Supply’ and this place showed up in the search results. (I still find the internet search engines amazing)

Curious, I followed some of the links that search yielded and found a posting on a Fire Department forum that Jack had made, and left a post there asking him to email me.

It’s funny, I was thinking about Jack, and the crew from the Cleveland, NY fire department when I was writing that piece, but had no idea where he might be these days. It turns out the internet, for all its vastness, really is a pretty small place!

It’s nice to be reconnected with Jack, and I’m hoping we can get together while I’m up North and catch up a bit. I’m sure we’ll also end up talking about Larry, some of the rest of the crew, and several of the fires we all fought together. I’m looking forward to that.

One of the most vivid recollections I have of Jack, is from a house fire on Rt. 49, between Cleveland and North Bay. When we pulled up to the scene, there was a 30 foot fireball blowing out of the roof and Cleveland already had crews inside the attic fighting it.

As Larry and I got to the side door of the house, one of the other North Bay assistant chiefs (Ken) was standing there; Larry looked around for the other guys from our truck crew (who were standing around over by the truck). He turned to Ken and said: “Tell those guys with the yellow things on their back (the breathing apparatus), the fire’s over here!!”

With that he and I made entry into the burning house. As we preceded down the center hall of the house, though a fairly thick dense white smoke, out of that smoke emerged Jack. His helmet and glasses slightly askew, his face blackened from soot, he was clapping his hands together and saying something to the effect of “Textbook fire boys, shed fire that’s extended into the attic, let’s not waste any time here!”

As he spotted us, he paused and told us the crews in the attic were getting ‘beat up pretty good” and could we get a line up through the living room ceiling and help them out.

You see I remember, as we pulled up to that house, and while Larry and I were running for the door, my mind was pondering ‘why’. Why was I running toward a house that was fully involved in fire, when most would be going in the other direction? Why was it that, despite any of my fears, would I always go in anyway?

Jack’s apparent calm that morning, when we encountered him in the hallway, changed my feelings almost immediately. He was a seasoned professional; I had faith in him, his crew, Larry and myself… It was at that moment I realized ‘Why’, it was because despite the obvious dangers, I had complete faith in the guys I was working with (I say ‘guys’ but there were women as well).

Faith that they’d watch my back, get me out of trouble if I managed to get into any and that we’d all get through this one, like all of the others.

We did, and there are people living in that house today. Not the original owners mind you, as I recall, they went to jail for arson. We saved the house though, yeah it had smoke, fire and water damage, but it was repairable.

Jack lived fire fighting, and from his email, he still does. I doubt he’s on the business end (the knob) of a hose line much these days. I’ll bet he’s still doing some of the things he always did best though, training firefighters to be better, faster and safer on the job than they would have been without his guidance. Developing new techniques that improve the process and effectiveness of firefighters, especially in rural areas, is something else Jack is known for, he’s always looking for a better way.

So, in case you couldn’t tell already, Jack is another of those people I’ve met over the years where just knowing them has enriched me, and my life. He and I were never ‘best friends’, but, we were colleagues. We had a common enemy, fire, and we were determined not to let the enemy win!


Braleigh said...

I have in the past desperately and usuccessfully tried to take advantage of the magic of the internet to contact old friends. It has never worked for me. I usually end up make a series of complicated phone calls OR the person themself finds some way to contact me, as they were attempting a similar feat.

Trevor Record said...

I sort of imagine JAck as being a barrel-chested man of 6'4", with a thick lock of red hair and a permanent stubbley beard. The firefighting stories are the best!

Firehawk said...


I agree with Trevor. Your firefighting stories are great. Always makes me want to go and be a fireman, too.

While humans have strong desires for self-determination and independence, we also find it thrilling to be subsumed within a group of trusted comrades. I think there's something in the primal makeup of the brain that is triggered when we can put total faith in some group larger than ourselves. I think that's why any team-behavior seems to gather its own mystique.

Jay said...

I'm glad that you got to reconnect with such a figure in your life.

Cylithria™ said...

I have to chime in with Trevor and firehawk. The firefighting stories are my favorite. Being on of the guys so to speak, they always touch my heart! *sigh*

The bumper sticker on my car (placed there by the guys on my dept.) read: Lady firefighters find them hot and leave them wet. I bet Jack laughed about those sayings! lol
Excellent story Bill. Loved it

Bill said...

Braleigh - I know exactly what you mean, when I 'try' to reconnect, I rarely actually do... This just sort of happened... When it does, it just reminds me how small things really are.

Trevor - He's more like 6', no beard, and gray hair.. but the last I knew he had more hair than I do... but then again, back then *I* had more hair too! I'm glad you like the stories... They were definitely some of the more exciting times in my life... I'll see if I can't drag out a few more.

Firehawk - Thank you too... I'd do it again in a New York Nanosecond if I could. Not as much a volunteer FD mentality here in NC as there was in Upstate NY... and, I've lost a step or two over the years... it's definitely a young man's game when it comes to interior attack firefighting.

I think I'll post something soon about comradery... and the sense of total trust that develops between us when we share life threatening experiences... you're right, it's an absolute universal human triat to put faith in something larger than ourselves.

Jay - Thanks! I got another email from Jack last night, it seems we might be trying to see both of the old station houses, and maybe some of the 'crews' that might still be around. I'm pretty stoked about that possibility!

Bill said...

Cyli - I always liked the one "Firefighters have long hoses", too.

I'm glad y'all enjoy these stories, as I'm sure once I spend some time with Jack he'll refresh, and straighten out my memories.. so there'll be even more to come!

Spirit Of Owl said...

Putting yourself in those kind of high risk situations is bound to forge close relationships with those you work with. It's great that serendipity lent a hand to get you two back in touch, eh?

Bill said...

Spirit - Yes it is... I've thought od Jack often over the years, and wondered where he was, and what he was doing... it's great to get home these days and see a short note from him.

Comfort Addict said...

I have the greatest respect and admiration for firefighters. Their courage in the face of great danger is an inspiration to us all.

Bill said...

CA - Some of the finest friends I've ever had I met while I was a volunteer firefighter. It was a side of the 'job' I never anticipated when I started out.