Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Thirty-Four

Dear Readers,

I hope everyone has had a pleasant week or so. Hopefully soon, I’ll have some exciting news for you. Molly’s Song “should” be available for pre-order in another few weeks. I will also have a book trailer to show you! Technically, it is ready now, but I am holding it to release on the day that the book is available for pre-orders. The past week has seen me busy with school stuff along with putting together a media kit to send out for the book. Last week, I also had a virtual chat with retired firefighter/author Greg Renz. You can catch the interview on my Old Flames podcast. To find the latest episodes, just visit the tab at the top of the page that says, well, Old Flames.

My wife got her second dose of Rona vaccine on Wednesday of this week. Unlike me who was ready to call a priest for Last Rites the day after my second shot, she did fine. However, she had gotten slightly ill after her first shot, which I did not, so that might be why. Now, she just has to make it two weeks or so without catching the virus to reach full protection status. It is amazing, really, that a year ago, we had just entered lockdown mode and here we are today vaccinated. Talk about Operation Warp Speed!

Did anyone catch the Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway that aired on PBS? It is three episodes and about six hours total length. Ken Burns does tend to be on the verbose side. I’m pretty sure his Civil War documentary lasted longer than the war did! Still, his Hemingway film is really good. Of course, as a writer, I’m inclined to like in depth biographies of other writers, so maybe I’m predisposed to like this film. It’s really worth watching, though. I’m sure they will air it again and you can probably catch it on some on demand services too. Hemingway was definitely an interesting fellow. I know his has fallen out of favor in some literary and academic circles because of his testosterone fueled machismo, but he truly was a gifted writer. His novels are good, but the newspaper and magazine stories he wrote are top notch as well. Plus, as a person who has battled mental illness for the past seven or eight years, I can sympathize with Hemingway’s own struggles. We have a few things in common. Like him, I have great affection for Cuba, though I’ve never visited. The reason is because my Spanish teachers were all Cuban, and so I speak the Cuban dialect of Spanish and came to appreciate the culture. And, of course, Hemingway loved cats, just as I do. He lived in a home in Key West filled with cats and I live in a home in La Porte, just a few blocks from the water, likewise filled with cats. Hemingway longed to have a daughter, just like I did. It did not work out for him, and that ship has sailed for me too. It is my only regret in life. Finally, I am a huge boxing fan, as was Pappa Hemingway. He was a better writer than I am, though, and I’m okay with that. He did the best he could, just as I do the best that I can. It is good enough for some people and not good enough for others, but that is the nature of the game. World War Two jokes aside, I do treat my wife a hell of a lot better than he treated (all) of his. And I like to think I treat my son better than he treated his sons.

Partly due to great writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc, young people who aspire to be writers are often left with a false impression of what it is like to be a writer. When I was a teenager and first realized that I might like to one day be a writer, I envisioned myself leading a life filled with travelling the world, consuming copious amounts of booze mingled with generous dollops of sex, and occasionally writing a book that would be an instant bestseller. The true writer’s life is quite a bit different. We spend thousands of hours alone, staring at our computer screens and trying to string words together in a coherent form. Many of us are frequently crippled by self-doubt. Far from writing bestseller after bestseller, most of us could wallpaper our entire house with the rejection slips we get. Success, if any is to be had, often comes late. In my case, I had always dreamed of writing my first novel before I turned 30. However, So Others May Live was published when I was 41 and Molly’s Song “should” be out just before my 43rd birthday. Better late than never, though, right? And I don’t consider myself to be an overly “successful” writer, though I have no complaints about my sales or awards. I consider myself to be more of a journeyman writer than a successful one. That’s fine by me. I’ve been truly fortunate to be able to write two books and to have found people who, as crazy as it still seems to me, actually enjoy reading my scribblings. And that, Dear Readers, is all I need.

I’ll leave you with this question, if you have read much Hemingway, what is your favorite novel of his? Mine is A Farewell to Arms and my favorite short story he wrote is Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other. L.H.  

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Thirty-Three

Dear Readers,

Another week has come and gone. Having not set foot in a classroom for 55 weeks now, it seems to me that every day is like the movie Groundhog Day. My daily routine is broken up only by the weekends when my wife is home with me all day. Early on in my pandemic year posts, I commented several times about how I was having a hard time sleeping. That is no longer the case. In fact, I am having the opposite problem. I turn out the lights at 11pm every night and, apart from waking up a couple of times to reposition during the night, I am sleeping like the dead. I’m having a hard time forcing myself to get out of bed before 0800 and when I do get up, I am groggy as hell. I don’t miss the days of waking up at 0515 to drive an hour to campus, but those days will be returning again soon and, truthfully, I worry about how I’ll be able to handle it. I’m sure it will take me a few weeks to get my body sorted out.

There are a few exciting things on tap for this week. On Wednesday, look for a two part episode on the Winecoff Fire on my podcast, Old Flames. And Thursday is OPENING DAY! I don’t know why I am so excited given that the Red Sox probably won’t be very good this year. But it will give me something to do every day. My wife is the commissioner of our family/friend fantasy baseball league and we had our draft yesterday (Saturday). Also on Thursday morning, I will be interviewing retired Milwaukee Fire Department Captain Greg Renz for my podcast. The episode will drop on April 7th. He is not only in the Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame, but he is also the author of an amazing book. On Wednesday the 31st, I have a surgical consult, but I would not rank that among the exciting events for the week.

This past week, the literary world mourned the passing of Larry McMurtry, the author of what in my opinion is the finest American novel, Lonesome Dove, among other books. His characters, Captains Woodrow F. Call and Augustus McCrae are so vividly described in the novel that they have become real to us. That, Dear Readers, is the mark of a great writer. I can only dream that my character, Molly O’Sullivan, will become real to you as well. I think she’d get along with Captain Call, especially when he says, “I hate rude behavior in a man. Won’t tolerate it.” She likewise does not suffer fools gladly. Given Augustus’ eye for the ladies, I’m sure he’d be chasing after her.

And speaking of Molly O’, stay tuned for some exciting information later this month. There’ll be a book trailer, and (fingers crossed) the novel might be up for pre-order in late April! It has been a long, hard, rough slog to get here, that’s for sure. And I’m trying to work to make sure you don’t have to wait too long for the sequel either!

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.


Tell Me Their Names: The Victims of the Triangle Fire

Dear Readers,

Today marks the 110th Anniversary of one of the more significant fires in American History. Though other fires, both before and after, killed more people, the Triangle Fire, taking place during the Progressive Era, would spark serious changes in labor laws and workplace safety laws. If you watch a documentary or read a book about the fire, you might hear the names and stories of a a few of the victims, but what of the rest? Join me here as I read the names and ages of all 146 victims. May they rest in peace.


COVER REVEAL for Molly’s Song!


Today you get two posts for the price of one! I got the green light from my publisher to share the cover for Molly’s Song with you, my loyal readers. We are using the photo that inspired the novel. Right now, it looks like possibly a mid-summer release which would mean it will be available for pre-order in a couple of months.

So stay tuned!


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Thirty-Two

Dear Readers,

I hope this missive finds you safe and relatively well. On Tuesday the 16th, I gave my presentation on the Gulf Hotel Fire and assorted 1940s fire related topics. It was well received and I had a good time. It was my first virtual presentation and, thankfully, it went off without a hitch and there were no technology problems! I’m gratefully because technology and I are not the best of friends. For a while now, I’ve had people asking me to do a podcast on fire service history related information. So I’ve finally given in to the requests and I have sketched out a limited run podcast, meaning it will be a set number of episodes. I’m calling it Old Flames. You’ll notice there is a new tab on my website with that name. You can find the episode links there, though it is also on Spotify and will eventually be available through Apple Podcasts, iTunes, etc. As of now, there are two episodes out and more will be released in the coming weeks as I am pre-recording them. There’ll be some general fire department history stuff, some discussion of historic fires, and some interviews with fire service authors. If you have some…burning…question about fire department history, let me know and I’ll try to work it into an episode. Of course, I include a warning that some episodes will touch on fire fatalities and, of course, the podcast includes salty language at times.

One year ago yesterday, March 19, 2020, I made my very first Journal of a Pandemic Year post. I would have never guessed that a year later, I’d still be writing these entries. Everyone says that we’ll get back to normal one day, but honestly, I’m not sure if I even remember what normal is anymore.

On Thursday the 11th, my wife got her first Rona shot. She was a little under the weather for a couple of days afterwards, but nothing too bad. She got the Moderna shot like I did. Luckily for her, she knows what to expect having seen me get both shots (and having seen me get my Irish ass kicked by the second shot)! She’ll be getting her second shot around April 8th, I think. So fun times are ahead!

On Saint Patrick’s Day, I found out that I will need another surgery at some point in the next few months. Nothing too major, but having had my intestines pulled out and rearranged not once, but twice, I have a high standard for what I consider a “major” surgery. I guess it is all relative. My doctor sent me to a specialist who referred me to a different specialist to do the surgery, so I’m waiting for my appointment with him to have the actual surgical consult and find out what all it will entail. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it right after the spring semester ends so I can get it out of the way before the summer starts. Not that I have big summer plans apart from enjoying baseball season.

That’s all I have for now, Dear Readers, but be sure to check out my Old Flames episodes and, if you are interested, subscribe to the podcast so that you can get the newest episodes as soon as they are released.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Thirty-One

Our first picture together as a couple. Spring 2007

Dear Readers,

I penned my last missive on my anniversary. As of last Friday, I reached the two week mark after my second dose of Rona vaccine and can now consider myself fully vaccinated. My wife is scheduled to receive her first dose on Thursday, March 11th. From my own personal experience, I found the month in between doses to be incredibly nerve wracking as you worry about whether or not you’ll contract it before you can get your second dose. At least that is how it was for me, though in truth I really do not go anywhere but doctor’s appointments. But now, I can do that with a little less anxiety, though I will still wear a mask and follow all the guidelines. I look at the vaccine as like a suit of armor. It is effective, but it helps to take other precautions as well.

On March 3, our oldest cat, Autie, went to cat heaven. He had been with me for 14 years, one year longer than Elizabeth and I have been married. Over the past month, his health had started to deteriorate and he lost his eyesight. I’m glad he went peacefully and he is now running around cat heaven with his friend Simon who passed away in 2015. Anastasia is still upset as Autie was her best friend, but she is slowly starting to come to terms with it, as am I.

I do have some good news on the writing front. To be honest, 2020 was the year of crippling writer’s block. Though I finished the first draft of Molly’s Song on Thanksgiving Day 2019, I had planned on working on edits as well as starting my next book in 2020. Well, I got the edits done and the book found a home with a publisher, but I got very little done when it came to writing anything. Part of that is due to the spring we had and all the repairs we had to make to the house. That put a damper on just about everything. However, beyond that, I still struggled to regain my writing voice. I wonder if other writer’s struggled last year as well or if it is just me.

Well, Dear Readers, I made a breakthrough over the weekend. Of the original sequel that I had planned, I did manage to plot out the first third of the book, but was having trouble writing it and also figuring out the rest of the plot. As she is known to do, Molly decided to take charge and show me the “write” path (see what I did there)! She is taking the sequel in a totally different direction and seeing as how I wrote 10K words in two days, I think we are onto something. It feels good to be back to pounding on the keyboard again and I am slowly hitting my stride.

Next week I am giving a Zoom presentation on the Gulf Hotel Fire which happened in Houston in 1943. I haven’t done a lecture to a group like this since Nov. of 2018, and never virtually, so I am curious to see how it goes. I think I’ve got a pretty good presentation put together, and I hope they enjoy it.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves, and each other.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Thirty

Dear Readers,

I hope this missive finds you well. Today, March 2nd, marks thirteen years of marriage to my wife Elizabeth. It has not always been smooth sailing. When we got married, I was on top of the world with my dream job, the respect of my colleagues, and the whole world at my fingertips. How quickly that all came crashing down a few years later. Left with serious physical injuries, and a never ending cascade of serious health complications related to them, the past several years have been taxing on us. I haven’t always been the best husband, as my job, and then the aftermath, made me kind of distant at times. I tended to bottle everything up inside. For a while, after I got hurt, I was so miserable that I took it out on everyone around me. My wife has stuck by me as I slowly came to terms with what happened, and plenty of others wouldn’t have done that. I know how lucky I am to have her and I also know that I don’t deserve her.

In other good news, Spring Training has started! After the utterly abysmal season the Red Sox had in 2020, the only direction for them to go is up. Right? Since I am still working from home, I have given myself a Spring Training goal. I plan to listen to every Red Sox game this month on WEEI, courtesy of my SiriusXM app. I know a lot of people don’t much care for Spring Training games, but I’ve been a fan of minor league baseball every since I was a kid going to watch the Beaumont Golden Gators play, and Spring Training games are essentially minor league games. Still, it is great to have baseball again, no matter if it is March or October. After all those months last year with no sports and no distractions, I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted again.

I have nothing new to report on the publishing front as Molly’s Song slowly makes its way towards publication. As soon as I know anything more, I’ll let you know. I found out last week that I was nominated for Faculty Member of the Year at my college, an honor I am entirely unsuited for, but it is nice to be considered. Friday of this week will mark two weeks since I got my second Rona shot and at that point, I can consider myself “fully vaccinated.” Nothing will change for me though. I won’t be leaving the house any more than I normally am and when I do, I’ll use double masks like I have been doing for almost a year now. Pretty soon, we’ll hit the one year anniversary of this blog series. When I wrote the first one and caused it “Journal of a Pandemic Year,” I didn’t actually think that it would really be year, but here we are nonetheless…

So until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-Nine

Dear Readers,

I did not have Alaskan weather on my 2021 Bingo Card. We knew it was going to get cold this week. The weather guessers on TV had been saying as much for several days, and for once, they were right on the money. We got some snow mixed with ice and several nights well below freezing, but the real issues involved infrastructure. We had rolling blackouts throughout the state that turned into long term blackouts. My area was lucky. We never lost power, but pretty much everywhere around us did. In fact, the blackout stopped two blocks down the street from us!

On Wednesday afternoon, we had a pipe bust under the sink. When it happened, we were inside and were able to quickly shut off the water coming into the house to minimize the damage. Then, a second water line in the back yard that feeds the old garage burst and we had to call the city to cut off the water at the meter. A plumber came out on Thursday and fixed both of them. Friday morning, the city came out to turn the water back on…and a line under the house promptly burst! They shut it back off and the plumber came back Saturday to fix that one. So far, as of Sunday morning, everything is good. But that is subject to change, of course. SNOVID-21 appears to be over, and before long, we will be back to 90+ degree days with 100% humidity and all of this will be like a bad dream.

Originally, I was scheduled to get my second Rona shot on Friday morning at 9am. The County pushed my time back to noon, due to the weather. I made my way up there and waited in line, though not for long, to get it. People who had already gotten the second shot warned me that dose two was an ass kicker. Let me tell you! They weren’t lying! It ended up being 1pm when I got the shot. Sure enough, twelve hours later, My immune system went into overdrive. I got up around 1:30 in the morning to avail myself of the facilities. I felt fine on the way to the bathroom. During the fifteen steps back to the bed, I felt like I had suddenly been hit by a speeding train.

My temperature jumped up to 103 and I had insane chills. I lay there shaking in bed for close to six hours. Then, I got up (around 8) and took some DayQuil. My fever dropped to 101.4 and the chills went away. I spent the rest of the day in bed, getting up every so often to walk around a bit and drink some water or Gatorade. By 10am, my fever was down to 100.5. The worst was mostly over, but around 1pm, the chills came back and my fever started to go back up. Some Tylenol quickly knocked it back down. By the time I went to bed, around 9:30, I still had a slight fever, but it broke overnight. As I right this, on Sunday morning, I am a bit fatigued, but that is all. My arm is still a little stiff where I got the shot, but honestly, I think my arm hurt worse with my first shot. All things considered, I’ll take 24 hours of misery over having COVID. I am truly fortunate that I was able to get both of my shots so soon. (I am in the 1-B group in Texas due to being immunocompromised.)

With the college shut down all of last week, I have to spend the day figuring out how to amend my calendar for the rest of the semester to make up the lost instructional time, though it is virtual in my case since I am all online.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.


Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-Eight

Dear Readers,

I hope this missive finds you well. I’ve spend the past week working with my publisher on edits to Molly’s Song. I got to see it in print layout format which is kind of cool because it makes it all seem real. If you haven’t already, head over to Molly’s website where you can read an interview with her and get some more behind the scenes information on the book and its creation. With the publisher’s permission, I am trying to track down the rights holder of the photo that inspired the novel with an eye towards obtaining the necessary permissions to incorporate it into the cover, but that is a long shot as I may not be able to hear back from them in time and, even if I do, the cost could be prohibitive. But it is worth a shot, for sure.

It has been a little over two weeks since I had my first Rona vaccine. I have not turned into a mutant. Other than my arm being sore for three days, I handled it okay. Originally, I was supposed to be getting my second shot on 2/17. That’s what they told me when I got my first one. They said I would get an email within 24 hours with the specific time to come in. Ten days went by and I got no email. Eventually I got a text message that told me that I was on a waiting list to get my second shot once they became available. This concerns me. We were told that if we got our first shot, we were guaranteed a second shot. Now the county is backtracking on that. So I don’t know when I’ll get my second dose, or even if I will be able to get a second dose. Even if I do, it may not be within the specified 28 days (I got the Moderna shot). All that concern about not being able to get a first shot has now been replaced by worry that I won’t be able to get a second.

On a more positive note, the Six Nations Rugby Championship starts today. Obviously, I’m an Ireland fan and they play tomorrow (Sunday, 2/7), but today I got to watch Italy v. France and now I am watching Scotland v. England. And in case you are wondering, yes, I have a flag from every country except England and I fly the colors of whoever is playing England at the time along with my Irish tricolor. Tomorrow, I’ll be waving the flag while clad in my Ireland jersey and randomly singing Amhrán na bhFiann when I watch the lads take on Wales. And tomorrow is the Super Bowel and my wife is a big Chiefs fan, so she’ll be completely decked out in Chiefs gear, including underwear and socks, and pacing back and forth in the living room until game time. So, it’ll be an interesting day around the house.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves, and each other.


A Different Kind of Welcome

Dear Readers,

I previously wrote about my own rather unceremonious welcome to the fire service here. Years went by and eventually I found myself in the position of a company officer who occasionally had the opportunity to welcome probationary firefighters to my company. I did things a little differently though. Before I delve into how I did it, I need to share some background info on the way things worked. First of all, the 90s were still very much a part of the Wild West of firefighting. Ritual hazing of probationary firefighters was still commonplace. We operated in a much more cavalier manner than we would in later years. Anyway, we ran a three platoon system, so each truck had three crews assigned to it, one per shift. Companies had a captain, two lieutenants, three E/Os, and three to six firefighters. A captain was in charge on one of the shifts a lieutenant on the other two. Our helmets denoted our rank. This is common among all fire departments, but the color schemes aren’t always the same. In my department, firefighters and E/Os wore black helmets, lieutenants wore yellow, captains wore red, and chiefs wore white. All helmets had a leather shield which had your rank and company. Probationary firefighters’ shields were red, all others were black. Rank can very from department to department. Some do not have lieutenants at all, others may have varying ranks of firefighters (private, sergeant, etc). Captains were usually called “Cap” or “Cappie” while lieutenants were called “Loo” or “LT.” If the department had an class in the academy, we would find out around a week or so before graduation if we were going to be assigned a probie, though they would not find out their assignment until graduation. The top graduate got to pick their station and the others were allowed to fill out a “dream list” where they put their preferred assignment, but only the top graduate was guaranteed the spot. Everything else was subject to the needs of the department. That said, Station One was a choice assignment because of how busy we were, so it was not uncommon for probationary firefighters to be assigned to two or sometimes all three of our shifts. Also, all new firefighters started on an engine company. No exceptions. I realize other departments may do things differently, but we believed that the engine was the building block of the fire service and you had to master that before you could go over to a ladder or rescue.

First, I would be sure to drop by the graduation ceremony. I would already know who my probationary firefighter was and I would know what they looked like, having seen their academy file. After they were sworn in and opened their station assignments, I would go over and introduce myself. It wouldn’t be a long conversation, but I would set up a specific time for them to come by the station so that we could talk. This kept them from having to show up and hope that we were in quarters and not on a run. It made it a little less stressful for them as they would know what I looked like and know who to look for when they got there.

Second, they would not have to wander in and look for me. Knowing what time to expect them, I would have the senior firefighter in my company, usually the E/O, waiting downstairs to greet them when they arrived. Owing to the unexpected nature of the job, in the event that we might catch a run before the new person arrived, I would be sure to tell the guy on house watch to keep an eye out for them and tell them that if we were out when the probie arrived, to be sure and greet them and let them sit in the watch room until we got back. A fire station can be a rough place to work, and rougher on newcomers, but I did not want a person’s career to start with a negative impression. It is cliché, I know, but you don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

Upon being shown to the Engine Company office, where I sat behind the same desk where Captain Arceneaux once sat, I would make sure not be smoking when they got there! I would get up and answer the knock on the door myself and usher the person into the office and offer them a cup of coffee. I would accept the training file, but I always placed on the desk to be looked at later. And I would be sure to shake their hand and welcome them to my company.

To put them at ease, I would start off by asking them to tell me a little about themselves. Where were they from? Where did they go to school? What were their hobbies? What did they do for fun? All of this was a way to put them at ease. More often than not, they’d be very excited to be assigned to a company with a reputation for being very busy and very tough, but that could also be nerve wracking. Now I know that some old timers would say that I should’ve gone all Full Metal Jacket on them, in fact, some did say that, but that wasn’t my style. I was more of a lead by example type. Department tradition held that company officers were exempt from house duties. This meant that they did not have to wash the trucks, mop floors, do dishes, or scrub toilets. I could, if I wanted, have sat up in my office all day and watched TV in between runs. That’s not how I liked to operate. I did my share of house duties along with everyone else. Probies, if a company had one, were required to wash the engine at the beginning of every shift. If it was 35 degrees outside with a 25 mile an hour wind on top of it and my probie had to go out and wash the truck, I’d be working right alongside them. I never asked my people to do anything that I was not willing to do myself. I know that some might say that officers should be cold and a little aloof to gain respect, but I found that I gained respect by not being afraid to get my hands dirty. I’m not saying one is better than another. Everyone has to have their own style. This was mine.

I also believed in being up front, and so at the end of the meeting, I would give them a calendar for the year that had my drill schedule for the company, the drill schedule for the probie, and the dates that they would be test on the myriad of skills they would have to demonstrate by the end of the year. Of course, I would tell them that there would be surprise drills mixed in their too, so they needed to stay sharp. I assured them that they would have plenty of opportunities to practice skills before they were tested on them. They also received a written copy of the station specific rules. Finally, I would give them my closing monologue. I’ll include it, as best I can remember, below, but it did vary over time and so this isn’t exactly verbatim.

The city and the department obviously think there is something worthwhile about you, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired you and invested six months and a shitload of money training you. It is my job, and my company’s job, to make sure, one year from now, you can meet your training benchmarks and can go on to another company and be a valued member of the department. It is my job to help you achieve those goals. I will push you hard, but no harder than I push myself. I do not get a bonus check for each probie I bounce out of here. In fact, if you fail, that is as much a reflection on my abilities as an officer as it is on yours as a firefighter. You will drill ten times as hard as you did in the Academy, but we will be doing the drills with you. Engine One is a family, and we take care of one another. You’ll need a thick skin around the fire station because we can be rough on each other at times. As a probie, you’ll be the butt of some jokes, but if you feel something has crossed the line, let me know. If anyone from outside this house messes with you, they’ll answer to me. You are going to make mistakes. We know that. All I ask is that you don’t make the same mistake twice. If you are told do something and you don’t know how, do not try to bullshit your way through it. Tell me, or tell one of the crew and we will show you. If we are not out on a run, and you have no house duties to perform, you need to be going over every truck in this station with a fine toothcomb learning where everything is and how everything works. In the evenings during our down time, I expect your nose to be in your training manuals. Ask questions. I will never jump your shit for asking a question. I will jump your shit for acting like you know how to do something when you really don’t. There will be times when you hate me, hate Engine One. Hate Station One. Hate the department. Hate the whole fucking city. That’s fine. We all have days like that, myself included. But guess what? When they bell rings, we still have to go do our job. So learn to compartmentalize that shit.

This is a full house with an engine, ladder, and rescue. Learn as much about their jobs as you can. If the ladder is doing a drill and we aren’t, I expect you to jump in and be a part of their drill. After six months or so, if you are meeting your benchmarks and their officer approves, I’ll let you answer the occasional call with them. Once you learn the house watch system, volunteer to cover the desk for people. It’s a great way to learn about the city and the department since you’ll hear every call in the city dispatched and you’ll have a map with all the station locations. I’m not going to give you a long winded spiel about how when you put on that uniform, you represent all of us. I know you’ve heard all about that in the Academy. But what I will tell you is that the badge you wear represents a position of public trust. Your conduct on duty and off must be above reproach. Wherever you go, you are representing Engine One and me. Don’t let me or this company down.

Now here is the bad. There are only a few reasons why I would bounce you out of here, but these are my reasons. Remember, the department also has other reasons. First is repeated safety violations. It’s true that sometimes we have to push the envelope in this job, but that is my decision as a company officer. And even then, we have to keep our safety and more importantly, the safety of the public, in mind at all times. Second: failure to achieve training benchmarks. If you know you are weak at a particular skill, let us know so we can help you work on it. Third: Refusal to follow my orders. On scene, my orders are to be obeyed instantly and without question. Rest assured, I will never order you to do something illegal, immoral, or unethical. If we are at a scene and you are engaged in a task that I have ordered you to and you are approached by an officer from a different company and or a chief from a different battalion who gives you a different order, politely refuse. If they persist, respectfully refuse and tell them to take it up with me. Don’t worry about getting into trouble. I’ll take any heat that comes down, not you. Fourth: not treating the public with the respect they deserve. This is a big one for me. Your first call could be a cardiac arrest. I don’t give a fuck if it is a crack addicted prostitute or the mayor’s wife, you WILL treat everyone with courtesy and respect. You will respond to shootings at this station. I don’t care if the victim is a gang member who has shot plenty of other people in the past, it is not our place to judge and you WILL treat that patient like they are you own brother. If I observe that you are treating people differently based on their race, religion, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, you are finished in this department. I’m sure you’ve heard this station called a “ghetto station.” Around here, we take pride in that fact. Over a third of the families in this district live in poverty. The rest don’t have it much better than that. The majority of people in this district are African-American. They trust us because they know that, no matter what, if they have an emergency, we’ll come running. And we will not discriminate. They deserve no less than our very best. So don’t screw that up for us, or you’ll be gone. Understand? If someone from another station or another department calls you a “ghetto fireman,” just remember this, they all WISH they could catch as many runs as we do. So own that shit and wear that term with pride.    

At this point, my monologue was over. I’d stand up, shake hands with them again, and welcome them to Engine One. Then, I’d call my E/O and firefighter up to the office over the intercom and make the introductions. I would allow a bit of small talk, and then I would personally give the probie a tour of the upstairs instead of delegating it. Once we were finished, I would then ask my E/O and firefighter to show the probie around the downstairs area and the truck.

Some might say that the way I was introduced to the fire service was the right way and my method was too soft. All I will say to that is that we all have our own ways of doing things. We consistently had the fastest turnout time of any company in the city, we had the fastest average on scene arrival time, and we were regarded as a company that knew how to get the job done. That’s not because of me as an officer, since they had the same reputation when I was a probie assigned to that company, but it is something that I maintained while I was in the officer’s seat.

Oh, and I liked donuts. I also did not adhere to the old standard that probies could not use the poles until their first fire. During their first shift, they would be given instruction on the proper and safe way to use them, and then they were free to do so.  The bottom line is that the pole is the fastest way to get from the second floor to the first and I was not going to sacrifice my response times just to make sure a probie “knows their place.”   

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.