I need several “do overs” actually. Unfortunately, I know that I can’t have a second chance at many of the events in my life over the past few months.
I’d give anything to be able to go back and save my brother from the dark place he found himself in on December 30, 2012. A place so dark it enabled him to make the decisions he made … the decision to take his own life. Even though it’s too late for me to change those circumstances, it’s not too late for me to bring something positive from this tragedy.
I’ve learned so much about emotional / mental health and wellness since Jack’s suicide. I’ve learned first hand what PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is and how it affects us. I’ve learned about grief and it’s various stages. I’ve learned that although their are many similarities in how it affects us all, it’s also (and often) very much so different for those of us “on the job” (Fire, Rescue and Police).
I’ve learned that “talking” about it helps. I’ve learned that showing and sharing emotion (as raw as it may be) is also not just “ok” but can also be therapeutic. I’ve learned that “we” , as a Fire Service; need to come to know and understand that. We NEED more education on these types of issues … our bosses do too. We need to understand that our “role model” firefighter is also HUMAN.
I’ve learned that there are some GREAT resources out there for us to “reach out” and talk to. “Sucking it up” and getting back to work is not acceptable anymore … not in my book. It shouldn’t be in yours either. I’m going to work to bring a lot of this to light. If you continue to follow the site, you’re gonna see and read a LOT about our emotional / mental health and well being…. I hope to decide to stay with me…. you deserve to know what I’m learning. YOU’RE WORTH IT…. everyone of ya.
For now, with that said; if you find yourself wanting or needing to talk to someone who will truly understand what it is you’re going through or feeling, I’ll add a few of the links I’ve been using in recent posts. Check them out and USE THEM….. they HELP.
There’s another “do over” however that I may can arrange (if they’ll allow me). You guys may remember that back on January 26th, I was invited to speak at the Lexington Fire Department’s (Va) Annual Awards Dinner and Banquet. Just the invite was a HUGE honor!
I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to. I was still “lost” in my grief and unable to focus on the simplest of tasks.
Lexington’s Chief, Ty Dickerson; is not only a close and personal friend, he’s also a great mentor and leader.
Ty told me to come anyway (if I could … to speak or not). He said that if I felt like it and could, to attend so at least he could hug me again and assure me that I (and my family) were not alone (he also wanted to make sure that I was eating). If I couldn’t attend, he and his members fully understood. THAT in itself speaks VOLUMES about Chief Dickerson and the Brothers and Sisters of the Lexington Fire Department.
I had prepared a couple speeches. I arrived empty handed …. my thoughts and words seemed to “scattered”. I decided to speak, but would do it from the heart. That usually works out good for us but this time, I’m not even sure what i said.
There was so much I could have and wanted to say but it just wasn’t the “right” occasion. This was their (The Lexington Fire Department’s) first banquet as a “combined” Department and it should have been memorable.
I decided to speak about “Brotherhood” and how alive it is within their Department. So many times we hear Brothers and Sisters complaining of how “the Brotherhood” is dead in the Fire Service today but I can tell you for certain IT’S NOT.
I had just been witness to a HUGE act of Brotherhood from all across the world. Good friend and Brother Firefighter Nate Camiford. After my post “A Firefighter’s Boots”, Nate started a campaign where hundreds of Brothers and Sisters from all over the world sent me pictures of their “boots” in support of me getting back into mine. It was very humbling to say the least … I was honored.
Often times, Department’s such as Lexington just need a little “outside” reminder of how the Brotherhood is alive and well within their own Department. Like with “the boots” I had witnessed the Brotherhood at work within the Lexington Fire Department many times and wanted to share my experience with them. Here’s what I should have said…..
Usually, I don’t speak alone. Most of you know that Rhett Fleitz (The Fire Critic) and I are very seldom seen apart. We are more than a “team” … more than “partners” … more than Brothers even. I can’t explain it …. it is what it is …. you don’t get one of us without the other (most times).
Whenever Rhett and I speak about Brotherhood, we always include the values which we believe make it up …. TRADITION, PRIDE,HONOR and RESPECT.
The Lexington Fire Department (and City) has a rich history full of tradition. The banquet that night was just another example. Many new traditions were started that night as well as in some of the awards and recognition’s made. They will see many new traditions made and kept as they move forward with their new “combination” Department.
What a HUGE undertaking that in itself is. Moving from an all volunteer Department to a Combination (career and volunteer). It shows care and a concern for their community and a PRIDE in being able to overcome obstacles. Pride in being able to serve their community … to do the job we signed up to do. It takes a special group of people to make that model work. It takes strong leadership and members working together towards a common goal. It takes patience and understanding to say the least … give and take. These Brothers and Sisters are setting the standard.
I wanted to tell them about the picture I had (and shared with them at the banquet). A picture of my dad as a member of the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department from back in the late 60′s. A picture of their entire Department standing in front of their 59 Mack Fire Engine. I wanted to explain how that picture exemplifies PRIDE for a Department … for THEIR Department.
I wanted to explain how their donating that truck to the Kazim Shriners shows, HONOR and RESPECT. I wanted to explain how that was evident to me (and the members of the Melrose Misfits) when we had the honor and privilege of helping to restore some of the equipment on that truck. Seeing the name “Lexington Fire Department” spoke volumes to my members.
I seen more examples when one of their members invited me down for a birthday party. Actually, Cassie Potter (wife of Chris Potter) invited me down for a “surprise” party for Chris. She explained how he was a loyal follower of the site and how excited he’d be to actually get to meet and spend some time with me. I was again humbled and honored.
I made the party and many new friends in Lexington. The best part was getting a personal tour of their house that night. It’s a new station and one that I hadn’t been in before (I remembered the old one downtown as a kid).
You could see the PRIDE in the eyes of their members as they showed me around. I seen it on the floors …. in the corners. NO DIRT. The equipment, station and members were IN ORDER and ready to roll. I look for that … the little things. They offered me a cup of coffee right off …. I felt at home.
They showed me their history and again I was flooded with a sense of Pride, Honor, Tradition and Respect. A full trophy case. Banners and ribbons. Wooden ladders. Hand pulled ladder trucks! I hope the Brothers and Sisters of Lexington know just how “rich” they are…. I do.
Rhett and I witnessed even more of the Brotherhood at work through the Lexington Fire Department while attending the 2012 National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial Weekend.
There, we meet a member of the Lexington Fire Department (Michelle) who was volunteering her time to serve as an “escort” for one of the families of our fallen. There is no batter way to HONOR our fallen than to take care of their survivors. Talk about RESPECT and PRIDE!
I could go on and on. I should have back on the 26th. The City Manager, Sheriff and many other dignitaries were present and I hope they know what a valued asset they have in the Lexington Fire Department, it’s Chief and members.
I say I need a “do over” because I think it was an important message (although one that I didn’t get across). They need to hear it …. they have EARNED and deserve to hear it. The Brotherhood is alive and well in Lexington and it’s all because of their members. They have, are and will continue to make an impact / difference. Maybe Ty can find a spot to bring me back ( along with Rhett) so we (I) can deliver the message in person.
Sorry for the lack in postings …. obviously, I’m still working on getting to my “new normal”. Thanks once again for all the messages and support …. I couldn’t have made it without you all!
I started “blogging” back in December of 2008 while assigned to Station #9C (The “Melrose Misfits). I never imagined that it would grow into something as big as it has or that it would have been as rewarding as it is. When I was moved from Station #9, I decided to create the Wooden Ladders and Iron Firemen Blog. Later, with Rhett’s help; we shortened the name to Ironfiremen.com and moved over to the Fire/EMS Blog Network. It was the best move I ever made.
The site continues to grow. My views or “hits” have TRIPLED from 2010 to 2011! I’ve always kidded about having 2 readers but obviously, there is a lot more than that. I still don’t understand why …. I don’t even know where I “fit in” as far as the “network” or other sites go.
By that I mean that I’m not sure there is even a “category” for me or the Blog. I’m not a straight forward ”news” or “educational” type of site. I don’t know what folks are looking for when they “click on” or visit Ironfiremen.com but obviously, they’re finding it (or something that keeps em coming back anyway).
One of the things I’m most proud of is having been voted
The distinction of Blog of the Year and the sites growing popularity has opened many doors and propelled us in several directions. Those of you who follow regularly know that Rhett and I have been “on the road” a lot this year and each trip has been related in some way or another to our sites.
Our advertising, promotional, branding and networking efforts has allowed us to meet some amazing people and make many new friends. Not only that, we’ve also become involved with several outstanding organisations within the Fire/EMS industry along the way.
We’ve accomplished so much in 2011 that it would be difficult to pack into a single post. That said, I’ll just hit the month by month highlights for ya and TRY to keep it short …. see if you remember these and ENJOY the “look back” ….
January 2011 . Looking at the stats, my busiest day as far as ”hits” was the 17th. I had 2 posts up that day as Roanoke’s Bravest battled a Multi-Alarm Fire and stupid drivers at a local Days Inn.
You can re-visit those posts on Ironfiremen.com HERE and HERE .
For MORE on that incident from Fire Critic and RoanokeFirefighters.com (including more photos) click HERE and HERE
The 17th may have been the site’s busiest day in January but the fire was not what stands out in my mind as most memorable.
It was January that the Roanoke Fire Department suffered an ” The End of an Era” with the passing of Battalion Chief Bobbie Slayton.
Chief Slayton served the City of Roanoke for nearly 45 years. He had been a Chief longer than I had been on the job. My dad worked for Bobbie as his Chief’s Aid / Driver for many years. Towards the end of his career, he was shuffled from his beloved “B-Shift” to “C” where I had the honor of working for him. Bobbie’s death was a huge loss for our Department. He’s still missed but spoke and thought of often.
He had suffered a stroke on December 26, 2010 and remained hospitalized until his passing on January 8, 2011. He was such an icon to our Department that, in his final days; our Local (IAFF L-1132) had a member “posted” by his hospital room door 24/7. It was only fitting that Captain Craig Sellers was by his side (along with family) when he passed.
The posts following his death were some of the hardest I’ve written. For at least as long as I’m alive, Chief Slayton will never be forgotten.
There’s a GREAT picture of Bobbie and the members of Station #1B with the restored Bell from the tower at now “Historic” Station #1. We now only use the bell for funeral services. The irony is that the bell Chief Slayton worked so hard to refurbish sounded his Final Alarm.
See related posts and photos from VaFireNews.com and RoanokeFirefighters.comHERE and HERE
February 2011 : The post receiving the most hits for February was when we announced winning the Blog of the Year contest but the month was really about football, fires and “support systems”!
There was plenty of fire to go around all across the State. We caught our share and even took in a job with our County Brothers. See that post HERE .
It was also the month that I first introduced a “semi-regular” column here on Ironfireman.com that I call “Tricks of the Trade” .
March 2011 : Things got REALLY busy for me and Rhett in March. Among everything else that happened, we would travel to EMS Today in Baltimore, Md and FDIC in Indianapolis.
FDIC was a BLAST! Rhett presented his class “Social Media in the Fire Service” for the first time … what an HONOR. I filled in and covered his position with Firefighter Netcast where once again I found myself surrounded by some of the top leaders of today’s Fire Service.
Who would have ever figured to see me hanging around folks like Chief Billy Goldfeder or Chief Alan Brucini? (we also met Captain Dugan who gave the Keynote Address along with retired FDNY member Kevin Shea). We met many friends and followers of our sites and made twice as many new ones.
Back at home, I would meet one very special new friend … Father Webb.
Father Webb was just meeting and “feeling us out” back on St. Patty’s Day but now has become our “Official” Fire Department Chaplin.
Chief Adkins fixed up a mess of corned beef and cabbage and we had Father Webb out to share in the meal. This was the beginning of a GREAT relationship between our members and Father Webb. I was and remain excited to have him on and at our side. I hope the relationship continues to grow and can mimic the one shared by Father Judge and the FDNY. See my related post HERE
April was also the month where we had our biggest “Give Away” to date. After winning the Blog of the Year contest, I figured what better way to say “THANKS” to my readers than to give away a pair of Black Diamond X2 Boots? No “el-cheap-o, contesto’s” here baby … that was a high dollar pair of boots! Congratulations to loyal reader / follower Patrick Lynch of St. Michael’s College Fire & Rescue in Colchester, VT. on winning the boots. What was really cool was how we announced the winner …. watch this..
May 2011 : May would have me traveling the farther than I ever have. Thanks to the Roanoke Rampage Football Team, I would make my way out to California!
There were several highlights to this trip but the most notable would be getting to see my baby sister Jessi and meeting Captain Joe Schmoe of Report on Conditionsfor the first time.
Be sure to hit those links … it was a GREAT trip despite our loss on the field.
I continued to make new friends and meet readers and followers of the site. Casey Potter, wife of loyal follower and fan; Chris Potter invited me down for a surprise Birthday Party for Chris …. how could I not have attended?? See that post HERE .
The biggest news however would come on a GLOBAL level ….
We FINALLY KILLED THAT SON OF A BITCH!
I was on duty and glued to the TV. Emotion overtook me and I cried. I cried tears of joy and sorrow.
For me, it was like living the day of the attacks all over again. My mind was flooded with memories and emotion.
The tears of joy were of his death but the tears of sorrow were for the families of those he murdered. I knew that even then … at his death … he would cause pain to those left behind.
I hope our 343 fallen can now rest in peace. I hope his death brings some sort of comfort to the families left behind and like the Daily News so eloquently says .. I hope he ROTS IN HELL !
June 2011 : Big fires and more funerals.
We buried another member in June. Firefighter/Paramedic David “Dave” Palmer lost his battle with cancer. His was to be our 2nd LODD (Line Of Duty Death) since 2009.
“Big Dave” and I go WAY back. I made Captain in 2000 and was assigned to station #3 ( now considered “old” Station #3 and CLOSED which was located at 6th and Rorer) where we would work together.
Like Chief Slayton, Big Dave will not be forgotten either. I quite often find myself telling stories involving him in one way or another. Things were different back then .. it felt more like a “Fire Department” and we had a lot of fun while getting the job done.
The picture upper right is our crew standing in front of Engine and Medic #3 at the Station. Pictured from L-R is Dave Palmer, Mike Pruitt, Brad Creasy, Lt Richard “Patty” Patterson and myself.
See my related post HERE and coverage from Va Fire News HERE
June would also find me and Rhett together on the fire ground!
I was the Acting Battalion Chief while Rhett was riding the “seat” of of the 1st in Engine (#3) when we caught this 2nd alarm fire.
It was the first time in a while since Rhett and I had been together on a fire. This time however, it was me stuck out in the street and Rhett putting in the work.
I arrived 1st and upgraded the incident to a 2nd Alarm. I was able to catch some pretty good photos while doing my walk around and size up. This pic was taken just as Rhett and his crew were making entry. Some solid work put in on this one!
July 2011 : A new Rookie, Never Forgetting and Honoring our fallen!
July brought Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, Md. and our first 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.
That climb (and the ones to follow) changed me forever. I’ve described the experience as beyond emotional and more near spiritual. I think I captured some of it in my postings because they remain my “most visited”
July as brought me a new “Rookie” Firefighter …. RANDY!
Randy Armbrister from Max Meadows, Va. The picture left was Randy on his 1st day out in the Company.
I wanted to make sure he knew and was comfortable in his SCBA so he started the morning with it on. He checked equipment, cleaned the station and even mowed the lawn with it on.
You’ve seen and read about Randy quite a bit here on the site and I have to admit that it’s been refreshing having a “Rookie” in the house.
It’s kept us busy and even allowed us “older” members to “pick up the pace” a little in an effort to assure Randy is well trained and ready for whatever is thrown at us. Randy has (and continues to ) met all expectations and challenges with a willingness to learn and a smile. He’s only disappointed me once but we corrected that problem QUICK. Read ” I had to PULL THE BOOK ” by clicking HERE .
August 2011 : What a month! Fire rescue International in Atlanta, Ga, our 2nd 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, Randy’s 1st fire and a GAY BAR !
I cried a lot in Atlanta … I get choked up now even thinking about it. Rhett and I would make our 2nd 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb and this one would impact me even more than our first.
There were several things that happened in Atlanta that I will carry with me until I die
Before our climb, I remembered an e-mail I had received from my youngest daughter (Reba) back before our 1st climb in Baltimore. I had obviously saved it and opened and read it once again before our assent in Atlanta. I want to share that e-mail with you again …
“Dad , today after reading your most recent blog ” we are all climbing ” I wanted to tell you ….. Your the most amazing selfless person I know … You work so hard to save people you don’t even know and at the same time are working just hard to save all of us … You use your spare time to spread the word of your great profession that in my opinion (and yours) you can’t call a ” job” it’s just something you were meant to do …. There is no one else in this world like you !!!! ( well the buckaroo and I – but we are exceptions bc we are only a mold ) …. Good luck on your climb I know you can do it ESP bc of the cause but also because I’ve never seen ANYTHING you can’t do !!!! ( well you might not be able to carry Rhett lol unless u had to ) ….. Anywho …. Just wanted to let you know your amazing in everything you do and the buckaroo and I love and miss you very much …. Be safe have fun , Love .. Reba and YOUR buckaroo ”
How AWESOME is that?
I learned the same things listed in that e-mail about Rhett that day. I had “known” it but never really seen it until that climb.
Rhett and I are a lot alike, especially when it comes to Brotherhood and the job. We climb alike and for the same reasons… it’s a MEMORIAL.
We were HONORED to be in the 1st group up in Atlanta but quickly learned that we were attached to the “wrong” group. Lucky for us, they didn’t “get it” and soon left us behind. It was how it should have been … Rhett and I alone in that stairway … paying our respects. It was then that he brought me to tears and showed me what the words HONOR and RESPECT were all about.
Rhett was having a tough time with this climb. No breaks, no water, for whatever reason; he was struggling. Near the top, he stopped and turned around … I though he was quitting. ” I missed one” he said. He wasn’t quitting, he had missed a step, turned around and climbed that flight AGAIN! Nobody would have ever know right?? WRONG …. he would have. As bad as he was hurting, HE CLIMBED IT AGAIN ! BROTHERHOOD, HONOR,TRADITION,PRIDE and RESPECT … we live by it!
Kevin Totten and Tommy Warshaw joined us again while Bill Carey climbed with us for the 1st time. Rhett’s son Preston made it most of the way and Dad even carried the Buckaroo for one flight. Hit the link above .. it’s a good read.
October 2011 : The 30th Annual National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial Weekend and an UNBELIEVABLE trip to New York City!
This would be my 2nd year attending the Memorial Weekend and I would find it just as emotional as the first.
Rhett and I were there fulfilling obligations with Firefighter Netcast. We had the honor of recording stories from the survivors. Once again, a lot of tears were shed as we listened to the families share their stories of our fallen Brothers and Sisters.
The Memorial Weekend is every October and if you’ve never attended .. MAKE PLANS NOW!
Rhett and I also made a trip up to the Big Apple. He was teaching Social Media in NJ and I was assisting Zach Green and Fox Fire in the City.
It was an AMAZING trip because neither Rhett nor I had been to the City since the attacks. It was a humbling experience.
While Rhett was teaching, Chief Billy Goldfeder had set Zach and I up with a personal tour of the Tribute Center. Co Founder Lee Ielpi would conduct the tour.
Lee is a retired member of FDNY’s Rescue 2 and lost his son, Jonathan; was on the job and assigned to FDNY Squad 288. Jonathan was murdered on September 11, 2001 in the attacks on the Trade Center and Lee would spend the next 3 months searching for his body. I don’t believe Lee has really EVER left that site since.
I can’t describe the tour he gave us … for whatever reason, there was a “bond” between us. Lee kept a hand on me the entire time, I can feel his touch even now as I reflect on our time together. It was a “father’s” touch and one I will cherish.
They recovered Jonathan’s body mostly in tact. They also were able to recover his turnout gear. That gear is on display at the Tribute Center. Lee wants us all to see that set of gear and to know the story behind it. Us .. me, you, him, her and our children. He suffers the pain of passing by that gear EVERYDAY hoping that we can all learn from this horrible act. If you’re ever in New York … GO!
December : Rhett and I returned to GROUND ZERO and made our 4th Memorial Stair Climb!
Not only was it our 4th climb, it was in New York City, at Ground Zero and in the shadows of The Freedom Tower ( 1 World Trade Center ) !
We were there helping out the National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation.
Founding members of some of the 1st organized Memorial Stair Climbs, Oren Bersagel-Briese, Scott Eckels, Josh Smith, Brian Bush and Shawn Dunston ( along with Dave Statter) were also there.
Even though it was not “Official”, there was no way that we were going to be this close to Ground Zero, with this group of Brothers and NOT make a climb in Memory and Honor of our 343 fallen Brothers. SO WE CLIMBED ! We finished on the roof top looking down on the site where our Brothers had fallen. Where so many lives were lost and Heroes remain.
Rhett and I have been climbing so long and hard that we never really knew where we were going … WE FOUND IT THERE !
I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve the life I’ve been given this past year but I am truly THANKFUL. Together, Rhett and I have made the journey of a lifetime in just a few short years. I can only imagine what 2012 will bring us.
I want to say THANKS to my wife (Donna) and entire family for the love, support and for putting up with me all this time. Thanks to Rhett for the friendship, the BROTHERHOOD and for taking me along. THANKS as well to you .. our readers because it is your support that has allowed us these opportunities. I hope, that if even in the smallest of ways; that we’ve been able to give something back in return!
Stay SAFE and in House and I’ll see you next year!