Friday, August 04, 2006

Firefighting is a dangerous game. . .

I know I’ve waxed poetic about firefighting in the past here, but I got a call today that reminded me, that despite the love, support and camaraderie I so fondly remember, there was real danger underneath it all.

I was checking my cell phone this morning (for an entirely different reason) and noticed I had a voicemail. I clicked to check, and, to my surprise, it was Greg Campbell. Long time readers may remember Greg as I wrote about he and I sitting around, and reminiscing over beers, while I was back in the area last summer.

This was not a “what’s up” call though.

It seems that last Wednesday the Cleveland Fire department was on the scene of a house fire, had ventilated the house and was looking for the source of the remaining smoke. From everything I've learned this was not a serious fire, mostly smoke and they'd just issued the 'drop mask' order as there was so little smoke remaining. They continued to look though and eventually, they found it. In a crawl space under the house, as the crew moved in to extinguish this ‘dinner plate’ sized fire, and began to address it with the nozzle, suddenly, the entire first floor exploded.

Thirteen firefighters were injured, one was treated at the scene, the other twelve ended up going to local area hospitals for treatment.

Fortunately, no one was killed, and as of today everyone has been released from the hospital and is home again.

After Greg and I hung up, I called Jack Cottet to see how he was doing. You may remember Jack, if you don’t, click the link and refresh your memory. As I suspected he was taking it pretty hard. He was the Chief on scene, and as such felt the safety of these folks was his responsibility.

That sense of responsibility, is one of the many reasons I always was glad to see Jack on the scene. The only thing he took more seriously, than the fire itself, was our safety. He was always pushing for better gear, more training and better leaders. He was, and is relentless, both about fire fighting, and about keeping the crews safe.

We talked some, mostly I listened, and as we were wrapping up our conversation the one thought I left him with was this.

An incident like this just shows that despite all the best preparation, firefighting is still, at the core, a very dangerous job. That despite having more experience than many leaders, not even he can control everything. I suggested that rather than focusing on the injuries, he might want to think how much worse things might have been had he not led the charge decades back for more, and better protective gear, more training and inter company cooperation.

I know he wasn’t really listening; things are still to close in. Hopefully, in the days, and weeks ahead, as the injuries heal (and as I understand it no one is permanently injured either) and the event gets discussed and the stories told, he’ll be able to see that in the end, this too is a triumph, not a defeat.

One other thing Jack and I talked about was the extended ‘family’ that is volunteer firefighting. I know I’ve talked about it before, but what Jack told me today, drove the point home.

Since Wednesday, there’s been a truck, and a crew, in his firehouse, standing by to answer any and all calls. Not just one truck, from one neighbor, but a different truck, different crew, 24/7, Sandy Creek, Redfield… from 30 miles and more away. They heard about the situation, and just showed up to help.

That’s the fire service folks, one big family, and like any family, they may bicker at times, but when there’s a problem all of that gets set aside, and everyone pitches in to help.

Once again I’m reminded of how much I miss those days, those men, and that family.

If you’d like to read a little about the event, you can go here.

Firefighters injured in house explosion

Camaraderie contagious at explosion site

Lightning strike leads to house explosion

I also realized, that regardless of the time, or the distance, the bond from those days, is still very much with me, and I still feel like they’re my family!!

I don’t think, the average person has any idea what a bargain they get in volunteer firefighters, or paid departments for that matter. It takes a special person to run into a burning building, not everyone can, or should do it.

The ones that do, paid or not, don’t do it for the money. I’m sure it’s something else. I recall running for the entry into more than one building thinking “There must be something wrong with me; most people would be going the other way!” But it never stopped me, or any of the other initial attack crew, we just went in and did our jobs.

Most of those fires are memories now, some I’ve related here, some I haven’t taken the time to write up. This event, like all of those in my mind will become a memory for those folks as well, the story told, and retold over coffee, or maybe an adult beverage or two, getting better with each telling.

What won’t get lost though, is the message. That you can never relax, fire is always dangerous, it’s a war, and it will kill you if it can. The other thing that will be remembered is the camaraderie… the other departments pitching in, the other members of the department helping out the families of those injured, everyone working to ‘fill in the gaps’… it’s something I never experienced, before, or after my time in the fire service.

The next time you get a chance, thank a firefighter, for all that they do!

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greg campbell said...

Great post!!!!!!! greg

Bill said...

Greg - Thanks so much for the heads up call and letting me know what happened. As we talked about on the phone Saturday, time, distance... it doesn't matter.. we are *all* still family!!

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Bill: And will always be!!!!Will keep in touch. Will be giving Jack a call. take care greg

Jericho said...

I am so glad that you stopped by and commented, because your visit prompted mine. I have enjoyed reading your contracting stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. The contracting stories remind me of similar projects I have undertaken or denied. My bailiwick was business start-ups - the administrative and legal side of establishing initial operations. Different ballgame, similar issues. This post just causes me to pause and remember to be thankful - for so, so much. Thanks again!

Bill said...

Jerico - I try to comment when a post moves me, and yours certainly did! This post, well these guys are family... I've been away over 15 years now, and when we talk, it's like I never left.

This event hit me pretty hard.

Contracting is a strange game... incredibly fun at times, challenging at others. In the end though, in my opinion, you have to know when to walk away... some things just aren't worth the hassle they will surely bring!

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you'll be back.