A Devil In Every Flame

Wow… I guess if I’m going to be posting every other Friday I might want to find the pause button on life. Life being so busy can make things like this difficult but then again it gives me plenty to write about. Though seeing as I’m already late and I have too much to do tomorrow, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet.

It’s said that there is a devil in every flame, and through the years I have seen many a flame and through my photographs I have seen many an apparition. It’s funny what the camera will catch. In all the years I’ve been in this business I’ve probably only seen a “devil in the flame” maybe three times. Chalk it up to being busy or your mind playing tricks on you afterwards; but the only time I seem to see these things is in the pictures later. It’s a cop-out on typing on my behalf, but I’m going to share a few of those with you.

This one doesn’t have the obvious devil in it but it is one of the few situations that I saw one. This pic was taken just after me seeing it. The wire that is hanging down to the right looked just like a noose and still does kind of. It was hanging just below the ceiling and looked like there was someone in it. It was all just illusion but I could have sworn there was someone in it. Then it dropped to the floor like it was loaded. It was all an illusion but an interesting experience none the less.

This one is the namesake and inspiration to this post. One of my favorite and most unexpected pictures, I was astonished when I saw the skull in the upper right corner. Staring at this one for long enough, I’ve found a few more but it’s probably just my over active imagination.

This picture was taken way back in ’02 on a cheep camera through a dirty window and at night; so it’s not the best quality. But even so, I’ve always enjoyed the pic. I’m one of the guys right below the tree. I love how it looks like the fire is getting ready to reach out and grab us.

This was an old trailer house that went up, from the same house as the first pic. A strong wind hit the other end of the trailer and caused this nice barrel roll of flame out the end. I thought it was interesting how it looked like a face screaming out of the end of the house.

I have several more to show but I feel this post has gone on long enough and I’ve probably lost my few readers due to boredom by now so I’ll just quit while I’m behind and make an extra effort to make my next post on time.

 

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Strike a Pose: The importance of image

When on the job, our image that we portray to ourselves and to the public is crucial. The public relies on us to provide stabilization to their lives when they’re at their worst, and support to the community when we aren’t on calls. When it comes down to it we as firefighters agree to put ourselves on display when we agree to be on the department.

There are many ways that this is done. First and most obvious is through our physical appearance. When we take pride in our equipment and our gear the public sees it and they take comfort in it. When our equipment looks broken down and our gear looks tattered it’s difficult to have confidence in a department’s ability to perform. It’s seen when we are doing charitable events, by spectators when we are on scene and by the victims on scene. It can affect our funding and more importantly it’s embarrassing. It’s hard to hold your head up high and look the public in the eye when they don’t think you can do the job you promised.

On the bright side, this is one of the easiest things to remedy. When I first got on my department, we didn’t have state of the art equipment, heck we didn’t even have new equipment. The apparatus that we had were used, and the gear was “hand downs”. Even so we kept a good appearance. We cleaned and polished our trucks, washed the hoses down, and made sure everything was inventoried after every call. Even though our stuff was old we looked good.

This carried over into our confidence, which in turn brings me to the most important way that we put ourselves on display. The way we react isn’t only important to the public but to ourselves. When on a scene the attitude is infectious. If a firefighter is unsure or panicky not only will it adversely affect the patients but it can have drastic effects on your fellow firefighters. This holds true for all firefighters but especially for the seasoned firefighters and officers. When you have a strong adverse reaction those that look up to you can question their ability to perform; and the people that rely on you to watch their back can start to question whether you’ll be there or not. On the other hand, being able to show confidence in what you’re doing and not over react to situations will instill confidence in your crew and everyone around you.

Sadly this isn’t the easiest thing to deal with. There are a litany of things that can cause us to react adversely from how the people around you react to tragic things you might see. Your best ally will be experience, but even then you’ll have to be careful. I remember a call many years back. There was a bad pile up on the interstate. It was a particularly bad winter storm and we had to put civilians in our command unit to get them out of the cold and off of the interstate as vehicles were continuing to add to the crash. The interstates were closed down, and I don’t know how they were getting past the HP but that’s aside from the point. I had just got the last individual into our command, an old suburban, when a car appeared out of the snow sliding sideways towards us. I jumped in and holding on to the spare told them to gun it. The car ended up bumping the car we were just helping and coming to a stop short of us. One of the newer guys on the department was reasonably scared and asked if we should go back and see if they needed help. I was embarrassed when the first thing for the civilians to hear was one of the other guys saying to hell with that.

It’s an incident that still bothers me today. I keep looking back on it and wondering if there was a way we could have prevented it. When it comes down to it there wasn’t really. It didn’t stop us from doing our job, we were tired, and the individual said the first thing that came to mind. It was a simple over reaction to the circumstance. But the look in the civilian’s eyes that was next to me was really hard for me to deal with. It’s a prime example of what not to do and we put on classes on how to act in front of the public because of it. But when it comes down to it, I find that it’s far more effective to instill confidence in my crew by showing confidence to them. It’s not easy some times and it’s an individual battle for each person, but one that needs to be undertaken.

Ominous Glow: When Panic Meets Rational Thought

Have you ever had one of those moments when you thought, “great… This is it.”? I would love to say that that would be an understatement here but unfortunately it’s exactly what I was thinking. I wasn’t capable of anything more at the time. Let me set the situation up for you so you might be able to understand a little better. We got paged out to a methane compressor station fire. When we arrived on scene we found that it was one of the twenty seven compressor buildings on this particular facility. Each building contained four engines and each engine running over a cool mill. This particular facility ran 24/7 and was a major supply line so the company man on scene was eager to get the place back up and running. We had the gas to the facility shut down and began suppression operations. The crew was constantly getting in the way and putting themselves in danger in the process. We eventually had to have the police remove the crew to prevent them from being a further hindrance.

As you can imagine tension was already high on this call but suppression efforts started going our way. We contained the fire to the half of the building where the initial ignition occurred losing only two of the engines. As the initial battle started to die down, try to imagine if you can an eerie silence. The fire was out and there was a lot of heat still in the building but there was still a lot of smoke so it was black in there. I shut the nozzle down and all I can hear is my SCBA hissing from each breath and there’s nothing I can see. For now I’m just listening, trying to hear any noise. After the way this call started, this silence is unnerving to say the least. I was just starting to tell my partner that we should pull out and get the building ventilated when I hear the deafening roar. As I turn toward the sound I seen this flash of light and instead of reacting, I just pause. My mind went blank and I just sat there for a second thinking “well…. That was a good life I guess.”

It must not have been that long that I paused because my team told me I tore out of there faster than they had ever seen me move and with murder in my eyes. It didn’t take me any time to figure out what had happened and when I came out of that building I was ready to do things that are unbefitting of a firefighter, or most people for that matter. Luckily for the company man, our Chief was the one that got to him before any of us.

In this instance, the officers on scene just didn’t have the manpower to fully secure the scene. The company man had wanted to get the facility back up and running so he grabbed a couple hands and turned it on; but when he had the gas turned back on, he failed to turn the bypass on to that building. Needless to say, the entire facility was shut down immediately and everyone that wasn’t fire or police was removed from the facility. Up until this instance, scene security hadn’t been a problem. We worked with the methane companies well and they always co-operated with us without question. So to this point there was no need for certain regulations to be made.

It was a bad situation that led to some serious meetings and thought being put into our policies. More importantly, it also gave me another perspective on situations. It’s really hard to listen to a teacher telling you to be aware of the people surrounding a scene and implement it. You hear and understand the reasons but until you are put in a situation like this one, it doesn’t really sink in. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to miss things. But then something like this happens and you start taking that extra time on the way to the call to think “what if”, and the time after the calls to actually analyze what went good and what could have gone better. It’s a personal experience that most of us will have to experience firsthand to get the benefit from but it’s a good example of where panic can meet rational thought.

I Will Survive: A Dedication To Determination

All emergency fields provide difficult challenges and I happily get to work closely with many of them. There’s far more effort that goes into these professions than most people ever see. I’ve trained with multiple agencies and like many firefighters I’m also an EMT; but being on the fire department, it’s the one I hold dear to my heart and the one I know about personally.  I’ve been surprised to find that many people understand that a firefighter goes through rigorous training to join the department but think that it ends there. It’s a sad misunderstanding. Training only begins in the class; the real lessons are learned in the field for the duration of their career. Beyond that, there are constant refresher courses, and discussions to help expand our knowledge and refine our skills. This combined with their jobs takes considerable time away from family and friends.

The dedication to training is only one kind of determination though. I’ve seen my brothers and sisters show determination that goes beyond just training. I’ve seen them demonstrate determination in going on and doing what needs done when their own minds and bodies wants to revolt against them. When they’re sick, injured, facing problems in their personal lives, or having trouble dealing with things they’ve seen; it doesn’t matter. When the call goes out, they will put all that behind them. They are so dedicated that they’ll put the job above themselves, to the point that you have to stop them for their safety.  It’s that dedication that I feel and I take pride in every time I see this picture.

There’s a quote that sums up that determination perfectly. Florian von Lorch was a General in the Roman army in charge of the fire brigades. When faced under threat of being burned at the stake, St. Florian declared “If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames.” Now I’m not going to get into some religious debate here and I’m not going to go into great history about St. Florian. The material on those subjects can be found with a simple search and since you’re reading this I’m sure you have the ability to do that search in a matter of seconds. It’s the determination behind the words that inspires me. It’s the dedication that firefighters have given throughout their history, and one I am proud to continue on.

No matter what challenges we face, no matter how many times we are faced with a challenge or loss, we will always come back. We will always help those in need. It is said that a firefighter that has dies saving someone has not truly died… May I be so lucky as for that to be my fate. Moriar et oriatur ab igne cineres. (I die and arise from the ashes of the fire)

Nostalgia: Learning To Enjoy The Good Things In Life

In the back of a desk drawer there’s an old poster, it’s been there for ages gone by. I was once told it comes from a time when fires raged and people sacrificed themselves for the lives of others. I finally decided it deserved to be framed and while there, the shop owner informed me that the bulky subject of the photo was called an “engine” though it looks like no engine I’ve ever seen. The primitive clothes in the background, used for protecting the individuals that sacrificed themselves.  Oh what a life it would have been to live back in those days. The days of gallant actions and adventure around every corner.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that way but looking into the past has that effect on people sometimes. And I’m no exception; there’s always been an old poster on our department wall and it always gave me this feeling. I’ve always wondered in 100, 200, maybe 300 years, what are they going to think of the life and times we lived. Even looking back on the recent history of my department I find myself wanting to idealize it. It’s kind of funny how fast one develops a sense of nostalgia. Not long after I got onto the department, I was sitting around the fire hall, listening to the stories of some of the more seasoned members; I was in awe of their stories. They had such great memories and a joy to their eyes as they retold them. I was dying to experience those memories, to make some of my own. It was something that I knew I would have to wait many years for… It’s good to know from time to time that what you know can be wrong.

I’ve been working in fire for eleven years now and I had to pause a moment and chuckle when I found myself telling stories to the new rookies. I didn’t, and still to a point don’t, think they quite understood how good they have it. They tend to take some of the equipment for granted. It’s easy to do when that’s all you’ve experienced and it’s probably how my mentors looked at me. Who knows, they may still, though I hope it’s to a great degree less than they used to. I’ve seen a lot of changes and advances in our department and I try to take every little thing to heart.

When I first got on, our department was considerably smaller. We had way too much area to cover and far too little personnel and equipment to do the job effectively. We covered all of Johnson County except inside the town of Buffalo, giving us a total of about forty five hundred square miles. Our gear was old, outdated, and handed down from person to person. Our equipment was running but in constant need of repair. Even the hall was rented from the county. Our meetings were tailgate meetings and after a long fire, we all sat back cracked a beer and enjoyed a job well done. Those were the good times.

Don’t get me wrong, times aren’t so bad now. It’s just that I’ve seen a lot of changes go by quickly. There were new additions, new equipment and now a new hall. I find myself saying things like “I remember when” and “when I first got on” and the people I’m telling it too are newer than me while a few of them are older than me. It’s a feeling that I liked and I wanted to share with whoever might be going through the old department photos sometime in the future. I wanted to immortalize the last few moments of the old fire hall, so I took this picture just before we moved halls. It’s my dedication to the old hall when our bunks were by the engines and we weren’t above sharing gear. It was a time when the tailgate meeting was normal. In short, it’s a dedication to the good ol’ times.

Spring Storm: Reminiscing Over the Past

It’s late in the day and I sit here in my warm recliner, looking out over the storm going on outside, and I’m reminded of an early spring storm we had some years ago. The storm was raging on much as it is this winters day with only the time of year being different. It wasn’t a peaceful night for long, as the call goes out for a single vehicle roll near the pass. If the storm here in town was bad then up at the pass it was nothing anyone should have been out in. At almost 10,000 feet the storm was pounding the pass and dropping snow faster than plows could hope to keep up with.

We look out at this weather and we think of how nice it is inside and how we dread going out in it. It’s easy to think of it as an inconvenience and get irritated over it. Often times I find I have to take the trip out in the truck to put myself in the right frame of mind. It must have been terrifying for that lady, trapped in her vehicle, the cold blowing in through the broken window. She had no cell signal, no way of knowing if anyone even knew that she was in need of help. A passerby had saw the wreck and drove down to where they got signal to call it in; but she had no way of knowing that.

It was probably fifteen minutes before we got the call and another twenty for us to make it that far up. We use the time to our advantage. We all know our roles in this play but we talk them out anyhow. We discuss where to place the engine if the vehicle is still in the road, or what we’ll do if it slid past the shoulder and off the edge. As new information comes in we update our strategy so by the time we arrive on scene we are as prepared as possible.

We arrive on scene just behind the ambulance. Our community is a small enough one that fire and ambulance are separate entities. We train together so we can work together but we have our separate jobs. And it’s times like these that provide necessity for it. Our firefighters are EMT’s as well so when we arrive on scene we can provide treatment but we need to send her down and get her where she can receive proper treatment.

Once she’d safely on her way down we finish securing the scene, directing traffic, and filling out the run report. It was an easy call when all said and done and everything went as planned. It may have been a cold afternoon but when all said and done that didn’t really bother me. I come back to a warm recliner and enjoy another snowy evening.

As I sit here reminiscing, the pager goes off once again and I get to go out on another call. Another car wreck on slick roads…. I guess my reminiscing can wait for another time when I sit in my recliner looking out of a snowy night, thinking about a call I once had.

Ahhh spring time in Wyoming... sometimes you never know what you're going to get.

Chaotic Serenity: What’s Never Expected

There are always certain things that you expect when you’re on a fire; peace isn’t one of them. It was probably the most surreal thing I have ever felt. It may sound cliché but when I was taking the picture it seemed as though the fire went silent. The heat of it radiated off of everything and made it feel like someone had wrapped me in a blanket but it was perfectly calm and everything around was peaceful, including the wildlife. There were birds chirping, even a deer lying down nearby. All the while a fire silently raging on… it was almost as if the day refused to acknowledge it happening.

It really strikes me as funny; I’ve spent some time trying to remember how loud it was but I just can’t. All I can remember is the sound of the chickadee chirping in the background while somewhere off to my right a meadowlark sang its tune. Just about ten yards to the right of this picture a doe is laying in a grassy field watching everything unfold and piney creek babbles on behind me. Just the slightest breeze occasionally moves through, not even strong enough to really disturb the smoke, just lightly tussling the grass and the sun shines down in a cloudless sky. I’ve never seen a nicer day.

When I’m too old to work anymore and the night is closing down around me, this will be one of those memories I cherish as I sit on a cold winter’s eve and sip coffee.