Isn’t This Cool?

During this time of our professions’ largest gathering it has led me to think about the job and the way that both technology and gatherings such as FDIC have led to changes for it. Although I was not able to get to Indy this year I am still in awe of this annual trek made by thousands of instructors, firefighters and officers to a mid-west city in order to learn, exchange ideas and generally advance our profession. How cool is that? Sure, other professions have large convention-type gatherings but does the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons gathering let doctors operate on people to try out new techniques or practice their craft? Does the International Hardware and Fastener Convention let you build, or destruct, a house or just let you try out the newest cool recip saw on a hunk of 4×4 at the dealer’s booth? Our convention lets you take H.O.T. classes that are taught by some of the most experienced and talented people in the world of firefighting and rescue. You can attend lectures given by equally talented presenters and then meet up at the bar afterwords for a burger and some libations and they are happy to talk to you. It is a totally different and awesome experience. Not to mention the hundreds of vendors and manufacturers displaying the newest and best products from apparatus to t-shirts that monitor a firefighter’s vitals. Truly mind-blowing. While all of that is great for our job and advancing it into the future it is not the best part of FDIC, in my opinion. It’s the people you get to meet while there and the conversations the ensue.

Many of you are familiar with the People’s Burn Foundation and their regularly updated video series, “To Hell and Back.” These videos chronicle the stories of burn survivors, both firefighters and civilians, and what an arduous, painful road to recovery they face. Well, a few years ago I was in Indy with a group of guys and we were having lunch at Ike and Jonesy’s, some of you may be familiar. In walks another group of guys and they start to look around for an available spot. One of their group stood out from all the rest. He had very obviously been burned on his head, face, hands and arms. You could tell that numerous people took notice but if there was ever a safe and non-judgmental place for this brother to be it was certainly there, in that restaurant, during FDIC. It just so happened that one of the few available spots was next to our group and we waved them over. They sat down next to us and we all did introductions. Turns out they were from Indiana, somewhat near the Illinois border. The normal shop-talk ensued and soon rounds were being bought back and forth. I think both out of a little bit of fear and respect no one had asked the brother with the scars about it. We simply accepted him as one of our own and ignored it. That is until I saw one of my buddies lean over to him and begin talking to him quietly, separate from the rest of the conversations and war-stories. This buddy is the same I have referenced in my “Pussification” post that had been severely burned himself. Before long “Bacon”, as his brothers from Indiana called him (we’re an empathetic bunch, aren’t we?), was telling us all about the incident where he was burned and his road to recovery and my buddy was doing the same. It was humbling, horrifying and educational. But most of all it was just cool. Cool to be able to sit in a bar surrounded by other brothers and sisters and be able to talk to someone that had this kind of experience all because of FDIC. Now, fast-forward one year and I’m on duty at the fire house. We all got together for drill and the Training Officer walked in and told us that we were going to watch the “To Hell and Back” video. Oh, cool, I thought. Then, about 20 minutes into the video, Bacon pops on the screen and they start telling his story! “I know that guy!”, I blurted. Holy crap! After the video was over I was able to add some more details and answer a few questions about Bacon’s story that some of the guys had. So, by extension, more guys learned from Bacon’s experience. Just mind-blowing to me.

So I mentioned technology too. When I first started 17 years ago the only way to learn from different areas of the country was through articles in Fire Engineering, Firehouse or other trade publications. Either that or you had friends somewhere else, went and rode around the country or dragged your wife or husband and kids into firehouses for visits during the family vacation. Now, because of the internet and other advances we have access to information, tricks, techniques and model procedures from around the world. Simply because of this blog and posting things on others I now know people from Fenton, Missouri; Harwich, Massachusetts; Roanoke, Virginia; Prince George’s County, Maryland; FDNY; Miami-Dade; L.A. County and City; Dallas and Winnipeg, Canada. Talk about a wealth of experience and a deep well of resources! I remember when the only way you heard about new techniques or ways of doing things was a greater-alarm fire and you were standing around talking to mutual-aid companies while watching the building burn and eating stale pound cake from the canteen. And as I sit here and write this I am listening to Sacramento, California Fire work a job in a three-story apartment building on my phone! Wow!  Look at tools, too. My very namesake, the hallway sledge, is a very traditional mid-west tool that originated in the Chicago FD. But now you can find them on rigs all over the country. A few months ago Mike Ciampo from FDNY wrote a great article in Fire Engineering about different tool variations from around the country, read it here . Just little modifications or additions to traditional firefighting tools that make it that much better or useful in a situation that might be peculiar to that locations building techniques etc. But 20 years ago would we know as much about the “New York Roof Hook”, or the “Boston Rake”, or the history and reasons behind why L.A. issues each member their own axe? The same can be said for hoseloads (read Urban Firefighter Magazine’s articles on the Detroit load here or the Kentland, Maryland bumper line here), riding assignments and any number of other topics.

If you are here reading this I guess I am kind of preaching to the choir. You are already demonstrating a desire to learn more about your craft and advance your knowledge. Some in our profession are not like that, however. Some may even see the internet and other modes of information dissemination as “bad” or a problem to be contained. Try working on those attitudes and show them how much can be garnered from these resources. Get the probie on different sites, not to confuse him or her, they need to learn your way first. But to advance their knowledge past just the basics, to offer them a perspective on the history and tradition of our great job. Never stop learning, never stop questioning and never stop investigating. That’s the only way we can keep moving forward.

Stay safe!

Hallway Sledge

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