Tagged: First Due carnival

Craig Arnone

The weekend of December 7, 1996 was a cold one in New England. An unexpectedly nasty storm blanketed the entire region with heavy, wet snow. In Somers, CT, the local fire department responded to a house fire caused by a downed power line.

Before the night was over, FF/EMT Craig M. Arnone would be dead from electrocution.

There were investigations, allegations, and eventually lawsuits. What remains is the indisputable physical fact that FF Arnone came into contact with an energized 23,000 volt power line and was killed instantly.

At my fiance’s home in NH that Sunday morning, I was punched in the gut by one other indisputable fact: FF Craig Arnone was 23, two years younger than I.

His would be the first Line of Duty funeral I would attend. There have been other tragedies since – Worcester Cold Storage, Black Sunday, September 11, Boston Lts. Minehan and Kelley, a score of others – but none would affect me this way. Firefighter Arnone reminded me that I’m mortal.

There were numerous lessons to be taken from the tragedy; lessons involving Incident Command, communications, procedures for dealing with electricity and the power company, procedures for dealing with severe weather. For me, there was one major personal lesson: today could be The Day.

I don’t live for it; I don’t look for it; I don’t cower in fear of it. God willing, it won’t happen. I take reasonable precautions and try to keep safety in mind. I also never leave for shift or a call without kissing my wife and daughter goodbye. If it happens, I want their memories of my last contact to be loving ones.

This month, the Backstep Firefighter  is entertaining the subject “Influential Fire Reports.” I was going to let it pass, but then I realized this incident affects me every day. Go on over there to see what others have found influential, and then drop by Happy Medic’s place for some advice on preparing for the unthinkable.

(Unfortunately I was unable to locate a link to the report on this incident. Google and Bing produce lots of news articles and casual mentions, but the full investigation is lost to me. It matters not.)

The Show Must Go On

“We’ve got a fire on the stage!” I tore from the back of the Performing Arts office, sprinting for the Stage Right doors.

I grew up in a firehouse. I always knew someday I’d be not only a firefighter, but that special breed above all else, a ROWLEY firefighter. Episodes of ‘Emergency!’ piqued my interest and stealthily indoctrinated me with the value of EMS. Dad would leave at all hours of the day or night, answering box alarms sounded on the air horn in the center of town. He kept his turnout gear at the top of the back stairs, which he only used when going to fire calls. In later years we had an extension of the Red Base, a pre-911 fire department party-line emergency phone. I could listen in on the dispatchers as the emergencies happened! We could even sound the ‘fire whistle’ from our front hall, although I never succumbed to the temptation.

I used to attend drills on Sunday morning with Dad, learning all I could. I remember checking equipment; my specialty was the batteries in the flashlights. I have one vivid memory of sitting on top of the engine during a pump drill, guiding the deck gun and using it to blast the bark off dead trees.

I don’t exactly remember my first emergency call. I have one vague memory of sitting in the cab of Engine 7’s 1947 Howe on a flooding/service call. That truck was sold in 1980, so I was still pre-teen.

I remember my first call as a driver, and my first call as a Lieutenant.

On the medical side, I remember my first day on the ambulance as an EMT. We did dialysis runs all day long. First call as a newly-minted paramedic: an electrocution. I remember my first cardiac arrest, but that’s a subject for another post. I remember my first cardiac arrest SAVE, which should be yet another post. I remember my first fatal crash, and the first time I used the Jaws of Life.

First emergency, though, ummmmm. . .

First really big fire? Malden Mills, December 10, 1995. I doubt I’ll ever see another like that; it’s a story to tell the grandkids when I have some.

Very first emergency, uhhh. . .

As I rounded the corner, I could see my best friend approaching from Stage Left with a dry chemical extinguisher. He let loose on the small fire, barely missing me in his zeal. The charred remains of a smoke machine sat on the smoldering carpet on the stage riser.

While he unplugged the smoking hulk, I strode to center stage and waved for the sound man to turn up my microphone. I politely asked the milling crowd, waiting for intermission to end and the show to resume, to evacuate the auditorium. They didn’t hear a word, as our sound man had missed the cue.

Returning to the seat of the fire, we peeled back the carpet and checked for extension. Fortunately there was none.

I returned to the office to look up the phone number for the local fire company. This was pre-911 in our area, and it wasn’t a real emergency anyway. Just a little smoke, now.

When the first engine arrived, the Captain was irate we hadn’t pulled the box. We saw no need – the fire was out. What’s a little smoke?

The engine company inspected our work, evacuated the smoke, condemned our smoke machine, and stomped out. Dress rehearsal was over.

The date was March 16, 1989; second Thursday of the month and the night I was appointed to the Rowley Fire Department.