Tagged: fire

Make it stop!

Sunday night we were in a Christmas mood at work.  We dug the tree out of storage, hung the lights, and took a few embarrassing photos for Facebook.  Then we started to notice the updates.
A Fallon ambulance was struck head-on on the other side of our metropolitan area.  We followed live on FB, Twitter, and the Internet radio stream as the events unfolded.  I listened as the crew was airlifted to Big City hospitals.
Overnight a NH State Trooper crashed his cruiser and was seriously injured along with his K9.  I saw the crash site in my travels before I knew what happened.
Monday morning, a police sergeant in one of our cities was struck on the highway.  He was seriously injured but is recovering in Big City Trauma Center.
Wednesday night, a Worcester firefighter was killed in the collapse of a burning three-decker.  John Davies, a 17 year veteran, was searching for a missing civilian when he and his partner were trapped.  His partner survived.
Services are next Thursday.
This evening I learned that FF Sarah Fox of Portsmouth, NH, lost her hard-fought battle with cancer this week.  I’m not feeling much holiday spirit right now.
Tomorrow is a new day. . .

12 years

At 18:13 hours on Friday, December 3, 1999, Worcester Fire Alarm struck box 1438 for the Worcester Cold Storage building at 266 Franklin Street. Before the night was over, six firefighters would perish inside the hulking, windowless six-story maze of a building. Two would lose their way while searching for possible occupants; four more would die attempting to rescue them. And a district chief would be forced to stand in a doorway, face his men, and tell them, “No more.”

It’s no easier to watch today than it was to attend back then. God bless, gentlemen.


Thirty years ago tonight @0235 hours, Lynn Fire Alarm transmitted box 414 for a reported fire at 264-266 Broad Street. The first arriving engine found fire showing from the front of an eight story mill and called for the Working Fire at 0238. By 0245, the district chief had struck the second, third, and fourth alarms. The Chief of Department would go on to strike the fifth through tenth alarms by 0255.

At 0257 he took the unprecedented step of declaring a conflagration. 95 engines, 25 ladders, 2 rescue companies, and 10 Civil Defense engines would eventually respond.

My own small FD would not be among them. Legend has it that we had our own fire and were the only department in the county to not attend.

More history on the Great Lynn Fire of 1981 can be found at the Box 41 website, and there is a fine pictorial of all the Great Lynn Fires available in book form.

The fourth degree

Late Saturday night in Sin City. I would usually be home with my family, but tonight I’ve picked up an extra shift on the transfer truck. Life has conspired with circumstance to leave me short on hours for the week.

The tones drop, the lights come up. One of the other medics bursts into the bunk room and grabs his jacket. He mumbles the address of a well-known elderly high rise along with the words “car vs building – fire – entrapment.” He’s out the door in a flash, and the radios are busy.

Partner du Jour and I stumble into the day room. Fire Alarm is delivering updates in staccato fashion. Fire. Ejection. Multiple patients. Burns. Status on the burn center and the helicopter? Units responding and arriving.

Two engines, a truck, and a deputy chief. Two paramedic units, two BLS ambulances, an EMS supervisor. PdJ and I listen in awe, standing in our t-shirts and stocking feet. We are the last ambulance available in the city. This is a call no one will soon forget, and we aren’t there.

That may be a good thing.

Two critical burn patients are whisked to Big City Trauma Center in short order, and three less critical ones go to local hospitals. We hear a few details from the returning crews, and a bystander video even turns up on YouTube.

In the parlance of the business, it’s a ‘good’ call. There was lots of work to be done and a critical chance to make a difference. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our busy days are life-changers for our patients.

When I get home, Deputy Dad calls and asks if I was involved. At first I expect professional interest, but then he says that one of the critical patients is a good friend of a friend, a mere four degrees of separation.

Suddenly it’s not such a good call anymore. Godspeed, sir.

Written by Comments Off on The fourth degree Posted in EMS Tagged with ,

Situation Ready

Many years ago I watched a volunteer firefighter climb down from the cab of his ladder truck in nothing but shorts, boots, and a helmet. He took a portable radio and went to investigate a box alarm. I was embarrassed — for him, for his agency, for the fire service in general and myself by extension. I don’t know what he intended to do if he actually found a problem.

Yesterday at the firehouse I was thumbing through the latest edition of Fire Chief magazine. There is a Pierce ad inside the front cover. It shows their newest shiny model Photoshopped into a Detroit fire scene. It’s a pretty truck, and it has some interesting engineering features. The mechanical engineer and apparatus buff in me is intrigued.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS TOO PREPARED. BE SITUATION READY blares the tagline. And directly below the ad copy is this guy:

T-shirt. Some kind of vest which looks like fleece. Orange fireball gloves(?!). And untied duty boots.

BE SITUATION READY. Hey, at least he is wearing a helmet.

I can only hope he’s an actor. He’s not SITUATION READY for anything more than fueling the truck on the way back to quarters.

I could philosophize about the stereotype that this encourages, or about how some city managers value shiny fire trucks over having sufficient numbers of skilled staff. I could rant about how someone at Pierce and someone at Fire Chief magazine should have caught this. (ORANGE RUBBER GLOVES!) I could note that Pierce has a major social media campaign on Facebook and YouTube for product engagement.

But I’m too embarrassed.

Taunting the EMS gods

I picked up a duty shift at the firehouse on Saturday. Papa Smurf, the Rat and I spent 16 hours protecting the citizens of Hometown. It was a weekend, so something was bound to happen.IMG_1607.jpg

We did the daily checks on the rig. We did the weekly checks and the monthly checks. We opened the bay doors to let the fresh air in and let the citizens know we were on duty. We cleaned. We checked the other rigs. We mounted some new equipment. We reorganized.

It was a weekend, so something was bound to happen.

We went out for lunch. We ordered hot food, took it back to quarters, and ate it in a leisurely fashion. We unzipped our boots.

It was a weekend, so something was bound to happen.

We set up a home theater system using a laptop, the training room projector, and Netflix. We watched a couple episodes of Rescue Me. We started the Emergency Management generators to exercise them. We fueled and started every portable saw in the building.

It was a weekend, so something was bound to happen.

We took the engine out for fuel. We couldn’t get Ladder 49 or Backdraft on Netflix, so we spent almost three hours ridiculing Towering Inferno. While watching Steve McQueen crawling around in the ventilation ducts, we had a good laugh over the image of him running into Bruce Willis. Then we watched Die Hard.

It was a weekend, so something was bound to happen.  (Please?)

We watched an old training video. Then we watched a Holmatro sales video from 1982 and a CPR video from 1987 just for laughs.

And finally with 20 minutes left in the shift, the tones dropped. We got out late. Such is life in public safety.

Blue Wool

Jasmine lifts her head to look as I enter the room. Most of our cats have been with us long enough to know the familiar rustle of the plastic bag, but this is only the second time she’s seen it.

Blue wool.

It’s kept wrapped in plastic from the cleaners and  locked away in an unused closet. The urge to power-shed begins the moment they spot my dress uniform. It has a companion light blue shirt, which isn’t nearly as fun but still shows the fur better than my white ambulance shirts.

And tonight I’m wearing it again.

He was a retired chief from a neighboring department. He died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday morning, Father’s Day. The crew from my engine company worked him to no avail.

It’s raining lightly this evening, and it’s supposed to pour later. I briefly consider polishing up my duty boots and wearing them below my Class A, but I dismiss the idea. A retired chief gets the full patent leather treatment even if it means risking my shoes in a puddle.

One of my collar pins breaks as I attach it to the shirt; I substitute a smaller one from my EMS uniform and hope no one will notice. The black elastic band goes over my badge. Some days I wonder why I ever take it off. We only wear the badges on our dress uniforms, and it seems we only wear our dress uniforms for somber occasions. My new belltop seems too big, which is odd. It’s only six months old, and I doubt my head has shrunk. I must’ve needed a haircut when I bought it.

For years, funerals were an obligation I felt to brother firefighters. We buried retired members and a few old-timers. As time passes we bury colleagues, men I’ve actually worked with. It’s an odd feeling. It’s more personal now.

There’s a good showing from the local fire departments. Approximately 50 of us march the short distance from the firehouse to the funeral home in the rain, following the newest engine. The chaplains say a prayer and read the 23rd Psalm, and then each of us takes a turn in front of the casket individually. We come to attention, hold a salute for about 5 seconds, and then turn to leave. I’ve never learned to do it with military precision, but it’s the gesture that counts.

As we leave, the heavens open up.

And now I sit on the darkened screen porch savoring the rush of the rain outside and the cool night air. The cats have gone inside (in search of my uniform, perhaps?) but Cricket remains. She sniffs the darkness as I hoist a beer in memory of Chief Will, Bobby Bear, Smokey, Captain Ray, Arthur, and a few more men whose names will come to me later. Rest in peace, gentlemen, we’ve got the city covered for you.

More on sleep

Or perhaps it’s moron sleep?

A recent post over at Life Under the Lights triggered a memory. CK, I would say you were nuts, but I’ve been there.

I have sleep apnea. I suffered with it for years before finally getting diagnosis and treatment. It would probably be more accurate to say that Mrs. Mack505 suffered with it; I do strange things in my sleep-induced hypoxia. When we were newly married I once dreamt that the house was on fire, but the smoke alarms were not sounding. I jumped out of bed, stuffed the sleepy cat under my arm like a football, and made it halfway down the stairs before I awoke.

Wife and cat never let me forget that one, or the weekend I watched a COPS marathon and spent most of Saturday night searching for my Maglite. **sigh**

One night the phone rang at 1AM. It was a police officer friend of mine, on duty at our communications center. “Did you get the fire tones?” he asked.

Umm, what John? You woke me up.

“We’ve been struck by lightning. There’s smoke in the buildng. I toned out the fire department ten minutes ago, but no one has signed on. I think the radio is fried. Did you get the fire tones?”


“Can you drive down to the station and use the backup radio to dispatch everyone? We kind of need you guys up here.”

Umm, hang on. Talk to my wife. Tell her. I shoved the phone at Mrs. Mack505, who listend for a few seconds, then looked at me and said, “Yup, you’re awake. Go do it.”

I will never make an overnight dispatcher.


I don’t have it lately.  Ideas for blog posts come, bounce around inside my head briefly, perhaps emerge partially onto the keyboard and Writeroom, and then disappear before reaching maturity.

Some of my favorite reads are still at it though, capturing snapshots of the wonder and passion of life in public safety.  Presented for your reading enjoyment in no particular order:

Thanks guys.  I’m glad someone else is still writing about it.  I’ll get the pump re-primed soon.