“From the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, “Charleston 9: The Ultimate Sacrifice”, looks at the dramatic changes made in the operations of South Carolina’s Charleston Fire Department following the deaths of nine firefighters on June 18, 2007. The video, produced by STATter911 Communications and Greg Guise Media, focuses on how the leadership of the late Chief Tom Carr helped the department recover after such a devastating loss”
First off, let me say thank you for the continued support. My last post, “You can’t teach Heart” was very well received and I appreciate it . It’s nice to know that I still have a few readers / followers out there.
I do need to clarify one thing though. I’ve received several e-mails, phone calls, messages etc following that post saying how good it is to have the “old” Captain Wines “back”. They say they are glad I’m past (or over) my grieving etc….and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I know I took you folks to some “dark” places over the last 4 months but I felt compelled to do so. I shared with you some of my thoughts’ feeling and lessons learned following my brother’s death by suicide. I tried to be as honest and open as possible.
Just because I’m a little more visible and posting on a more regular basis doesn’t mean I’m “past” or “over” anything. I NEVER will be. There’s a hole in my heart that will never be filled.
There’s not an hour that goes by that I don’t think of Jackson. The reminders are EVERYWHERE and I can’t hide or run from them. I’m slowly learning to embrace them but it’s hard.
I’m fighting depression every minute I’m awake and I still grieve his death. It’s getting better but, it’s been an uphill struggle. I never knew or understood what a horrible illness / disease depression was (is) before the events of December 30th.
I haven’t told ya in a while so I’ll remind you now that we are ALL “climbing”. We are ALL fighting demons of one sort or another. I’ll also remind you that we are NOT alone … there ARE folks out there who know and understand what we are going through and they stand ready to help us through whatever challenges we face.
If you’re like me and need someone to talk to or lean on, PLEASE try one of the links below …. there’s no shame in it. It’s working for me and it can for you too …
Ok ….lets move on. So around where I work, it’s promotional testing time. That equates to “silly season” for me!
I call it that because everything required to participate in the process and because of all the “jockeying for position” that’s already started.
We will be testing for Lieutenant, 1st Lieutenant, Captain, and Battalion Chief. There will also be a Deputy Chief of Operations appointed due to an upcoming retirement. As far as the other positions, we don’t even know how many are open yet (around here, it all depends on who’s counting).
Promotional testing can be one of the most stressful events of a firefighter’s career. Usually, there’s a huge reading list, hours upon hours of study (additional times away from family), the testing process itself and then the waiting game.
We have a written test to narrow the field of candidates (Lieutenant-Captain) followed by a practical portion. For the Lt. candidates, the practicals are made up of a 10 minute presentation (on the same subject / topic which is announced following the written test), a driving course / evaluation, a pumping evolution and an IMS / Fire scenario.
The 1st Lt., Captain and Battalion candidates will also face a fire / IMS scenario, a “problem employee” situation and a presentation. Battalion Chief candidates will work an “in basket” scenario instead of the presentation. Again …. all very stressful.
Rhett actually took his written test on Wednesday. He take the practicals next week. Being that he is already a Lieutenant, he has the option to test for 1st Lt and / or Captain. He is testing for both.
GOOD LUCK to all of our candidates (at every level). As a Company Officer, I hope you’ll remember to take can of your members. If you do, you’ll have a long and enjoyable career. If you don’t …. LMAO … well lets just say that they can make you life hell.
That brings me to recruitment. I HATE that word. I guess it’s not so much the word as it is how many Departments go about it (“recruitment”). They’re doing it WRONG!!
I’ve always said that if someone has to come out looking for you, and then try to convince you that “this” is what you want to do or who you want to work for … THEN I DON’T WANT YOU. We’re FIREFIGHTERS ….. we deal with lives not files, folders or boxes!
I hear of Departments complaining about a lowered number of applicants all the time. They look at all these “outside” reasons in search for a reason /solution and always miss the issues core.
To me, it’s an internal issue. An issue within that Department. In my opinion, it shows a lack of (or poor) leadership / management (or something along those lines). Either way, I’d bet that the members of that Department are NOT happy. That’s sad because our MEMBERS are our best recruiters and it’s so easy to keep firefighters happy!
Think about it. When the members are happy, they reflect a positive image of their Department. When they’re out in the community and someone asks them about “what they do” or where / who they work for, a happy employee is eager to share that information and does so in a positive manner.
On the other hand, an unhappy or disgruntled employee’s response will most likely be “you don’t want to work here”…. OUR MEMBERS ARE OUR BEST RECRUITERS!
My good friend and Brother Tiger Schmittendorf is one of (if not “the”) our Nation’s top fire recruiters. He’s pictured on the far left in the photo above left (with Me, Rhett and Dave Statter). Tiger runs several web sites worth visiting and if you’re having recruitment issues / problems then he’s the man you want to see.
I’ve been using that saying for several years now and believe it to be true.
We are surrounded by the absolute best instructors this profession has to offer on a daily basis. They can teach most any subject … strategy and tactics, search and rescue, ventilation, water supply, pump / ladder ops, incident command, high rise firefighting, Mayday, RIC etc. The one thing they can’t teach is “HEART”. You either have it or you don’t.
I’m not sure I can exactly define what I mean by “heart” but it’s at least a passion for “the job” as well as the drive and determination to fulfill the duties expected of us (both on and off the fire ground). It’s the willingness and eagerness to “do the right thing” no matter the cost and to sacrifice for others.
I’ve always said that all I need is a month or two in the same station and/or one working fire to know whether or not a probie (or non-probationary firefighter for that matter) “gets it”. That quickly, I can determine if he or she has “heart”.
You can buy all the newest and latest gear. This gadget, that one and two more of these. You can put this sticker or that one on your helmet, this decal on the back window of your truck. Wear any tee-shirt you want with whatever logo or saying on it.
Give me one set of steps, leading to an attic where fire is rolling down on you while blowing out the eaves and/or dormer.
Push into the fire floor from the adjacent window or the floor above to search without a hose line. Try a little VES (Vent Enter Search) when the floor is rocking.
Crawl down a dark, black, smokey hallway. So dark you can’t see your nose or the lens of your mask. The heat so hot that every breath you take hurts. Reaching out … feeling for anything you can find…. a hole to fall into or a body…. who knows? It’s your first time in this situation …. you’ll wonder how close you’ll be to that body when you find it and what it will look like when you get there.
It’s already hot and getting hotter. Open the nozzle or not? Keep pushing or back out? Someone will understand …. the circumstances just weren’t where we needed them to be … right? Nobody will blame or question you. There are multiple reasons to quit and turn around but only two reasons to keep pushing…. 1.) Someone is (or may be) in there and 2.) this is what you took an oath and signed up for …. it’s your DUTY and job!
Do you have the HEART to push on or will you quit? It’s not easy … if it was, any and everyone would do it. If you don’t (have the heart), I’m sorry…. IT CAN’T BE TAUGHT.
How about the EMS call at 3am? The nausea and vomiting for 2 days. The abdominal pain or difficulty breathing despite the fact they smoke 3 packs a day.
Do you get up bitching? Complaining and cursing? Are you mad because you came to work, fully knowing your job was to staff the ambulance ; and they actually asked you to run a call? Did you think there was a call volume “limit” when you joined?
Or, do you realize that although this is your 15th call of the tour, it may be the caller’s 1st emergency. Do you even consider that the person you’r responding to may be a family member of mine. Maybe they are kin to someone you work with…. maybe they are related to you? If you knew that going in, would your outlook have changed? It shouldn’t …. every run should receive the same commitment.
To me, that’s a little bit about what “HEART” is on the job….. it’s doing our job and doing it with PRIDE, HONOR and RESPECT.
There is also “HEART” away from the job and I guess the better word there would be “off duty” because those of you who have “HEART” are never really “off the job”.
Rhett and I are fortunate in that we Know, meet and see a lot of Brothers and Sisters who “get it” … who have “HEART” and/or display, understand and promote “The Brotherhood”. We see examples of it on a daily basis because we know what we’re looking for. The sad part of what we see is that so many Brothers and Sisters look right past it never knowing what they saw.
I could give ya many, many examples but instead, I want to share just a few with ya from our experience at FDIC 2013 (this will by far not be ALL the examples we encountered).
Take the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb for example.
This is the first time FDIC has had 343 climbers. This year, they actually surpassed that number.
NONE of these climbs are easy. I often see folks in the staging areas and think to myself … “”they are going to have a hard time making 110 stories”. They HAVE to know that going into the climb themselves yet, they register and show up anyway. THEY CLIMB! That’s HEART!
During the climb, you’ll find many who, instead of making a “race” out of it; stay behind to assure every member completes their journey (climb). Anybody can pass the Brother or Sister in front of them and push on to “look good”. It takes HEART to hold back and assure nobody is left behind.
I’m surrounded by Founding and Committee Members of the Stair Climbs. You would think “that” sacrifice would be enough.
NOPE … Brothers like Rhett Fleitz, Brian Brush and Andrew Catron continue to climb. For them, this is their 6th or 7th climb (maybe even more for Brian).
Why? They’ve done their duty. By completing just one, they’ve accomplished more than most. For them (us) it’s not about that. It’s about HONOR. Honoring our fallen.
It’s about SUPPORT. Supporting the NFFF and our fallen’s families.
These Brothers “GET IT”. Not only that, they want YOU to get it as well! They promote the Climbs and sacrifice their time to serve on committees, organize events etc.
I’m not saying you have to “climb” to “get it” but these Brothers DO and that’s why they CLIMB!
I’ll give ya another example…. Kim Fitzsimmons.
Many of you may know Kim from her Face Book Page. Others may know her from her fire ground photography (or her drawings with red crayons…LOL)
Seems like a pretty full plate towards “the Brotherhood”, “getting it” and/or having “Heart” huh? Well, Kim learned of the “Meet-Up” Rhett and I were having at FDIC and she decided she just couldn’t miss it. She drove all the way up to FDIC just to attend our Meet-Up knowing it was sponsored in part by the NFE! She wasn’t “looking” for anything …. she wanted to support and promote the NFE while sharing and spreading The Brotherhood. She made the drive alone … she “gets it”. Kim has HEART!
Here’s another NFE Officer Club Member who “gets it” ….Jill Boden.
Jill attended FDIC all week. We first met her at the FOOLS Bash but have known her for some time now through her Face Book page as well as the Officer’s Club.
She attended the NFFF Stop Drop and Rock and Roll Event as well …. anywhere support for the Brother / Sisterhood was needed, Jill could be spotted.
She “worked the room” of our Meet-Up like a pro. Introducing herself and spreading the word about the NFE, the NFFF and more. Jill also “gets it” and she displayed it all week!
Not only does she look after us …. she’s devoting her time to take care of our spouses as well!
Her mission … “Strengthen, ignite and rescue Firefighter marriages. Nurture our fire wife community with encouragement, support and friendship. To Build up our fire wives in mind, body and spirit to be wise, strong and enduring. To bring an even deeper sense of community to the fire service family”.
Must I say more? OBVIOUSLY … Lori “GETS IT”. I hope you get it too! Use the links below to get a head start …..
Ok …for a final two (but not the only remaining) examples from FDIC, I’ll go back to our Meet-Up.
At the end of the night, a young (or at least “younger”) Brother came up to me. He wanted to buy me a beer (the event was over and the open bar changed to cash bar). He was in the group of members from Tennessee that included Shane Lester and William Banks.
Some wore helmets, others cowboy hats. They were ALL Brothers who obviously “get it”.
Anyway, I already had 2 full beers in my hand (I know…. what are the odds of that…LOL) and it was last call.
I told this young brother that instead of buying me a beer that I obviously didn’t need, to give the $5 he was going to spend to the Sons of the Flag Burn Foundation.
I watched as he walked over to Ryan, Zane, Nathan and Rob Wiedmann and handed them the money. HE HANDED THEM THE MONEY! I can’t tell you how good it felt to see a young member “GET IT”. I hope he understands what (and why) he did what he did. He summed up what our Meet-Up was all about!!
Some many other Brothers and Sisters in attendance that night kept thanking me and Rhett for hosting the event. They kept saying that we were what the Brotherhood was all about and how much they looked up to what we do for the fire service.
I explained to each of them …. Rhett, Shane (NFE), Andrew and I did nothing. We rented a room and bought a bunch of beer.
They …. EVERY Brother and Sister in attendance did so much more. They gave the true display of Brother.
Again I’ll say that I and many others can / could teach you / them to perform most any task required of us in the Fire Service. We CAN’T teach them to sacrifice their time and money to spend time promoting the Brotherhood and supporting organizations worthy of our attention.
Despite having to drive 8 hours in the pouring rain, we made it home safely. I hope everyone else did as well.
I’m worn out … mentally and physically. Spent some time with the Buckaroo and my beautiful bride before heading out to the hot tub for a little “unwind” time while thinking over everything we experienced this week.
Can you tell by the pic? You can take the fireman out of FDIC but you can’t take FDIC out of the fireman! LOL
What I mean by that is FDIC is so huge and all encompassing that there’s no way you can attend and not come away with something. A full week of training and Brotherhood shared by the absolute BEST in our business! I’ll share with ya a little of what I experienced and brought home …
Unfortunately, Rhett and I did not attend any of the training this year. Our schedule simply wouldn’t allow it.
This year, we represented 2 GREAT companies and friends of the Fire Service while working their booths on the exhibit floor.
Black Diamond Boots asked us to be in their booth this year and we couldn’t have been more pleased. Rhett and I are both big fans of Black Diamond and the X2 Boot. We wear them in our gear and have for years.
That’s what makes it easy for us to be in a booth like Black Diamonds (that and the “Booth Babes”) …. it’s a great product and we use it daily. We believe in it and can talk to potential buyers in an up front and honest manner.
When we’re standing there selling these boots, we are WEARING them. We wear them ALL DAY LONG … 3 days in a row! We work in them, we climb in them. We can do this because they are a great boot …. they fit well and they’re comfortable.
Would you trust a fire boot salesman wearing Nike tennis shoes? I didn’t think so. Anyway, we got to meet a lot of great Brothers and Sisters shopping for boots. We (Black Diamond) even gave a pair away each day. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to try on a pair. It was GREAT meeting you all. We know you’re gonna love this boot so be sure to visit their web site or find them on Face Book to locate your local dealer.
We only spent 4 hours with Black Diamond. The rest of our time on the floor was spent with Zach Green in the MN8 FoxFire booth.
Rhett and I have been part of the FoxFire Family for several years now. We’re a natural fit!
It’s another product that we use every day on the job. It’s a product geared toward firefighter safety and accountability …. AND IT WORKS!
By firefighters for firefighters … who understands us better?
This year was VERY exciting for Zach and our team as we unveiled several NEW PRODUCTS at the show. One of those products is a SCBA Identifier Tag. Another GREAT “Illuminating” product to aid us in visibility and accountability.
We also had our good friends from Box Alarm Leather in the booth to help promote our Illuminating Radio Straps.
That’s right …. made right here in the USA by Box Alarm Leather, they come with a lifetime warranty and THEY GLOW!
Rhett and I have been big fans of Box Alarm for years as well. GREAT quality with quick and reliable service. They are the company who made our custom fronts as well.
You can purchase the Radio Strap, a universal radio case and anti-sway strap as a complete kit or purchase them separately (they ALL “Illuminate”!!!). Be sure to visit these links to learn more and order yours today!
It’s a GREAT event! “Over the past ten years, Stop, Drop, Rock ‘n’ Roll has played an important part in helping us honor America’s fallen firefighters. It is a chance for firefighters to give back to the fire service and have fun at the same time. Through a small donation at the door you have all helped the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation honor and support the families of firefighters who have died in the line of duty.”
This years entertainment was none other than Darryl Worley and he did ONE HELL OF A JOB!
He played acoustic and sounded GREAT and even took the time to sign autographs and pose for pictures afterwards. He ended the show with one of his hits, “Have you forgotten?”
The only thing better than listening to Darryl sing was getting to dance to his music with the CEO of Phenix Helmets, Nicole Clesceri ! I’m not sure of the final numbers but I think the auction went ok as well this year. I do know that everyone in attendance had a good time and we can only hope we raised a LOT of money for the NFFF and our surviving families.
Another event we attended was the Fire Rescue, Fire / EMS Blog Network and Firefighter Nation “Meet Up”.
For those of you who don’t know, Rhett, Dave Statter and I (along with SEVERAL others) have our sites hosted by the Fire / EMS Blog Network. The Network is FULL of many great writers providing us all with a variety of resources related to the job.
Fire Rescue Magazine Editor in Chief, Tim Sendelbach recognized several of our writers for their contributions this year. I was honored to have been one of those recognized. It was totally unexpected … I was humbled and HONORED.
Afterwards, we headed over to dinner with our MN8 FoxFire family.
Every year at FDIC, Zach treats the team to dinner on Friday night.
It amazed me to think back over the past few years and realize just how much (and quickly) our team / family has grown.
Speaking of renting out an entire Building …. later that evening, Rhett and I also hosted our very own “Meet-Up” at the Hard Rock Cafe and it too was a HUGE success!
WOW! There were 100-150 people who came out to share a few drinks and some Brotherhood with us. We have always wanted to do something like this but for one reason or another haven’t been able to pull it off.
For me, beyond the attendance; there were several highlights of the evening. The first, was a special presentation made to me by Erin and Stephen Foster of Ayden’s Gifts .
“Our missions are to bring handmade memorials to those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Our goal is to paint something for you to cherish for years to come! Whether it is a plate, mug or figurine!”
This presentation was totally unexpected and caught me off guard. HONORED and HUMBLED doesn’t even begin to define what (or how) I felt. I’ve spoken here on the site many times of late about showing and sharing emotions (despite the outer appearance of being “tough” firefighters) …. Erin and Stephen brought me to tears that night and it happened in front of a huge crowd.
Im still not quite sure what to say.
The quote above is from their site and as far as I’m concerned, they have succeeded in accomplishing their mission! Just look at the detail here.
It’s in Carolina Blue … Jackson’s favorite team / color. It has the Carolina logo. The foot, to me; symbolizes all the “foot prints” Jackson left in my life and on my heart. The quote on the outer rim is from an Allison Krauss song that I posted about just a few weeks back in a post called “Positional Awareness … Where the Hell am I ??” .
PLEASE …. take the time to check out their site. Read the story of why they do what they do and look at some of their art work. Be sure to like and follow them as well.
Another highlight for the night was having FDNY’s Rescue 2 member Rob Wiedmann stop by.
You may remember Rob (and Firefighter Gersbeck) was seriously burned in a December 19, 2011 Crown Heights fire in Brooklyn, Ny. It was an unimaginable event that was caught on video. Dave Statter still has it up over on Statter911.com CLICK HERE for the video .
Rhett, Zach(MN8 FoxFire) and I teamed up to collect money for Rescue 2′s MayDay Fund which supported the families of Rob and James. Our reader support for the fund raiser was nothing short of amazing AMAZING and we soon hand delivered a check to Captain Flaherty and the members of rescue 2.
Rob actually dropped by our booth on the exhibit floor of FDIC. We said he simply wanted to stop by to say hello and thanks us once again for our efforts following his injury.
He also wanted to assure his gratitude was passed along to all of you who gave support (including thoughts, prayers etc).
Rob is a GREAT guy who for me, defines the meaning of HEART. I have a saying I use often … “You can’t teach heart” and Rob is a prime example.
His training and instinct played a huge role in getting him out of that building BUT … it was also “HEART”. Heart has kept him going throughout his healing process (28 months now with more surgeries scheduled). Heart drives him to continue to get out and promote the Fire Service and our Brotherhood. I’ll have more on “Heart” in an upcoming post ….
Rob was there with a few Brothers from Sons of the Flag Burn Foundation , Ryan “Birdman” Parrott, Zane, and Nathan.
You’re going to start hearing a lot about these guys and their efforts here on Ironfiremen.com in the future. We asked Ryan (the group’s founder) to say a few words at the Meet-Up and then we passed my boot around for their cause. We raised $730.00 in about 10 minutes! Be sure to check out the links below to learn more about these guys …
Again I’ll add that what really “made” the meet-up was everyone who attended. We got (and continue to get) so many comments about how much we (Rhett and I) are doing for the Brotherhood. I explained to several of the folks there that night …. we didn’t do anything. We rented a room and bought some beer. YOU GUYS … you Brothers and Sisters are the ones who showed up. You’re the ones who sacrificed your time and made the decision to attend. YOU are the the ones who “made” the event …. THAT Brothers and Sisters was the display of Brotherhood that night! Thanks again for attending!
Rhett did a little “name dropping” and shared his views on our Meet-Up and FDIC in general over on the Fire Critic. He also has links to some great pictures … read that post in the link below
There is so much more I want to share about our Meet-Up but I think I’m going to work it into one of my next posts. All in all, FDIC was a huge success for us and we can’t wait until our next event.
Thanks to EVERYONE who took the time to come up and speak to us. Be sure to follow us on Face Book to find more pictures and info on FDIC and more! Be sure to keep check back and THANKS for following …
Support has really been building for our Brothers and Sisters in and around the town of West, Texas following last week’s devastating and fatal blast.
The National Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation has set up a special, National fund for the survivors.
“In light of the tragic event in West, Texas on Wednesday and in cooperation with local support efforts, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has established a national fund to accept monetary donations to assist the survivors and coworkers of the fire and EMS personnel who died in the line of duty”.
Tim made our local news tonight due to his efforts to assist the West, Texas Fire Department.
Chief Smith left Virginia this morning at 09:00 am. They will be traveling down I-85 to Atlanta Georgia and then following I-20 into Texas.
They will be making as many stops as possible along the way to collect donations for West Texas.
They are accepting any and all donations … money, supplies, equipment etc.
If you, your Department or business would like to host Tim and his crew or have them stop at your location to pick up a donation, you can contact them through the Climax VFD site HERE(their itinerary is also listed on that site) .
There is also a Memorial Service planned for this Thursday (April 25th) in Waco Texas. Rhett has all the details over on Fire Critic (I’ll include the link) and if they get a live stream out, we will do our best to have it up on both of our sites for those unable to attend in person.
Once again I have a lot of catching up to do but this time, it’s not entirely my fault. The server for our network has been up and down over the past several days so we haven’t been able to get a post up. Hopefully, the situation is corrected now and we can get back to business as normal.
So, to catch ya up … it’s been a long week.
We worked the Thursday, Saturday, Monday cycle this week (24hr tours).
Goerge (my Lt) is off on vacation and Boots is still out on sick leave (he’s recovering well). That left just me and our newest member, Jerry Thompson at the station. Instead of calling in OT for the entire shift, the Company was placed out of service and Jerry and I detailed out to fill other vacancies for the day.
Jerry went to “The Green House” … aka Station #3 and I went down to Station #5 and rode the Ladder.
Yea… an Engine Captain on a Ladder. Well, around here; you never know what you may end up doing. I’ve explained it a few times here on the site that due to our staffing etc. an Engine Company can easily be assigned “Truck work” and vice versa.
I’ve also talked about having been assigned to a Ladder a couple times during my career. The truth of the matter is … I LOVE truck work! Especially now that 2 of our Trucks have the added responsibility of performing vehicle extrication for the City (Ladder 5 being one of them).
It was a good day with the Brothers and Sisters at Station #5. That evening, I got an over time man and put Lucky #13 back into service.
Turned out our OT man was none other than Captain Chris Trussler from down at “The Deuce” on B-shift.
Captain Trussler and I go way back….way … way … WAY back actually.
I call him “Lucky”. 1.) Because he’s got a little leprechaun in him and 2.) Because he’s so damn “lucky”.
We were both assigned to Ladder #2 as Privates back in the day (on different shifts). Like many Crusty Old Jakes, there are hundreds of stories involving / surrounding Captain Trussler. I was even involved in a few of em.
I always remember the one about a working fire in the projects near the station. There were reports of people trapped on the second floor and “Lucky” was assigned the search. The Brothers are going to work and here comes Trussler falling /rolling down the interior steps and out the front door. He had a victim. A 350 pound lady wearing her nightgown and a pair of gorilla slippers. They end up in the front yard with the lady on top of him. So a couple of the boys run over to make sure he’s still alive and he tells them … “I got the little one, her sister is still up there!” … LMAO!
Lucky’s a “Good Jake” and we had a BLAST reminiscing over old stories. He’ll be testing for Battalion Chief in the next few weeks and I hope he does well …. I’ll work for him ANY day.
Our middle day turned out MUCH busier. Instead of overtime, they transferred a man from the South Side. Keith Snead from Station #1-A was trading time with a C-shift Brother and drew the short straw. He hadn’t been here 10 minutes before we caught a working fire. Nothing says thanks for working on a beautiful Saturday morning like catching work at 07:30am. Unfortunately, the runs kept coming all day long. The saddest incident we ran was a vehicle fire. Nothing breaks your heart like rolling in on a 1967 Camaro that’s on fire. Here’s some video ….
The car was obviously custom. A good training point from this video … something to keep in your mind is just how custom it was. Even the engine was customized…. so much so that it had Nitrous aka Nitrous Oxide system. Yea …NOS… a 20lb bottle mounted beside the driver’s seat! Good thing Snead got a good knock on the fire.
I’ll let ya know how our Monday tour goes a little later but until then, I have plenty more to share.
To begin with … set your clocks, DVRs, VCR’s and whatever else you have. The Fire Critic, Rhett Fleitz; and I will be on Prime Time TV Sunday night at 7pm (April 28th)! That’s right … Rhett and I will appear on MSNBC’s 100th Episode of “Extreme Caught on Camera”. Check your local listings and be sure to check us out! Here’s the trailer …..
It should be pretty evident that I’ve taken some time off … a lot of time actually.
I wasn’t sure how long I’d be away … I wasn’t even sure if I’d come back at all.
When I say “away”, I’m speaking mostly of my social media presence … posting here on Ironfiremen.com and staying active on my Face Book pages. I even though about going away physically … packing up and moving. I just wanted to get away … to forget and leave the events of the last 3 months behind me. To start over somewhere new. It wouldn’t have worked and I knew it.
Looking back, I think I was just trying to avoid those awkward situations. Most people didn’t know what to say to me or how to say it. Many that tried would often say the wrong thing. Here’s some helpful hints …
Yes, I’m still grieving but, slowly and surely I’m climbing my way out of this hole.
It’s the “power of people”. You guys haven’t left my side. Even though I haven’t responded, the e-mails, letters, phone calls and messages keep coming in. You’ve stood by me with sympathy and support like I’ve never experienced. People like Peggy Sweeney (The Sweeney Alliance) and Shannon Pennington (Firefighter Veteran) have picked me up on a daily basis.
In the last two weeks, I’ve seen some daylight. I’ve been getting out and around other people some and it’s helping. I’ll share some of those events with ya in this post …
It started with 2 days of teaching our recruit Class #16.
I taught Fire Behavior and Control along with Salem Senior Firefighter / Medic Chris Smith aka.. “Smitty”.
That happened just at the time my wife had a lump removed from behind her breast (surgery went well … results are back and was not cancer). My mind really wasn’t focused on firefighting but it proved to be a welcome and needed “distraction”.
I seen a lot of potential in this group of recruits but it’s still early in their training and that have a way to go yet. They were attentive and seemed eager to learn. They asked several great questions and I think (hope) they all learned something over the 2 days I got to spend with them. They are lucky to have the caliber of instructors they have scheduled for their academy. I reminded them that THEY asked to be here. I hope they WANT to. They were given the opportunity and now it’s up to them to prove they belong. It’s up to them to EARN that position … nobody will “give” it to them. It takes dedication and heart and we can’t teach either of them! Good luck to Recruit Class #16.
All the teams are non-profit and play for various charities local to their perspective cities.
The Rampage won by a score of 20-2 and moved to 2-0 in their division. Their complete schedule can be found in the links above. Be sure to also check out the NPSFL site to find the team nearest you and lend your support. The next two game for the Rampage are away games but I’m hoping to attend at least one of them. Follow the Rampage on Face Book … click HERE !
We did a little pre-game tailgating for this one.
Of course we did it “Ironfiremen.com” style and set the camper up.
Several folks made it by to share in the food, beverages and Brotherhood.
We even had a celebrity hang out for the day. Team Hunter was on hand and in full force. The Buckaroo and Hunter had as much fun (if not more) than most of the adults. If you’re not familiar with Team Hunter, check them out on Face Book by clicking HERE or the link above. Hunter’s a GREAT kid and your support has made (and continues to make) a difference in his life. Be sure to “Like” his page and send in a photo …. it really makes his day.
It was a great time and I really enjoyed seeing and talking to everyone who stopped by. Hunter’s dad, Baron; took hundreds of photos and I’ll try to get a few up on my Face Book page later on.
Andrew is a good friend and a Brother Firefighter from Kingsport Tenn. Andrew was one of the guys who went with me and Rhett to FDIC last year. Andrew is one the guys who “gets it”. He’s very active in many aspects of the fire service and he’s making a positive impression on many of the people he’s reaching.
Beyond his Blog (linked above) and many other things, he is also very active with the National Firefighter’s Endowment. If you noticed the job shirt I was wearing in the second picture of this post, it’s from the NFE and Andrew was very instrumental in their development. Learn more about Andrew by clicking HERE and return the support by following his blog “The Model City Firefighter”. You can find / follow him on Face Book by clicking HERE .
Andrew and his family (Rachel and Issac) made a trip up to Roanoke to see the sites and check in on me and Rhett. I always tease Andrew by calling Rachel his “sister”…. I tell him there’s no other way a gal that pretty would hang out with him …. LOL.
He knows I’m just kidding but Rachel actually believed I though she was his sister for a while …LMAO.
Well, she’s prettier in person and Issac and me hit it off from minute one!
We had a GREAT visit. We hung out at station #13 for a while before heading down to Historic Station #1 and our Fallen Firefighter Memorial.
Later that evening, they visited the Mill Mountain Zoo / overlook before heading to Blacksburg for dinner with Andrew’s brother. I think and hope they had a good visit … I know I enjoyed it. You’ll be seeing more of Andrew soon as he will once again be traveling with us to FDIC in a few weeks.
Another good friend and Brother Firefighter stopped in later that evening as well.
Nate Camfiordtook the time out of his busy schedule to check in on me. You guys may know Nate from his AWESOME photography. He was the one behind the camera for our Ironfiremen / Fire Critic.com “Hey Brother” tee-shirt promotion. He’s also the Brother who started the “Boot” campaign in my healing process as well as many other projects including Team Hunter.
Nate will become even more well know and famous following FDIC this year as one of his photos will be on the cover of one of PennWell’s latest publications (more on this in a future post).
It was another great visit with many laughs shared. Be sure to click his name above as I linked it to his Face Book page … you’ll LOVE his photos!
Most recently, I’ve spent some time camping with friends. I’m ruined! LOL
On Friday, Kevin and I pulled the Buckaroo out of school early and headed to Claytor Lake to set up.
Later that day, Roanoke County Firefighter Brandon Sheppard (and his family) along with Radford Fire Department’s Henry Barnett (and his family) joined our group.
It was a GREAT weekend and very relaxing!!
Lazy days spent watching the Buckaroo and Hunter play while just taking it easy and enjoying where we were.
Walks through the woods …. to the lake, play ground and beach.
There’s just “something” about getting out and camping that’s refreshing.
Everything seems “better” when you’re camping.
Even the food. Yea …. that’s Brandon Sheppard cooking breakfast!
We’re going to be doing a LOT more camping this year… a LOT LOT more. Even if we just set up by the creek on the farm, we’re gonna be camping somewhere.
Of course it’s not all about “getting away” either.
Sometimes, as it was at Claytor Lake this weekend; it’s good to be around other people.
I still have my long johns on yet their were people laying out on the beach! Now that’s the kind of people I like to be around … the ones wearing bikinis! LMAO
If you have a camper or tent and want to join (or invite) us for a camping trip, just hit me up. We’ll be somewhere pretty much every weekend and would love the company. You’ll have a BLAST!
So, thanks to EVERYONE for the continued support. It feels good to be getting out again and you’ll be seeing a lot more of me from this point on. Rhett and I have FDIC coming up in two weeks and I have a ton of other stuff to share as well. Keep checking back here and following on Face Book for all the details.
For the followers of mine (yea…both of you) who aren’t “on the job”, the term positional awareness is one we use in reference to knowing “where” you are. We often refer to it as inside a structure or building …or at least on the fire ground. Another term that goes along with it is situational awareness … or knowing not only where you are but what is / can happen around you.
So where am I?? I wish I knew.
It’s an uncomfortable position for me. In the past, even when I’ve been somewhere I shouldn’t be; I at least knew I was there. Now, I’m not so sure. I’m lost.
If any of ya find me, please let me know or just take me home (of course I don’t even know where “home” is anymore).
Obviously, I’m not here (where I have been or where I’m used to being). I haven’t been for 3 months now and I can’t seem to figure it out.
I’ll assume that you guys have … figured it out that is. Obviously, by my lack of postings / presence something is still not right. I also know that you’re most likely tired of hearing me whine and cry … tired of my “softer” side. Many of you have sent e-mails, comments etc excited to see bits and pieces of the “old Willie” and that style of posting back. The honest answer is that I’m just not there yet. I tried to get there but couldn’t…. not yet. At least you haven’t forgotten about me.
There is a TON of material out there and things I want to say / comment on but I just can’t find the energy to sit down and write it out. I can’t find the words. It’s not “flowing” in my mind ….. I guess it’s what they mean by writers block (if you can call me a writer…LMAO).
I’ve been in a fog. Wondering …. aimlessly. Still searching for my answers. Answers I may never find.
Maybe this direction, these type of postings is where I need to be. Maybe I can be of more help to the Brotherhood by sharing these stories than I can of my everyday firehouse life / opinion etc.
I can’t imagine keeping a very big audience along this path but if I can make a difference in just one Brother or Sister’s life, I think it would be worth it.
I don’t know where I’m going yet … hell, I’m not 100% sure of where I’ve been now that I try to put it all into perspective. I think we’ve all been here … it’s just my first trip.
For me, the hits just keep coming. I feel like I can’t keep my head above water. I’m dry but drowning!
Jack’s suicide, my moms cardiac procedure (which turned out way better than expected) and, Boot’s cancer surgery. Everything seemed to hit at once. I’ve tried to be strong … to set an example…strong yet open. It hasn’t been easy. Everyone wants me back but I’m not sure I can get there. I’m not sure how much longer I can hold on to the little sanity I have but I’m trying.
Alison Krauss has several lines in her song “Paper Airplane” that hits home with me … one says …. “And love is hard to measure hidden in the rain. That’s why you’ll find me…Here all alone and still wondering why. Waiting inside for the cold to get colder…”
Another from the same song is ….“How many days should I smile with a frown?‘Cause you’re not around with the sun on your shoulders…”
Here’s a video of her singing the song if you’re not familiar with it or her music … I’m a HUGE fan.
Smile with a frown … sound familiar to any of ya?
Now, for me at least; it keeps piling on and I’m faced with even more challenges … more questions, more demons and battles to fight.
Today, I moved Jackson’s things out of dad’s house (that’s where he had been staying since his wife put him out and also where he decided to end his life). I smelt him as I moved every box. I smell him now. It’s was like an avalanche of emotion overtaking me once again.
It still seems like only yesterday to me but I know it’s not. I know this because yesterday, I found myself waiting once again for the phone to ring. I waited but he didn’t make that Easter morning call. I wanted to dial his number but couldn’t. Nothing is as it should be.
I don’t know how dad has done it. How he’s stayed there in the house. Past the birthdays and holidays. He’s got to be hurting as much as me and it’s killing me knowing it.
It’s even difficult for me to be around dad now. Him and Marci both look like and remind me so much of Jackson that it hurts. Worse than that … it suffocates me. I can’t explain it. Is this the life I’m left to live? Alienated from my own family? When will it end? Will it ever? Apparently not…
Thursday, Donna (my wife); will have a lump removed from behind her breast (under her arm). We wont know what it is until they get it out and see.
The procedure is weighing heavy on my mind. She’s staying strong for me and the girls while I’m quietly bleeding out. I’m not sure how much more I can take.
I feel like an old dilapidated barn. Old and worn yet just strong enough to leave you wondering how it’s still standing. I wish I knew. I wish I had it’s strength.
I want to leave this place … to go somewhere … anywhere but here yet I know I can’t. I know all roads will lead me back …. back to my struggles, my challenges, back to the things you cant run from. I’ll stay and fight.
I know there are many of you out there fighting the same battles. Several of you have reached out and spoken with me personally. I’ll remind you once again of the many resources available to us. Resources unique to “public safety”…. resources who understand who we are, where we came from and the challenges we face.
Behavioral Health issues … Grief, Stress, PTSD … issues unique and as personalized as those suffering through them. Issues all of us on the job have faced (most of us anyway). Here are some links for help. Links that will help you begin your journey … friends to guide you down the path… your start to the healing process.
“At an international conference on Friday, March 1, the NFFF (National Fallen Firefighters Foundation) introduced a new Behavioral Health Model that changes the way the fire service assists firefighters and others on the path to healing. It is based on the concept that no two firefighters will necessarily have the same reaction — not even to the same call”.
As for me, I’ve talked about not being able to eat or sleep. About not being able to keep anything down (on my stomach) and having an irritable bowel. I’ve shared being unfocused and distracted from rational thought, purpose or direction. What we don’t hear a lot about is where these things can lead when left untreated. Anger, the many forms of abuse … domestic, spousal and/or substance and even suicide .
There are many Brothers and Sisters out there battling Grief, Depression and/or PTSD that can’t see their way through or past their suffering. For many, suicide seems their only way “out”. Don’t stand idle and watch these Brothers and Sisters fall. Like many of you have done for me, YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE in their lives as well, in their healing process. Start talking about Behavioral Health in your Department (paid or volunteer, large or small). Use the links I’ve provided and look for more.
The recent events of my recovery are merely an expected bump in the road. I’ve known that a holiday, a random picture, odor, memory etc would bring back a flood of emotion. I’m still searching for my “new normal” and fighting my way back to where I want and need to be. I’ll get there. Thanks again for all the continued understanding and support. I’m still here. I know this is not the post you were hoping / looking for but it’s all I have right now.
Someone called me that the other day …. a “survivor” (as in a suicide survivor). I’ve never thought of it that way but it actually makes sense.
It’s been 75 days since my brother Jack made the decision to end his life and I’m still struggling through the loss. I’m still going through the grieving process and fighting depression.
I don’t know if I’m a “survivor” but I am surviving ….. day by day.
It’s been a rough few months and the past couple of weeks haven’t made it any easier. Two of my family members have had major surgeries or procedures and the LODD (Line Of Duty Death) of Scott Morrison on March 3rd hit close to home. Scott was a good friend and huge supporter… professionally and personally.
That word … “survivor” keeps popping up in my head…. I guess there are a lot of us.
Scott didn’t survive his fatal heart attack but his friends and family will.
There were (are) so many left behind that have to find a way to keep living… to keep moving forward with their lives despite their search for the answer to their question “why?”.
Scott is survived by a wife (Jessica) and two children (Kaitlyn and Sean). He is also survived by his Knotts Island Fire Department family (he was their Chief) as well as by “The Brotherhood”, and friends and family from all across the Nation. Scott left many survivors.
Rhett had some links and more on Scott’s death over on Fire Critic.com. Click HERE to read that post.
I didn’t attend the funeral. I had planned on it and intended to but I couldn’t. I couldn’t attend another funeral, see another casket or loved ones hurting. I wasn’t strong enough … I wish I was and regret not going.
I was already on the road the weekend of Scott’s funeral. I was in Charlottesville, Va at the University of Virginia Medical Center.
That Friday, my Senior Firefighter; “Boots” underwent some major surgery.
He’s actually been fighting for some time now. I haven’t talked about it here out of respect for his privacy but he’s given me permission to mention it now.
Boots had cancer …. now he doesn’t.
Now, he is a “SURVIVOR”.
With 25 years on the job, Boots is a GREAT Firefighter. More importantly he’s an even better person! He’s the type of man who is always giving and never taking. Always putting others first … never thinking of himself.
He didn’t deserve this battle but he’s quietly fighting it.
I’ve always known Boots was a fighter. I’ve always known he was strong … I just never realized how strong. Pushing down hallways or making rooms is one thing …. this is something different. Something much, much different.
They first tried radiation and he continued to report for duty. Many days, he left the station for his treatment and then returned for the remainder of the tour.
The radiation didn’t work and surgery was the only remaining option. On Friday, he spent over 5 hours in surgery. His recovery will be much longer.
For our local Brothers and Sisters, he is unable to accept calls at this times and is respectfully asking for no visitors. You can send him messages through any of my accounts (click for my e-mail or Face Book) and I will see to their delivery. If you’d like to send a card or something you can bring it by or mail it to the station (in attention to “Boots”) and I’ll get it to him. Message me here if you need the address or feel free to give me a call.
Tonight’s evening news reminded me of more survivors …. our Brothers and Sisters, as well as the many residents; of Breezy Point (and other areas affected by Super Storm Sandy).
These Brothers and Sisters not only lost $20,000 in band equipment, many lost their homes and personal belongings.
It’s not stopping them. They continue to play and will be on 5th Avenue tomorrow for the famed New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They too are “survivors” and they’re doing it so that others may too (survive).
“It’s good emotionally for us to be out there and get a sense of normalcy,” said Williams. “We’re still here. We’re still doing what we’re doing and we will get past this terrible devastation.” (a quote from Band founder and Pipe Major Terrence Williams at nydailynews.com)
I guess the point I wanted to make tonight is that there are “survivors” all around us. Many that we may have never noticed or thought of as survivors but they are there. I’m one of them. Despite my lack of postings / social media presence, I am surviving…. maybe you are too.
Instead of writing, I’ve spent the time with family (of course you … my readers / followers are family as well). I apologize for for not keeping you posted etc and want to thank all of you for the messages, e-mails etc sent checking on me.
Although I’ll never be the “same” again, I will find my “New Normal” . I’ve put my “boots” back on and now, I just need to get my focus back (click the bold quotations for previous related posts). I’m getting there. Thanks for hanging with and helping me throughout this journey…. I couldn’t do it without you!
For those of us “on the job”, it’s a fairly common term.
We use it when talking about forcing entry into a structure or cutting a ventilation hole in the roof. Sometimes it’s even used for vehicle extrication (using the “jaws of life” to cut open a car).
More often than not, it’s a “Truckie” term ( a firefighter assigned to a Ladder truck) although sometimes, due to today’s staffing issues; an Engine Company can be assigned these tasks.
I’ve been thinking about “opening up” and the various meanings of the term a lot here lately …. as related to the job and emotionally.
Today, I’m working an extra shift. I’m paying back a Brother (Tim Cady) who worked a day for me last week.
I’m pulling the tour at Station #1 (aka “The Big Show”) on A-shift. I’m riding the seat of the Ladder.
It’s a brand new Pierce, 100′ tiller and with a price tag of 1.2 million, she’s a sweet ride.
I spent my younger years in the Department assigned to a Ladder ….. it was good, honest work. I’ve learned a lot since then. Truck work made me a good fireman. I’d like to think I’m older and wiser now but some will argue that.
I’ve been assigned to an Engine Company since I made Captain back in 2000. On the Engine, I’m thinking about size ups, water supply and getting to the fire.
Riding the Ladder, my thought process has to change just a bit. Today, I’m thinking about placement, forcible entry, search, rescue, ventilation, salvage, overhaul and even extrication.
“Opening up” is a priority for me and the A-Shift crew today. Opening up so so the Engine guys can get on the fire. Opening up to ventilate. Opening up to make our searches or opening up vehicles for extrication purposes.
The rig I’m riding is perfect for the job. It’s a 1.2 million dollar tool box. Everything we need to do our job … to “open up” is stored away nice and neat inside her.
It sounds difficult but it’s not. It’s all we know … it’s what we do. The other type of opening up however … the emotional opening up … that’s not so easy.
My absence from postings and social media has been pretty obvious lately. In a recent post, “Climbing Out”; I shared with you that I am just reaching the “depression” stage of my grief (or PTSD) and it’s been a difficult journey.
The honest answer is that I just haven’t felt like writing. I still can’t seem to focus or get motivated.
I had the chance to travel up to Long Island New York last week for their Fire, Rescue and EMS Mega Show.
I got to spend the weekend with my MN8 FoxFire family. I call them “family” because they are … it was an easy decision to go.
In some ways, it was. I was hoping it would open some doors for me and it did …. it also slammed a few in my face.
Most of you know that Rhett (The Fire Critic) and I very seldom travel without the other but he was unable to make this trip.
Not wanting to drive alone, I figured I’d ask my sister, Marci; to tag along.
If nothing else, we’d get to spend the weekend together and that’s never a bad thing (or it shouldn’t be anyway). She was excited! We both were.
What I didn’t figure on was how emotionally difficult it would be for me (and maybe her too).
She reminds me so much of Jackson. I’ve never looked at or thought of her that way.
She looks like him. She acts like him. Her mannerisms. How she uses her hands when she talks, how she crosses her legs. How she talks. Little things but everywhere I looked, every time I turned around, she reminded me of Jackson and it breaks my heart. My stomach stayed in knots … that “sick” feeling all over again … the hurt.
I may have the same affect on her. Everyone always said that we all looked exactly alike (dad, me, Jack and Marci). I’m sure Dad sees Jack in us and I know it hurts. So here’s another door I’ll (we’ll) have to figure out how to “open up”. I’ve got to learn to be around things (including people / family) that remind me of Jack. I need to figure out how to make these “reminders” trigger the good memories and not rekindle my pain and sorrow.
I’m not sure how to do it. How to open this door.
I don’t think it’s one that can be “forced”. I think I’ve been doing too much of that lately … “forcing” the issues.
Today is two months since Jack took his life. Everyone is still asking “how” I am … how I’m “doing”.
My reply has become standard … what everyone wants to hear. I’m “ok”. I’m “hanging in”. Making it “day by day” or “one step at a time”.
I’m not so sure that’s 100% true. Click that photo to the left. Do you ever hide your true emotions with replies like that? Are you telling those around you what they “want to hear” or how you’re truly feeling?
I have to admit again that “opening up” here on the blog (as difficult as it has been to do) has been therapeutic. I think it’s been my best therapy so far. I wasn’t so sure in the beginning.
“Opening up” for all my readers to see was a huge decision for me. I wasn’t sure I even could (or should for that matter). I’m glad I have.
While in Long Island (and many times before, via e-mails etc) several Brothers and Sisters approached me with not only sympathy and condolences, but with THANKS as well. They actually thanked me for sharing my story. I don’t think I was expecting that.
Some say it’s uplifting, a source of inspiration and that it’s even helped them through their own struggles with grief. Others say they miss the “old Willie” and that they are patiently awaiting the return of my “regular” postings while they understand and support my latest directions.
I met several GREAT Brothers and Sisters while in Long Island but one in particular will always stand out in my mind.
A true BROTHER and Captain Daniel Purcell of the Scarsdale Fire Department paid me a VERY special visit. He said he has been following my site (and Rhett’s) for a while now. When he seen I would be in Long Island, he had to come meet me.
We had a GREAT conversation. I wont share the details but it was very humbling. He brought gifts and even asked about the Buckaroo. I don’t think he was even interested in the show …. just delivering his message to me. THANKS AGAIN CAPT ! I hope you know how much that visit meant to me.
If it helps you to know, I’m not the only one talking about stress and “Behavioral Health” these days. “At an international conference on Friday, March 1, the NFFF introduced a new Behavioral Health Model that changes the way the fire service assists firefighters and others on the path to healing. It is based on the concept that no two firefighters will necessarily have the same reaction — not even to the same call”.
Learn more about what they’re doing / saying in the links below ….
In another previous post (“Melt Down”) , I told ya about the “stages of grief” and how grief is as individual as the person suffering through it. We don’t necessarily go through the stages in order and by no means in the same way.
I’m currently working through the “depression” stage (and, I believe; suffering through PTSD).
I was expecting it but have never fully understood exactly what “depression” was. I’m learning the hard way.
My thoughts continue to wonder with every waking moment and it’s difficult for me to focus.
I still can’t eat. I just don’t have an appetite … I’m not hungry. When I try to force myself to eat, I throw it back up so I figure why bother.
I’m sleeping some at night now but I’m not REALLY “sleeping”. I’m tired all the time and can’t motivate myself to get out and do anything. I try to make myself go “somewhere” or do “something” but I don’t. I know I need to.
I haven’t even been able to write (evident in my recent lack of postings and absence from Face Book).
I’m not getting along well with others … I just want to be alone.
All these things seem so petty and easy to fix but they’re not.
That’s the hardest part for me. I know what’s happening and what I need to do ….. I just can’t muster the energy or motivation to get it done.
I have to start climbing my way out of this hole … I thought I have been but it doesn’t feel like I’m making much progress. I can’t stay here (like this) forever.
One of the folks I’ve been seeing offered a prescription for anti-depressants. It’s not for me. There’s a small part of me that almost took her up on it just so I could learn for myself (and share with you folks) if they (the pills) “really” work or not. Unfortunately, I’m not the “pill” taking kind ( I hardly even even take an aspirin) so I won’t be able to tell you “first hand” about anti-depressants. I can tell you that depression is REAL . It’s an illness that can be crippling.
I see a lot of it in the firehouse for one reason or another. Not just in situations like mine (the loss of a loved one) but also over financial issues, marital problems etc. If you want to learn more about depression and take your “Depression IQ quiz”, take a minute and CLICK HERE .
The best thing for me has been talking about it. Getting “it” out of my head and off my chest. I’ve wrote about them a lot here lately but once again, I want to share with you some folks who you CAN TALK TO. People who understand and that do MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
These folks are not just for you or me either. They are there for our Brothers and Sisters as well and it’s up to us to let them know that help is available. PAY ATTENTION … look around you. If someone in your company, your Battalion, Department or whatever is needing help, point them in this direction. You know … firefighter “so and so” whos wife just left him. Ol “what’s his name” from Engine whatever who just took a 3rd mortgage out because he lost his 2nd job. That S.O.B on the Ladder who we all know has been drinking too much …. all these Brothers have someone to turn to. Let them know before it’s too late. Here are the links ….
I had a bad day yesterday. Like most everyday, there’s always something that will remind me of Jackson.
I pulled a tour Saturday (we work 24hr shifts) and when I got home yesterday morning, the Buckaroo was waiting for me. It was 8am , he missed his “Paw-Paw” and wanted to play.
He got his motorcycle toy out. It’s like the old Evil Knievel wind up toy. If you’re a boy and anywhere near my age (44), I’d bet you had one.
I showed him how to use some books / magazines to make a ramp so we could make some jumps down the hallway. It was just how me and Jack did it when we were kids.
I could see us like it was just yesterday. Then the thought hit me (as it always does in situations like this) …. I wanted to call Jackson and tell him what we were doing. He would LOVE it! Knowing that me and the Buckaroo were doing exactly what he and I did as kids. I know he’d remember our ramps … our jumps…. fighting over who went next…. he’d understand and know EXACTLY what we were feeling / doing. He’d have that unforgettable smile on his face just thinking about it.
I’ll never get to make “those” calls again … not to Jackson and it’s killing me. This grief … the depression…. it keeps knocking me down but I won’t let it keep me here.
Like I said in the beginning of this post, I have to start climbing my way out of this hole.
“CLIMBING”…… Seems I wrote about that one time …. back in July of 2011 actually in a post titled “We are all Climbing” (Take the time to hit the link and read that post … I think you’ll find it worthwhile). Stairs, ladders or whatever obstacle, it seems we all are indeed “climbing”.
Me? I’m gonna find my way out …. I’m gonna find that “new normal” because I’m going to keep climbing …. it’s all I know to do.
I’m gonna start by getting out of town again. I’m going to head up north and spend a little time in NYC and out on Long Island.
I’m going to attend the Long Island Fire, Rescue and EMS Mega Show on Feb. 23rd / 24th. I’ll be working the booth with my MN8 FoxFire family but I’ll also be doing what I love best … meeting, spending time with and talking to all the Brothers and Sisters in attendance. I think it will be just what I need to get “moving” again …. to “re-engage” and get “back in the game”.
I’ll get ya more details in the next day or so …. until then, thanks again for all the support. Thanks too for allowing me to share all of this with you …. I LOVE YA ALL!
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’d like to make this a “regular” Ironfiremen.com post. I’d like to bring ya some controversy, some training thoughts or at least a picture of some half nudity ( I was called the “titty blog” earlier this season you know?). I can’t do that …. not yet …. I’m not “normal” at this point and I’m not sure I’ll ever be.
I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. I also know that you, my readers and followers; will only follow so much of my “preaching”. I have got to get back to somewhere close to what made you follow the site. It’s difficult to do. I WANT you to continue following because now I know that I have something very important to tell ya …. I wasn’t always sure of that…. I am now.
We’ve hit most every subject here on Ironfiremen.com over the years. It’s most often a topic around firefighter safety and/or saving our own…. that’s where my heart lies. To me, there’s not a more important issue to speak about. I’ve spoken of the “typical” MAYDAY on multiple occasions. As in when a firefighter finds him or herself in danger. Knowing where, when and how to call for help and to not be ashamed of it. We’re getting better at it.
I’ve added to the topic and written about a “personal” mayday in that we also need to call for emotional support. We need somewhere or someplace to “vent”. Someone to tell what’s on our minds. A place to share our emotions and feelings. The good and the bad. I’m not sure you understood what I was saying at the time but … PLEASE … read em again by hitting the links below….
My support following Jack’s suicide has been phenomenal. I’M LUCKY ! I know that. Not all of you have the “reach” or support group that I’m subjected to. I wish you did …. we ALL deserve it.
Jack’s death has not been easy on me …. it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever encountered. I LOST MY BROTHER! Dad lost a son!
He killed himself in my dad’s home …. I was there. I seen it. I worry about what dad seen and had to do before I got there. I worry about the brothers and sisters who responded to our home for this type of incident. What they had to see and their knowing that it was “our” house and family member (Dad and myself).
I knew how to respond … as a first-responder but never thought I’d be there as a brother. Never thought about having to care for dad being there. My wife, my sister, my cousin …. friends and family. This was personal …. it was FAMILY.
I assisted in the arrangements. We took visitors, smiled, hugged and shook hands …. I didn’t want to. It’s what I was taught to do and what needed to be done. I had to “hold it together”. I slept in the basement, just feet from where Jackson slept every night. Feet from where he eventually took his own life. I say I slept but the honest answer is that I laid awake there every night … unable to sleep. Pondering, waiting for him to walk into that room.
Today / tonight is NOT all that different. I re-live those moments (many of which I can not share yet) with every breath. I think of it as “ground hog day” …. it will never end and forever haunt me.
I didn’t think I could but last week, I took a step forward. I returned to duty and I’ve never been so scared in my life!
Within 10 minutes of entering the station, we received a call (run). We were tones for a possible house fire. My mind was racing (for reasons yet divulged) . What would I do? How could I focus on the task at hand when my mind was somewhere so far away? Was I placing my members in danger? Could I make the right decisions? Would I do the right thing?
Luckily, the house was not on fire. The basement had flooded due to the rain and snow, The occupant had several cans of gasoline (and other flammable liquids) stored down there which had overturned due to the high water. The home had gas hot water and heat but luckily, the water level had snuffed out the pilot lights. We secured the utilities, pumped the water and vented the home/ It was an otherwise “routine” run but my mind was in a million places. It could have gone so bad so quickly.
We continued to run that day. One call after another. We caught a 5 vehicle accident involving an ambulance (with a patient on board) form a neighboring agency and ended the night with a 2nd alarm at a 1st due 9 story apartment complex. My nerves were shaken to say the least. It wasn’t an easy tour.
How do I talk about it? Who do I tell?
Can I talk to dad about it? About my fears? He retired with 30 years of service and the title of one of the best firefighters on the job. How about my Chief? Which one? Which has REALLY been there? Which would understand? Maybe they’d seize this opportunity to find the reason to get rid of me once and for all? No ….. I couldn’t share any of this with them.
E.A.P (Employee Assistance Program) …. what do “they” know about what I’ve seen? What I think and / or fear? They aren’t firemen …. they don’t know what we’ve seen …. what we’ve done. I had nowhere to turn. OR SO I THOUGHT.
Brothers and Sisters I’m telling you NOW ….. we DO have somewhere to go … somewhere to turn to … someone who’ll listen. I’m going to start talking about it a lot. I’m going to because I want YOU to know that they are there. THEY …. someone who UNDERSTANDS, and they are there for US!
I’m in a deep, DARK place in my life but I also know that I will pull through. I KNOW I WILL because of the support I have received … the support WE have.
There’s NO SHAME in it. TALK ….. SHARE YOUR FEELINGS. Your pain, sorrow, hurt and even joy. SHARE IT. …. LET IT OUT, it’s therapeutic. TRUST ME.
It doesn’t make us “less” of a fireman … it makes us STRONGER. It makes us BETTER!
I’m getting there … little by little. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about or miss Jack. He was my little brother … I’m supposed to think about him. I was here to take care of him. I may have failed.
I watched the Super Bowl last night … I don’t watch football …. Jackson did. I pulled for the Ravens. They were the “home” team and from what I can tell, the “underdogs” as well. That sums us up ….(me…you… Jackson) the home team AND the underdogs.
Well, we won. We won yet I’m still here. I’m still lost.
I’ll keep searching till I find what it is I’m looking for. Maybe one day, I’ll share it with you … I’m not ready yet. I’ll keep looking. Digging, scratching. I may never find it but I’ll look. My dad and mom found it …. it came to them … I should be so lucky.
Until then, I’ve realized that I have chosen to live. I had to. There’s no life without it and unlike Jackson, I realize how many people love, think about and depend on me. I’m in it for the long haul. The Paul Harvey commercial reminded me of that …. we ( I ) have a purpose….
The support I’ve received through this trying time has been overwhelming. The phone calls, e-mails, messages etc. The comments and concern about me and my entire family. What really got me was when they asked about the Buckaroo. How he was doing. Well, the honest answer is that I haven’t been here for him. We haven’t explained whats going on to him. All he knows is that his uncle Jackson is gone to be with Jesus and that his Paw-Paw isn’t around much anymore. It has to be confusing.
That’s another reason to get back into shape. So that my family can get back to “normal” as well. Of course, when I say “my family” I mean you as well. I sold most of my cattle. When I say most, I mean that I still own those that nobody else would buy … my long horns.
That means that the Buckaroo and I still have some obligations to fulfill. Our animals come first. So for all of you asking ….. THANKS. It hasn’t been the best of circumstances for him but he’s doing OK. I haven’t been “there” for him but I will be. Here’s a short video of us heading out to feed / water yesterday. I hope you enjoy it.
My other family …. I’ll be reaching back to them as well. Closer to my firehouse family … to the Brotherhood and to my wife and children. It’s ok to need and want to lean on each other in times like these. I know none of you will let me slip … much less fall.
Also please don’t forget to reach out if and when you need someone to talk to, WE ALL DO. Once again I’ll add some links that have been helpful for me … USE THEM.
I’ve been attempting another (this) post for several days now. I’ve written several and sent em to the recycle bin instead of posting. I didn’t want to seem (or come across) as angry and I felt like they did. So, like everything else here lately, I’ll try it again. My emotions lately are across the board.
Despite the overwhelming support I received following my last post (“A Firefighter’s Boots”), I was NOT able to return to duty and put mine (my boots) back on. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to … I DID … more than anything, and you folks were a HUGE part of the reason why.
The comments, e-mails, Face Book messages and phone calls were all nothing short of amazing! Then a good friend and brother Firefighter, Nate Camfiord; posted a picture of some bunker boots with a simple message … “for a friend”. Talk about “Honor”, “Pride” and “Respect” … Nate reeks of it.
He (Nate) then called Rhett and told him what he had posted and why. The two got their heads together and the next thing you know, hundreds of pictures of “Firefighter’s boots” were being posted and sent in! They came from EVERYWHERE…. it was an AWESOME display of support! I was humbled and brought to tears.
Some of the pictures had messages attached. Each touched me. Some were heart breaking yet healing at the same time. All were emotional, heart felt, honest and motivational. They all said, in one way or another; for me to put my boots back on and that each of you were not only willing to, but “THERE” to help me with the “fit”.
I had no idea! I knew the Brotherhood existed, I just didn’t know it did to this extent. I also figured out that all of you were grieving “for” and “with” me as well. I know that you all felt my pain…. I had hoped to spare ya from it. That was selfish of me.
I later learned that part of the healing process needed to be a sharing of that pain and grief and, that I have a huge family to do that with. We all do the same thing … we help others, even at our own sacrifice. You wanted to help me. To be beside me. To comfort me and share in my grief. My being there would allow us all to move forward … to begin the healing process.
I wanted back in those boots this past Sunday. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but I was going to put them on. I wanted back in them for me and for you. I needed it…. we all did.
Obviously, it didn’t happen. I did however get by the station (and Station #5) for a visit that morning … I was glad I did. The circumstances surrounding why I didn’t work were beyond my control and I hope you folks weren’t disappointed. I hope I didn’t let you down.
We only get a couple days “funeral leave” in our system (one of which has to be the day of Last Rites) so I’ve had to take several days of “sick leave” since Jack’s death. I’m on the “old leave plan” so it’s no big deal for me. It doesn’t affect my Vacation or Holidays, I have plenty of it and, it will renew in July. I’ve earned it.
The problem I encountered was in our S.O.P’s (Standard Operating Procedures). Since I have taken more than 3 consecutive days “sick”, I need a doctor’s note before I can return to duty. One of our Deputy Chiefs reminded me of the policy when he called to “check on me” Friday evening and it’s a good thing he did (remind me that is). Can you imagine the turmoil it would have caused if I had shown up for duty without a permission slip doctors note?
It may have actually been for the best… I may have tried to come back too fast / soon. I’ve had a difficult week (emotional wise) and think that the couple extra days off couldn’t have hurt. They helped and the Chief of Department has told me to take all the time I need. I’ll get there…. I know it. With a support group like you, how could I not?
I’ll get a doctor’s note, even if I have to get Dr. Seuss himself to write one (he is a close personal friend and the only Doctor I REALLY trust you know…lol). My plan now is to return to duty on Tuesday the 29th or Thursday the 31st. Meanwhile, I’m going to start easing my way back to normal … my “new normal” anyway.
Zach Green and my MN8 FoxFire family will be in Daytona Beach Fla this week for the 2013 Fire-Rescue East convention … I’m going with them. Actually, I’m going to meet them there. Dad will be there too. They will be in booth #720 …. stop by and say hello.
A change of scenery, getting away (even if just for a couple of days) may be just what I need. It will also be a good opportunity to “reconnect”. I’ll be surrounded by firefighters, friends and family. It will be like easing back into the firehouse, only in a convention type setting.
It’s going to be difficult for me. I remain very emotional and it shows … that’s ok. I’m gonna cry in front of a lot of people this weekend. That’s ok too. I’ve learned that over these past 3 weeks. We’re HUMAN … I’m human. It’s what actually makes us good firemen. I’m going to start talking and “sharing” a lot… about opening up…. about talking (yea… to real live, other people). Sharing our stories, our feelings, our emotions. I’m going to tell ya how it’s ok to use E.A.P (Employee Assistance Programs), counselors and psychologists. IT WORKED FOR ME. If I can do it, anyone can.
I’m not “healed”. I’m not “over it” and I’m not “ok” BUT … I know that I will be. I know that I’ll learn to deal with and live with this pain… with this part of me that’s now missing.
If you’re in or going to be in Daytona for the show, look me up … I could use the company. Leave a comment here, message me on Face Book, hit up Rhett (Fire Critic) or just stop by booth #720 … Zach and Kelly will know where to find me. Heck, I may even put my boots back on while down there and give ya a free demo of FoxFire.
I’ll check back in from sunny Daytona (as soon as I stop and buy a new speedo). I just wanted to let you know (warn ya) that I’m on my way. THANKS AGAIN for all of and the continued SUPPORT…. I LOVE YOU GUYS!
Our boots are one of the seemingly simplest tools we have as firefighters yet they each have a story to tell.
Maybe you have to be a firefighter to understand but for most of us on the job, we can look at a brother or sisters boots (and how they wear them) and learn so much about the person wearing them.
Shined or scuffed. Tall or short. Laces or zippers. Station wear or structural. By the rig or inside the cab. Bunkers over or separated from our pants. By the bed at night or out in the bay. We depend on our boots… they get us to the job and have been there for every one … good and bad.
I’ve been in a dark place following my brother’s death two weeks ago and my boots continue to consume my thoughts. You can tell by just the few examples I gave above that we have many options (or choices) when it comes to our boots. One of the biggest however is the one I didn’t mention and the same one I’m facing now … knowing when (and how) to put them back on or to just hang them up.
I’ve been open and emotional here on the site before but not to the extent that I was in my previous post (or at least I don’t think so). The response was very positive and to be honest, it was also very therapeutic for me so I think I’ll try it again.
I’ve never been in this place (or any like it) before and I don’t like it. I can’t figure it out or “fix it” quickly and it’s not a position I’m used to or comfortable with. I’m still dazed and feel lost. I can’t sleep, keep food down and even find it difficult to draw a full breath. I get out of bed every day feeling as if I’ve been kicked in the gut. I’ve walked a million miles these past two weeks searching for answers or some sort of closure or peace but even these boots can’t get me far enough from the pain for me to function as I should.
Some of my friends are telling me to get back to work … get back to a “routine” and whats “normal”. I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet or if I’ll ever be. It used to be that I had a farming and firehouse life. Last week, I sold all my cattle and I haven’t been to the firehouse since Jack’s death. For the first time in my career, I’m nervous scared to go to work. I’m scared of what I’ll have to face and question my courage or ability to push through it.
I worry about facing the guys. I know this sounds “petty” but it bothers me. What will I say to Phil or Lynn when I walk in the door? What will they say to me? I know that right now, I’d break down in tears and I don’t want to do that … not at the station. Maybe they will break down? I don’t want that either.
They have to be wondering what to say to me. What can they say? Nothing they come up with will make it any easier for me (although appreciated). I’ll see their pain in knowing that I’m still hurting. I do and will know that they want to and are willing to share in that pain but still cant stand the thought of placing that burden on them.
Then, the seven o’clock bell will hit and the other members will emerge from the bunk room and we’ll have to relive the situation all over again. The event will unfold time and time again throughout the day as we converge with other companies. Maybe there wont be any conversation … just that awkward silence because nobody knows what to say.
I’ll be the guy who stops all conversation by simply entering the room. My presence will affect our members, their mental status and maybe even their ability to perform their duties because of it. I don’t want to be “that guy” either.
I also worry about the incidents that I’ll respond to and if I’ll be able to function after arriving. I’ve NEVER doubted my ability to do the job … until now. I’m not sure how I’ll react on certain types of incidents. More specifically, I worry about running suicides, ”Code Blues” (CPR), and any other type of fatality we may encounter. What if I “break down” while on the scene? In someone’s home… in front of their family. We are there to assist with their crisis, not bring more into it.
I’ve seen death throughout my career … a lot of it. I’ve seen it from new borns to elderly and from many mechanisms. As firefighters, we’ve all seen things that nobody should have to. I know that there is no “illusion” to death. It’s (their) face(s) has continued to visit (haunt) me over the years. I’ve always been able to move it “somewhere” in the back of my mind, to “file it away” and move forward … even when they hit “close to home”. This is different.
When our girls were home, Donna; (my wife) always knew when I had run an incident involving a child. We’ve never talked about them but she’d get a call at whatever time in the late night / early morning. I’d have her go to our girls bedroom, look in on them and tell me they were ok. I’d have her do it while I was on the phone. I heard it, I knew that they were ok and that I could move on through the rest of the tour. This time, there’s nobody to call and it’s not ok.
Of everything I’ve experienced and witnessed throughout my life and career, NOTHING can compare to what I had to do on December 30th. This was more than “close to home” … this WAS HOME. We were at Dad’s house and that was Jackson laying in front of me. JACKSON! I don’t want to see anymore.
Maybe my “file cabinet” is full. Maybe this file is simply too big to fit inside. Either way, I’m having trouble putting this one away. Maybe I don’t want to. How can I put Jack into “that” file cabinet anyway? Into “that” place in my mind? I know I’ve got to figure it out because I can’t keep going on like this. I need and want for my mind to slow down. For me to be able to focus and move forward.
I know that part of the reason that I’m in the condition I am is because I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet. What I’m “searching” for. I know what it is … it’s very specific and I’m not sure it will happen. I want it to … I need it to. I’m not ready to share it with all of you yet but I know that if I find it … if I get this answer, I can go on.
I’ll say here that I’ve had a ton of support (my entire family has). The e-mails, comments etc have been heart felt and therapeutic in themselves. THANK YOU … THANK YOU …THANK YOU! I’ve even had several therapists and professional counselors reach out…. everyday they’ve helped me. I’ll include some links at the bottom once again. If you haven’t already … CHECK THEM OUT. When you go to the Sweeneyalliance, be sure to sign up for their newsletter “Grieving Behind the Badge” .
So, once again; writing this has helped and I’m thankful to have this outlet. My Chief (and Department) has been VERY understanding and supportive. He’s told me to take as much time as I need knowing that neither of us could know how long that may be. Well, after writing this; I think it’s time to try. I think I’ll return to duty on Sunday and see if I can get back into my boots. Get back into my boots and “do work”. To see if I can still make a difference … hopefully, a positive one.
I’m going to give this a try with no promises on the outcome so bare with me.
It’s been just over two weeks since I lost my brother (Jackson) and I’m still struggling. His Birthday would have been on the 10th. In the last post I made, I said his death was “unexpected to say the least” but it was much more than that … it was devastating.
What I didn’t tell you was that Jack took his own life… he committed suicide. He killed himself and took a huge part of me with him.
He left me with guilt, anger, remorse, regret and more questions than I’ll ever know the answer to. My days and nights are now consumed with a search for those answers and I feel as if I’m wondering aimlessly in some far away land…. I have been and remain LOST.
I’m going to share this story (or as much as I can and I know I’ll ramble) for a couple of reasons. First, I think (and hope) there are some lessons here for us all. The second is more selfish in that I think it may be therapeutic for me. It’s difficult for me to “talk” about these things, so I don’t. It’s much easier to type them here. I need to get it out… or at least some of it. I may not even hit the “publish” button but if I do, maybe this will help me find what or who I’m searching for. Maybe it will help me find my “new normal”.
Part of my anger is that of all the total strangers I’ve helped over my career, I couldn’t (didn’t) help my own brother. Someone so close. My flesh and blood. Someone I seen or spoke to almost every day. Someone I loved more than he ever knew. How could I not help him??? He was right there! I’m supposed to be good at it … finding and helping others.
Jackson’s life was a struggle from early childhood and I think he looked at it as a failure (or at least a disappointment). He never really “held” a steady job. He didn’t have money in the bank, a lavish home or a fancy car. He struggled day by day to make ends meet and the battle took an early toll on his mind and body. I never knew what his actual “goal” in life was.
I think he thought that dad and I (as well as others) held some sort of expectations for him that he was never able to (or couldn’t) meet. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Although i would have loved to see Jackson prosper (and even become a fireman), what I wanted more than ever was for him to simply NOT have to struggle in life. I wanted him to realize what he DID have … to be happy with his accomplishments and achievements. He had many and I wish I had told him my feelings.
Jackson had lost some ground again here recently. It seemed as if every time he would make a step forward, something would push him 3 more back. His wife kicked him out of their home a few months ago and he was forced to move in with dad at the age of nearly 42. I wont pass judgement or cast blame on his wife … Jackson was fighting many demons. I wish they could have worked through them.
Their separation meant that he would have to face his first Christmas alone. Alone in that he would not get to spend it with his children. He wouldn’t get to shake em out of bed to see if Santa had arrived (even though they are now teen aged). He wouldn’t be there to see them walk into the living room on Christmas morning. To see them open the packages he’d broken his back to get knowing it would be worth the smile on their faces. That was one of our “good” childhood memories and a tradition we’ve both carried throughout our adult lives.
I spoke to him several times on Christmas. I “spoke” to him but we didn’t “talk”…. not like we always have. We had argued in the days before and both of us are hard headed…. neither wanting to admit that the other was right. I didn’t tell him I loved him that morning … I wont get a second chance.
There are so many “what if’s”. So many I “should have” and “could have” dones. Looking back, I seen it. I knew he was hurting. I knew he was hurting but … he was my brother … he was dad’s son… he was a Wines…. he was JACK WINES and we are a firefighting family! This was not our first rodeo.
Our dysfunctional lives had become somewhat like a “bread and butter” fire…. “routine” so to speak (or so we thought). He’d seen troubles (we all had … Jackson, more than his fair share). He knew rough roads and had weathered them all… it’s what we did. I was sure that he was tough enough to take it and move on so there was no need to talk about it. Somewhere over the years, I had forgotten what a fragile soul he was. I had forgotten how to talk to and comfort my little brother. I think the little fella was just tired of fighting and he gave up.
When and where did I become so unaware of those closest to me? Where did I go so wrong? When did I pull that curtain or build that facade? How did I not see it?
Picture my dad as the Chief and me the Captain of our family. Our careers taught us to absorb the things we’ve seen, done and experienced and not talk about or dwell on it…. we passed that on to Jackson. It was a “tough love” if you will. Had we have only known ( well … I knew … I just couldn’t “see it”).
What examples are we as firefighters (Officers or not) setting today (on and off the job)? Keep in mind that being a firefighter also means being human … men and women. We should lead by and set the example…. after all, we are the people everyone else looks to for help.
My life has revolved around “the job”. It’s what I was taught and all I’ve known. A lot of times (most times actually), my Fire Department family came first because my home family “understood”. They were or should have been as strong and tough as me (or so I thought). They (the home family), could and would “do without” certain things knowing that I was somewhere else because that’s where I thought I was needed most. Today I know I’m not near as smart or tough as I thought I was and that I was more often than not in the wrong place. I wasn’t the son, husband, father or brother I should have been and again, I wont get a second chance.
Knock down those walls …. destroy the facades. Stop being (or trying to be) that tough burly fireman and start showing that we too are human. Open up to your members … to you families. Encourage them to open up to you as well. It’s ok to share and to show feelings and emotions…. the job overwhelms us with them and we can only store so much.
I’ve cried a river of tears these past two weeks. Rhett and Kevin have been by my side and seen a part of me that not many others have. In one of our conversations, I told Rhett that I was worried about seeing visitors. Every time someone came by or even called, I couldn’t help but break down. If I made it to the greeting, I would see the tears in their eyes or they would start to cry and it sat me off. I didn’t want the boys to see me like that.
Of course Rhett asked all the right questions…. to see me like what? HUMAN? To see that I had emotion? That I felt pain? We share the good times, why can’t we share the bad? Help them help you get through this he said. How can we be Brothers and Sisters if we never let each other “in”?
They were crying because they seen or felt my pain. It hurt them to see or know that (and how much) I was hurting. It’s very humbling and I hope I grow worthy. I wanted to hide or shield them from it … from my pain and theirs. As a Captain, and brother; it’s my duty to shield them from harm … to protect them.
They were going to feel my pain, going to cry and suffer with and for me (as well as my family) either alone or in my embrace. If they loved and cared about me THAT much (so much that they wanted to SHARE in my pain and suffering), why would I let them go through it alone? Why would I go it alone knowing that they were there to help carry the load? I wish I could have been there for Jackson and vow, that if ever possible; to never be out of place again. We’ve taken many visitors and cried many a tear together since that day. I’m thankful for each.
Like me, many of you may not be good at it (opening up, sharing, talking) but we do have resources to help us along. I have Rhett, Kevin, Dave, the Brotherhood and many more close and personal friends. I’ll include some links to the more “formal” ones at the bottom of the post but just understand that we have to stop coming home (or reporting for duty) so “hardened” that we’re blind to the issues right under our own roof. How can we continue to help those whom we are sworn to protect and serve when we can’t help ourselves or our own?
As for me, I will never be the same but know that I must find a “new normal” and continue moving forward…. I can and will.
I’ll continue more on this post in the next day or so but, until I do; I’d like to once again THANK everyone who reached out with thought, prayer, e-mails, comments, visits, flowers etc over these past two weeks. I will start working on “thank you” cards tomorrow. Just know that each of you were heard, felt and appreciated … you’re why I’m able to post this today and for that, I’m eternally grateful.
If ANY of you ever need someone to talk to …. an ear … some direction … whatever, I may not be the best but I’m always available. Don’t fall into the traps I did.
You, or the person you’re thinking of may NOT be “alright”. You or they my NOT be able to handle the situation and it MAY be worse than you thought. REACH OUT before it’s too late …. open up and share with those you love (on and off the job). We have options. Don’t settle for, expect or make those we love come looking for help … GREET THEM WITH IT.
Get your mind out of the gutters but don’t be fooled … SIZE MATTERS and in a variety of things!
On a personal note, for all my friends up in Wytheville, Va (especially the President of the Firefighter’s Auxiliary who has sent me several personal Face Book messages referencing my “size”) YES …… I HAVE A BIG ONE …. actually, it’s HUGE!
It’s long, full and thick ! It’s not very pretty but it’s MINE! It’s been seen by THOUSANDS, is fairly well known yet it’s not the biggest in the fire service ….
Chief Billy Goldfeder, without a doubt; has me beat in the mustache category (and many others) ! There’s nobody I’d rather play 2nd fiddle to other than Chief Billy. For all you folks out there searching for someone to look up to … to emulate … THIS IS THE GUY! Check out THIS LINK … click HERE.
And since I mentioned Wytheville, I may as well let ol “Jacob” in on a little secret.
Size also matters when selecting the diameter of your hose line.
Here’s an excerpt from a comment he made on my Face Book Fan page … “Chief King was smart not to send them inside with hoses and yes you are correct about ONE thing. they used small diameter hoses….. DUH did you really think they were going to drag the 5″ out and carry it into the house.” He wants to send me some rope and a vibrator for Christmas! (size matters there too Jacob… be gentle).
Read the entire comment in a previous post found HERE . Yes Jacob … those guys are using 5″ hose (in this case, for defensive operations) but what I was referring to in Wytheville was maybe pulling a 2 1/2″ line … just saying.
Anyway, I’m not talking about mustaches, Wytheville or hose diameter here … I’m talking about Give-A-Ways … you know … FREE STUFF … SWAG !
This is a GREAT gift idea and an AWESOME give-a-way! It’s big…. REAL BIG ….. but not quite HUGE. If ya want HUGE ….. I’ll give ya HUGE….
How about the Fire Critic / Ironfiremen 12 Days of Christmas!
THOUSANDS of dollars worth of FREE SWAG! Starting today ( 12-13-2012) through Christmas, The Fire Critic and Ironfiremen.com will be giving away free products from companies such as Crosstitched, Box Alarm Leather, FD Cam, and more ….
Don’t forget to check back on Thursday to see who our first winners will be. There will be 3 GREAT prizes to kick off the Give-A-Way ….
CentreLearn- 1 year unlimited subscription for one person to CentreLearn’s library of online continuing education courses. They have more than 200 hours of CE in for paramedics, EMTs, and Firefighters.
ESS Eye Protection -ESS Eyepro kit including eye protection sunglasses, hat, shirt, huggie, and stickers
CommandSim’s Sims U Share- Windows or MAC. Training technology aimed to help instructors rapidly create realistic, localized experiences they can use to train on and discuss.
THANKS for the SUPPORT ! Stay SAFE and in House ….
Yesterday, November 17, 2012; was my youngest daughter’s 24th birthday.
I can remember the morning she was born vividly. I got home just in time to rush Donna to the hospital. Within minutes after arriving, Rebecca Sue Wines became part of our lives.
There’s been a ton of stories and lessons learned over the last 24 years. Many say that she’s the spitting image of her father and, if true; could explain many of those stories.
Like in most families, I’d imagine; not all the stories are fairy tale like. At the ripe old age of 6 or 7, she had even decided to run away from home. She packed 20 pair of socks, 1 pair of underwear, an electric tooth brush and a TV remote control into a grocery bag (she was in for the “long haul”…LOL). She was going to live with her Paw-Paw.
Back then, it was humorous and almost “cute” (There was no way her little stinky butt would make it more than 1 day with only 1 pair of panties! LMAO ). Later in life, it’s not so funny. Our kids aren’t necessarily trying to “run away” anymore but, because we’ve raised them to be independent; they are trying to get out on their own and make their own way in life.
For me, that’s always been the hard part. Letting them go. I’d bet many of my Brother and Sister firefighters have the same problem.
We are protective in nature (as firefighters and parents). Maybe too much so. For me, it’s always boiled down to what I (we) do. Risking our lives, rescuing, providing comfort / care and shielding from harm people we don’t even know. If I do that for a complete stranger, shouldn’t I also do the same for my own daughters (and to a higher degree)?
Well to do so, I want them close by. Right beside me so I’m sure to be there when needed. Not so easy a task after they’ve grown up and forged lives of their own.
Maybe part of wanting to keep them close by is out of guilt (for me anyway). For so much of their young lives, I was off doing just that … watching over complete strangers. I was at the firehouse instead of by their side. I missed the school plays, dances etc.
I worked two and sometimes three jobs. I wanted to give them everything I thought they wanted or needed. I somehow had the idea that material things mattered and I was never home.
Too little, too late or a complete misunderstanding of what was really important? Maybe both…. either way, it’s on me.
Somewhere along the lines, it happened. My two little girls grew up. Despite my misgivings (and thanks to the best wife / mother in the world), they both grew into beautiful, strong, independent young women.
I spent all that time trying to provided for them and instead, they’ve given me the perfect gift.
Randi-Jo is a graduate from Va Tech and Florida State. She holds several degrees including a Masters. She is a librarian in the City and is currently shopping to buy her first house.
Reba’s path was somewhat different. She finished school and started work but had gotten pregnant at an early age. As you can imagine, I was furious! I wanted more for her than what her mother and I had. I had hoped she (or Randi) wouldn’t have to face the same struggles. I had no idea what a blessing this pregnancy would be.
On April 17, 2008 the Buckaroo was born and my baby girl became a mother.
She’s a single mom bearing the responsibility in the absence of the father.
She’s worked hard and provided for the Buckaroo from the very beginning. A huge and daunting responsibility that she tackled head on.
As the Buckaroo has grown, so have we. I’ve become the kind of man as a grandfather that I should have been as a father (and know that I still have a long way to go). I don’t know that I would have learned some of the lessons I have otherwise.
Reba has matured as well. She was a good kid, she’s an even better mother.
She now understands what it means to sacrifice for your children…. to NEED and WANT to.
She understands responsibility and has accepted hers.
I think she’s seen and now understands everything her mother did to prepare her for the challenges of life. I think she also knows that one day, she too will face many of those same challenges.
I can’t put into words the feeling I have from watching her grow and mature. PRIDE isn’t even close to covering it.
She (as well as Randi and their mother) is amazing in everything she does.
The funny thing is that she still thinks I am.
About 2 years ago, Rhett and I were in Atlanta for Fire Rescue International and our 2nd 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. Reba sent me an e-mail that brought me to tears. I printed it out and carry it in my turnout coat. Here’s what she said …
“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 know and at the same time are working hard to save all of us … You use your spare time to spread the word of your great job 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 ”
You can read the post that sparked her e-mail by using the link below. You can also find out exactly how the Atlanta trip went in the 2nd link provided …. check em out.
Maybe I did manage to do a little something right.
To see the woman she’s grown into over the last 24 years, to see how she’s raised the Buckaroo and all the lessons shes learning puts my mind at ease.
I think she understands at least a little of what it’s going to take and I have all the confidence that she’ll succeed.
It’s the perfect gift for a not so perfect father.
Again, the ironic thing here is that it’s HER birthday and I’m the one getting a gift (or at least that’s how I feel).
I hope she enjoyed #24 and can’t wait to know what she’s thinking on the Buckaroo’s 24th…. 20 years will go by in the blink of an eye (TRUST ME … the last 24 or hers and 4 of his did anyway).
So HAPPY 24th BIRTHDAY to my baby girl, Rebecca Sue Wines “Reba”!
I LOVE YOU more than I’ll ever be able to explain.
THANKS for all the “gifts” you’ve provided me over the last 24 years.
I hope you have all the blessings in life that you, Randi and the Buckaroo have provided your mother and me.
I hope you find everything in life and achieve every goal you reach for. I know you will.
Try to remember the good things I’ve tried to teach you (both of em …lol) and learn from the rest. If you manage that, you’ll be fine.
I’ll add this pic to remind you just how strong you are (and to embarrass ya a little more) … just look at those “muskles” .
And before the comments start rolling in …. just like with my sisters … the answer is NO! Settle down boys!
For all my loyal readers / followers, thanks for allowing me this personal post.
If you follow me on Face Book, you may know that I’m off injured. I had a small accident on the farm and thought I had broken my arm. The good news is that it’s not broken and healing well. I should be back to normal (my normal anyway) in a few days. Thanks for all the calls / messages etc. If you don’t follow me on Face Book, you need to! Click the link below and then “like” the page.
Although Rhett and I are no longer “physically” in Emmitsburg, there will always be a part of us that will never leave the Memorial grounds.
Rhett and I (along with hundreds of Brothers and Sisters from all across the Country) have just returned home from the 31st Annual NFFF Memorial Weekend.
This year, 85 names were added to the Memorial (80 from 2011 and 5 from previous years).
The Mission / Purpose of the NFFF and the Memorial Weekend is to not only Honor our fallen, but to also provide SUPPORT for the survivors (the families). It’s the kind of support that I don’t believe can be found in any other place.
You’ve often heard Rhett and I speak (or write) about “Brotherhood”. It comes in many different forms and can be found in the least expected places. With that said, I can honestly tell you that I’ve never seen “True Brotherhood” at work as I have on the grounds of the Memorial. It’s Brotherhood in it’s rarest form … UNSELFISH, TRUE and PURE.
Past survivors return year after year to assist new survivors with the challenges and hurdles they are facing. Who knows these challenges better than a past survivor? Knowing they are not alone, new and lasting friendships are made through mutual understanding and the healing process.
Brother and Sister Firefighters from all across the Country volunteer their time during the Weekend to serve as “Escorts” for the families. Every family of a fallen firefighter (being honored that year) is assigned a fire-service Escort to assist them while they are on-campus during Memorial Weekend. While on campus and attending Memorial Weekend, their every need is taken care of (learn how to become an Escort by CLICKING HERE ).
The families are greeted with a warm welcome. Special events are held for the survivors throughout the weekend as well, some public and others private.
There is a “family day” full of activities for both the adult and child survivors. There are even grief counselors on hand for private sessions with the families. A candle light service is held on Saturday evening / night as well as many, many more activities / events leading up to the Memorial Service on Sunday.
The entire weekend is sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. With help from private donations, the Foundation is able to provide lodging and meals for the immediate survivors and assists with their travel expenses.
Rhett and I were honored to once again be part of the Memorial Weekend. This year, Rhett led the Social Media Team while I assisted Dave Statter with Production. As awe inspiring as the Weekend itself is, it is twice as amazing to be in a position to see and realize everything it takes to make it happen.
HUNDREDS of volunteers are needed and, Brothers and Sisters from all across the Country come together to fulfill the various tasks. In essence, it’s like running a small city or a very large incident. Housing (on site as well as at various hotels), food, logistics, transportation, operations, Honor Guard, Fire / Rescue, communications, escorts, production etc. it could easily become overwhelming.
Managing all these areas and being able to focus them toward a common goal / direction could obviously be a nightmare….but NOT at Memorial Weekend. Obviously, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) is utilized and that in itself is amazing to see in operation on this scale. Chief John McGrath of the Raleigh, NC Fire Department served flawlessly as our Incident Commander.
Production of the Memorial Weekend is never without obstacles and this year’s was major. For only the 2nd time in 31 years, Sunday’s Memorial Service had to be moved to an indoor location, off campus; due to the weather.
The decision was made and following Saturday night’s Candlelight Service, EVERYTHING was moved and setup inside Knott Arena at Mount St. Mary’s University (just a few miles away). The logistics alone could be overwhelming not to mention production of the Service. Communications, video, audio, live streaming etc… EVERYTHING had to be relocated. The Honor Guard, speakers, performers and readers were all prepared to execute their duties on the grounds of the Memorial….. every step rehearsed. Now, in less than 12 hours; the venue would change.
The move and Sunday’s Service went off flawlessly and that speaks VOLUMES about all members involved. I personally wondered if not being “on site” at the Memorial would take away from the Service … it didn’t (see pictures HERE)
The Memorial Service and the entire weekend is, after all; about the Fallen and their Survivors. In the very least, the families were warm and dry. With every seat taken and Honor Guard lining the walls, the feeling I found inside Knott Arena was no less spiritual than what I’ve experienced outside at the Memorial. As soon as the Pipe and Drums began playing, we all knew we were in the right place.
If you’ve never attended Memorial Weekend, YOU SHOULD. I guarantee that after the first visit, you’ll return the following year. I’ll also bet that you’ll want to become more involved.
Please take the time to watch the videos and use the links in this post(above and below) to see and learn more about the 31st Annual and future NFFF Memorial Weekends. Also, start making plans NOW to attend the 32nd Memorial Weekend to be held on October 5-6, 2013.
Follow The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation of Face Book HERE .
Find more photos of the 2012 Memorial Weekend HERE
The Fire Critic (Rhett Fleitz) and I are in Emmitsburg, Maryland for the 31st Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend. This is our 3rd time attending the Weekend together. See a post from out 1st trip by CLICKING HEREand our 2nd time HERE
Learn about the Memorial Weekend from their web site by CLICKING HERE
Once again, we left work and family behind but our sacrifice would soon pay off. Actually, I shouldn’t even have said it “THAT” way because those that we are here to HONOR have made a much bigger sacrifice.
This weekend, Firefighters from all across the Country will HONOR 80 of our Brothers and Sisters who lost their lives in the Line of Duty in 2011 (as well as 5 others from a previous year). Not only will we HONOR our fallen, we will also continue to build the SUPPORT NETWORK for the survivors. That’s really what this weekend is all about … THE SURVIVORS.
Every year, during the Memorial Weekend; The Sentinels place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on behalf of the NFFF and the survivors of our fallen. It’s an emotional and humbling experience to witness.
If you’ve never attended / visited the NFFF Memorial or attended the Memorial Weekend, YOU’RE MISSING OUT! Paid or volunteer, rookie or Chief, EVERY MEMBER of the Fire Service needs to experience what happens here. You need to walk these hallowed grounds. To experience the emotion.
My visits here have always been life altering experiences. I’ve often referred to them as being even “spiritual”. This year, more so than others.
This was this first time I’ve attended the wreath laying. It was also my first visit to the Arlington National Cemetery.
I still can’t explain the feeling I had seeing all the graves. The tombstones (markers) in PERFECT formation.
It was a silent SCREAM.
A silent scream of PRIDE, HONOR, TRADITION and RESPECT. It painted a true picture of BROTHERHOOD between the living and the dead. I held back tears and pulled for a breath as I read the names and dates of men I never knew. Men who gave their lives for folks like us …. for guys like me.
Then I learned the story. The story of The Sentinels and why they stand guard over the Tomb (use the previous link to learn more).
Again, those words resonate .. Pride, Honor, Tradition and Respect.
The Soldiers were amazing to watch. I got to see them stand guard. I got to see The Changing of the Guard. I seen them change the wreath. All done with precision … with discipline .
Not only was I honored to have been witness, I was equally (actually more so) honored to have shared the experience with Rhett. We have see and been through so much with each other that each new experience continues to amaze us.
There were several members of our Honor Guard on hand as well. In the video, you may notice them lining the front rows of the viewing platform. I also failed to mention that the lady assisting in placing the wreath is a survivor.
More PICTURES from the Wreath Laying Ceremony by clicking HERE
The weekend is just beginning and there’s a lot left to be done (in several aspects). That said, if you can attend, GET HERE ….. anyway you you can.
If not, we will have plenty of outlets for you to view and participate from home. Keep checking here, FireCritic and the NFFF web site as well as on our Face Book pages.
Find Ironfiremen.com on Face Book HERE. Click “Like”
I’ll try to keep ya updated as much as possible. Until I get back, stay SAFE and in House!
It it weren’t for the Buckaroo and my girls, I could have stayed in South Dakota…. no kidding .. I enjoyed it THAT much!
Of course it doesn’t help matters any when Bob Gard sends me pictures from the buffalo round up either. Talk about cruel …lol. Man I would have loved to been there to see that.
I do want to thank Bob, the Brothers and Sisters of the South Dakota Fire Service and all the sponsors of the 2012 South Dakota Firefighter’s Benefit once again for their hospitality…. it was a trip I’ll never forget!
If you missed my 3 part wrap up of our trip, you can find it by clicking HERE .
Don’t forget to follow Ironfiremen.com on Face Book. Click HERE then click “like”
So anyway, we’re back in “the Noke” and back to regular firehouse and farm work. We’ve been just as busy here as when we’re on the road.
We got home late Sunday night and Rhett reported for duty on Monday morning. I had a days rest before having to report on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, I had the honor of picking up Chris Naum at our local airport.
Chris made his way into town to speak at our 5th Annual Officer Seminar. His topic was “Five Star Command; Redefining Fire Officer Training for Operational Safety & Excellence“.
Instead of some hotel in town, I put Chris up out at my house. I think it was very relaxing for the both of us but it also had to be a bit of a culture shock. We’d ease the daily stress of speaking by sitting by the camp fire while sharing a few beers and great conversation. He even got to feed the calves one morning on our way into class….LOL.
All in all, the entire event was a success in my eyes. Rhett and I were involved by taking care of Chris and acquiring a ton of “swag” to give away to the attendees. I have a ton of thoughts on the event and also need to take the time to thank the companies who donated the swag. I’ll take care of all that in a stand alone post in the next day or so … be sure to look for it.
So today, I’m on duty and Rhett and Nate Camfiord stopped by.
You may remember Nate from my July 4th post. If not, catch up and read it by CLICKING HERE.
If you haven’t checked him out on Face Book, you need to do that as well … he takes some AWESOME pictures!
He took this one of me and Randy today. Apparently, the “mustache maintenance” program I have little Randy on is working… it’s now a more defined porn stache..LOL
Anyway, Nate has made the move back to the Noke and Rhett and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
We’ve enlisted him for a special project of ours that we’re sure everyone is going to LOVE.
We have a TON of exciting news to tell ya about over the next few days, so again; stay tuned and keep checking back.
The one part I can tell ya about right now is that we will be back on the road very shortly.
The National Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial Weekend will be held October 6th and 7th in Emmitsburg, Md.
We will actually be heading up a few days early. Rhett will be leading the Social Media crew this year while I’ll be working with Dave Statter and the Production team. We shouldn’t be too hard to find so, if you’re attending; be sure to look us up and say hello.
If you’ve never been to the Memorial Weekend, YOU SHOULD. It’s an experience like no other … it’s SPIRITUAL.
Read last year’s post from Memorial Weekend by clicking HERE
Learn more about the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation HERE
Ok, so when I left you, we were heading East across South Dakota in our Spartan ERV fire truck . What I failed to mention was our Stop at the Wall Drug Store for breakfast. Of course if you’re ever been to or heard of Wall Drug, you’ll know that you just can’t do breakfast an go. This place has EVERYTHING! I really enjoyed just walking around and seeing all they had to offer. Check them out by clicking HERE.
So, out of Wall, our next stop was to be in the Capitol City of Pierre. It was another amazing stop!
The Brothers and Sisters of Pierre rolled out the red carpet for us.
They even “toned out” over their pager system that we had arrived and for all available members to report to the station. We were honored by the turnout!
The members were understandably proud of their heritage and it showed. It showed in the excitement and willingness of their members to tell their stories. It also showed through the wall hangings and display cases within the station.
You see, with a population of nearly 14,000 people, the Pierre VFD may be the only all Volunteer Fire Department serving a Capitol City in the Country. At the very least, they are one of only a very few!
Talk about Pride, Honor, Tradition, Respect and Brotherhood …. these Brothers and Sisters are defining it through the job / services they provide. We told the Chief that we weren’t sure exactly “what” he (they) are doing in Pierre but they are obviously doing something right.
We pulled out of the station and made our way up to the Capitol Building where their Memorial is located. It was a beautiful memorial that encompassed Military, Fire, EMS and Police members from throughout the State.
You can find the names and more information on the fallen South Dakota members as well as the remaining 82 other Brothers and Sisters from all across the Country who will be honored at the 2012 Memorial by clicking HERE .
South Dakota will add a total of 7 names to their wall as they will include 4 members from NC who perished in a plane crash while battling a wildland fire in South Dakota.
From the memorial, we continued East. I believe our next stop was in Miller, South Dakota. Again, we were humbled by their response.
The Chief, Steve Resel; even delayed harvesting to spend some time with us!
Yea… he should have been out in the fields running a combine and harvesting beans but instead, he took the time to show us his station and visit for a bit. I of all people understand the sacrifice he made that day and GREATLY appreciate it!
Hell, I even had him convinced to take me out and allow me to run it for him for a few hours but, once again; we were way behind in our schedule and I didn’t want to put us that much farther behind (I could have run it all night …LOL)
Miller was yet another station not short of stories, Tradition and Pride! These were the type of men that I felt right at home with (as I did with all the Brothers and Sisters we met). These guys had just worked until 3 am to rebuild a motor in one of their rigs. They showed us countless items that they fabricated and dreamed up to make their operations more efficient. Like most Departments we visited, they did this on their own time .. out of their own pockets! Words like dedication, commitment and service resonate here.
My heart and mind was in that combine but my butt was back in that Spartan ERV fire truck headed farther East. It was getting late and our next stop was to be in Huron.
Huron is another combination Department and they brought both rigs out to welcome us! Ernie Scheinert (2nd from the left) also managed to make it out to meet us in person.
Again, we were privileged to spend some quality time with members of the South Dakota Fire Service who “get it”. Their staffing is a single (paid) member per station (they have 2) and one of them is at the local airport!
They even have the responsibility to dispatch their volunteer members. Yea …. whichever station is not “first due” has to take the time to dispatch the call to their remaining volunteer members before responding. The good news is that these Brothers understand what it is that they are up against and they take their duties seriously. They have a great program in place to assure that new members are well trained and familiar with each piece of apparatus and the basics of firefighting.
Our next stop was for something to eat. Rhett was getting a little “weak in the knees” and had told Bob how much we enjoy eating “local” foods. We see the “chain style” restaurants everywhere we go and often find it refreshing to hit the local places. We actually often times prefer it. Bob had just the right place.
We ended up at Manolis Grocery in Huron and we had a BLAST!
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place quite like Manolis. The place was full of “locals”. They sat at tables, in the middle of the grocery; drinking beers and eating while the game played on the corner TV.
Everybody was obviously enjoying themselves and conversing between tables. Of course we drew a little attention as we walked in … must have been Rhett’s hat… LOL
We made our way to the front and then back behind the bar. Yea … behind the bar to serve ourselves. You have to save the tops so they know how many to charge ya for!
While we were getting our own beers, Gus Manolis ; the owner was whipping up some unbelievable sandwiches. His wife was actually sitting behind me enjoying a night out with friends. Those ladies had us rolling in the floor! Even though it wasn’t a firehouse, this was another stop that we didn’t want to leave. TRUST ME … if you’re EVER in Huron, South Dakota (or anywhere close for that matter) you have got to eat at Manolis!
From there, our next stop would be Mitchell. Again we were humbled by the number of members who had come to welcome us. Being our last stop, it was obviously late (after 10 Im sure) yet they even had off duty members awaiting our arrival! Yea… these Brothers drove in and waited to meet us!
I was a little lost (and disappointed) when we arrived. I had fallen asleep and missed a small stop just prior to arriving in Mitchell.
I thought Gary and Bob had been saying we were going to stop at the “PORN PALACE”. As it turned out, they were saying “CORN PALACE” ….. LMAO…. no joke! Doesn’t really matter because I didn’t get to see either. If you’ve never seen the Corn Palace, you can visit their web site HERE .
So, Mitchell was a BLAST! We cut up and carried on with the guys a bit. I think they also found it amusing at how Rhett and I go back and forth with each other.
It was another Department that gleamed with Pride. I don’t think we seen a dirty rig or house during the entire trip! I feel like they enjoyed our visit and know that we did. Their excitement picked us up for the final leg of the night.
A few hours later, we would arrive at the Grand Falls Casino and Resort in Larchwood, Iowa. Take the time to visit their web site by Clicking HERE (or find them on Face Book HERE). This place was FIRST CLASS and helped sponsor the event by providing our rooms for the next 2 days.
We got a good night’s rest and would head out to tour the Spartan office and plant the next morning. I’ll pick up from here with Part #3 tomorrow. Don’t forget to check back in to see how it ends. **UPDATE** View part #3 by clicking HERE.
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There is a lot more than corn and soy beans growing in South Dakota …. the BROTHERHOOD is not only alive and well out there, it’s flourishing!
Rhett ( FireCritic.com ) and I have just returned from a 5 day tour across the state. It was another unbelievable experience for us!
Bob Gard, a good friend, Brother and Canton SD firefighter; created the South Dakota Firefighter’s Benefit . His idea was to bring the firefighters of South Dakota and surrounding areas together in an effort to share in the Brotherhood while raising money for various Fire Service organizations that are solely funded through donations. The event was the first of it’s kind for South Dakota!
Bob did it up BIG and pulled off a great event. He chose me and Rhett to be the guest speakers for the event but he didn’t stop there. He also came up with the idea to bring us out early in an effort to promote the event by traveling across the state visiting various Departments, members etc.
It was no easy task …. so he enlisted the help of several local businesses / companies that I’ll list along the way.
To begin with, I should mention that Shane Parkins (President of The National Firefighter’s Endowment) made the entire trip with us as well. Although Rhett and I have been working closely with the NFE and Shane over the past year, this was the first time we’ve met in person.
We all flew in to Rapid City South Dakota where Bob and Gary picked us up in a Spartan ERV fire truck. YEA … they picked us up in a brand new fire truck that we toured across the entire state in! If you haven’t seen or checked out a Spartan ERV truck … use that link above and check em out …. it was a GREAT rig.
Our first stop was Mount Rushmore….WOW! I had no idea.
If I forgot to mention it, this was the first time either of us had been to South Dakota so obviously, it was our first time to Mount Rushmore (We would also make other “tourist” type stops at places such as Deadwood, Walls Drug and more).
Mount Rushmore was so much more amazing in person than what I had imagined.
Rhett and I managed to get us “off schedule” right from the start because we took the time to visit the museum, look at the photographs, watch the videos etc.
We were like kids on a field trip and both thought and of the hopes of being able to take our children (grandchildren) there some day.
After Bob and Gary pulled us off the mountain, we stopped in to say hello to the Brothers at the Keystone fire Department.
It was a great visit!
The Brothers on duty (it’s actually a combination Department) gave us the grand tour.
One of the coolest things that we learned while there was that they are the ONLY Department in the United States licensed (or allowed) to use the Mount Rushmore “logo”.
We left Keystone and headed back to Rapid City. There, we would visit a couple stations including #4 as well as their Headquarters. It was there that we got yet another pleasant surprise.
These Brothers and Sisters had a 1929 American LaFrance in storage.
The truck was actually in very good shape, all things considered.
The Museum began to liquidate their pieces and contacted the Brothers and Sisters of Rapid City to see if they wanted her back. Well heck yea! Anyway, the good news is that she’s back where she belongs. They even let Rhett and I take a seat on her. We could have stayed there all night but it was right at 6pm and we didn’t want to delay their meal. I can’t wait to get back to South Dakota and see how the refurb turns out!
From there, we headed to the Firehouse Brewing Company for dinner. The restaurant is actually and old firehouse in Rapid City…. not just ANY house either. This was the house that the antique ladder actually ran out of! How cool is that?!?
We have to say a special THANK YOU to the Firehouse Brewing Company because they hosted us for dinner. Yea … while planning the itinerary, Bob had told them that we were heading to town, why we were there and what we were doing. They insisted that we not only eat there but that they pick up the tab! If you’re ever in Rapid City, South Dakota … stop and eat at the Firehouse Brewing Company!
It was at dinner where Shane presented me and Rhett with yet another unbelievable gift.
It took me a minute to figure out but then it hit me. I thought it looked too good. Too familiar if you will. Then it hit me …. this was from my father’s turnout coat! Talk about the perfect gift! OMG … I have to admit that my eyes may have watered up just a bit. That someone would think enough of me to do something of this caliber …. something that means so much to me. WOW!
You can buy your own through the links above OR simply join the NFE’s Officer’s Club (at the Chief level) where you’ll be eligible to win the one they’re giving them away this month!
It was also where Bob presented us with the custom painting pictured at the top right of this post. He actually had two of them made … one for each of us! They were done by Darrell Fitch of Fire Medic Art.com You can also find them on Face Book HERE . All you have to do is visit the sites or click the photo above to see the detail Darrell puts into his work. You can rest assured that these two will be framed and hanging with Pride!
Leaving Rapid City, we headed out for Deadwood. Along the way, we made a stop by the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department. Of course Sturgis is most famous for their yearly motorcycle rally but to me, it’s their Fire Department that really shines! The Chief even came it out (at like 10:30 / 11:00 pm) and provided a fantastic tour. These guys were actually excited to have us out!
I was VERY excited! I know a little about the history of Deadwood and couldn’t wait to walk the streets.
The Hotel was more than I could have imagined. Old fashioned, yet somewhat modern and very clean. They even have a casino in the lobby! How many chances do ya get to be dealt a hand in Deadwood?
The picture to the rights tells a lot of the story.
In all of our travels, this is the first hotel that Rhett and I have stayed at that actually had and used REAL room keys! No kidding … if you’re even in or near Deadwood, STAY at the Silverado Franklin Hotel!
The next morning, we were up bright and early for a visit and tour of the Deadwood Volunteer Fire Station.
Yea… the Chief and members were up at 6am to show us their hospitality.
To us, that screams PRIDE and Brotherhood!
It was another GREAT tour and a good kick off for the day!
From Deadwood, we had another long day and headed east. The ride was amazing! The views were spectacular!
There were several times that I had to pinch myself to realize I wasn’t dreaming.
Of course we were tired but it was well worth it!
Thanks to Gary’s driving, and Spartan ERV for giving us enough room; we were able to catch a quick nap when needed.
It’s not the first time either of us have slept in a fire truck …LOL
Of course when you’re riding with a bunch like we were ….. the naps don’t last long. Someone would “accidentally” stand on the air horn or the three of them would scream “OH MY GOD” as Gary got on the brakes etc ….
LMAO … they took about 10 years off my life (I’m surprised the videos haven’t made it up yet but I’m sure they will).
Anyway, it was a long ride across the state but again, WELL WORTH IT.
The guys thought I was nuts but I even had em stop along the road just so I could get a picture of the land.
The shot to the left is one of my favorites from the trip.
I needed about 2 or 3 more weeks out there to take in everything I wanted to.
I’m not even half way through the trip yet and the post is getting a little long. In an effort to save your eyes (and keep you interested..lol) I’ll stop here for the night and follow up with parts #2 and maybe even a #3 for the trip.
Thanks as always for following along …. be sure to check back for the rest of the story! **UPDATE** Find part #2 HERE and Part #3 HERE