Units on the air, standby for the box…

Those words used to make me run.  That is the pre-empt our dispatch gives us when one of their call taker colleagues shouts across the dispatch center “Box going out!”

It means there’s a fire.

In my new staff role I haven’t answered a 911 call, EMS or fire in months.  I’ll be honest, it’s weird.

But today I was in the Chief’s Secretary’s office getting ready for a hospital meeting and heard those words I used to dream of, “Units on the air stand by for the box…”

And I almost didn’t notice.

The light duty firefighters nearby huddled around the radio as the first in engine reported heavy fire from the third floor.  I was more focused on the dozen cases being presented at my meeting and how I would defend the actions of my Paramedics if questioned.

I think I’ve made a turn.

We can all agree my life has been more patient focused than fire, but I never realized how little I would miss the engine.  It kind of makes me wonder if I just accepted the engine work because it meant more patients.  Engine work is pretty straight forward when you boil it down, especially for a layout guy like I was.  Not easy, just straight forward.

“Standby for the box” was what I heard the morning a ceiling fell on me.  “Stand by for the box” is what Vince and Tony heard on the way to the fire that claimed their lives.  And at this moment, when all my brothers and sisters were hearing those same words and stepping up to answer the call, my mind was elsewhere.

It was a powerful moment for me, difficult to describe, even reading this short explanation leaves so much emotion out I wonder if posting this is even worth it.

The drive to the meeting took me near the fire, but not close enough to get caught up in the chaos.  On the way I thought about what I should write about on the blog and nothing came to mind.  All I wanted to do was get to that meeting and remind the doctors and nurses that the reason they can have a meeting about patients who are still alive is because my guys and gals did their jobs.

I can still throw a 24′ aluminum and take a pole on the 50′, advance a 1 3/4″ up a stairwell or re-position the aerial, but my main focus, my passion and my drive is that little room on the third floor where I get to stand up for good patient care.

Call me crazy, but I’m happy.  Stressed, confused, scattered and unsure, but happy.


Standby for the box…You guys get this one.  Let me know if anyone’s hurt.

the Crossover Episode 18 – Where’s your car dude?

The boys are back in what can only be described as their Christmas Show.  They discuss how to stay safe when out shopping, what a cassette tape and a pencil will never show our children and why the Elf on the Shelf might just make up for it.


Motorcop from Motorcopblog.com joins me for another 45 minutes of the internet’s only Police/EMS/Fire podcast!


The show is now barely legal.  That alone should get you to click play!


From the Archives Oct 2 2008 – Assist a Citizen

It doesn’t get more vague than this. When nothing fits, they call it “assist a citizen.” Well, on this day I happen to be assigned to a very specialized unit, a Ladder Truck that specializes in forcible entry and ventilation at fires, not to mention search and rescue. For those with no fire service background…The truck with the big ladder and the steering wheel in the back.

Someone at City Hall has called asking for help at an address in a questionable neighborhood. Upon arrival the very large and heavily equipped unit finds a man and woman looking into a storm grate near a van…wait for it…no this is good…parked in a red zone. They dropped their keys and can’t move the van.

We establish that yes, they are in fact calling for help for lost keys and the van is in the red zone, “Just real quick while I checked in on a friend.” This neighborhood is famous for drug use and I was pretty sure I saw a person using this grate as a toilet earlier in the day so I advised the man that the auto club may be the best way to go in this situation. “But the Mayor said you would get the keys for us.” “Oh really?” We asked. Gloved up and wondering how to get this old grate off the odor was indescribable. Just as we figured a winching system to pull the heavy grate up and look for the keys we heard from the man behind us, “Don’t worry Hon, this is what these men are trained for.”
I took a deep breath, nearly gagged, and sighed. It reminded me of those credit card ads. You know: 5 Firefighters for 1.5 hours $750, 1 Ladder Truck $375,000, 1 damaged storm grate $500, watching the Fire Department recover your urine soaked keys while you were parked in a red zone, priceless.

10 House “Still Standing”

Each year I choose 1 story to share in an effort to keep alive the memory of those who died. Buying a sticker or a T-shirt that says “Never Forget” isn’t enough, heck it’s nothing. Learning about the lives of those who went into that morning not knowing if they would be coming out and sharing their stories with others is the only way to remember and keep them alive in our hearts.
I used to think the ancient Egyptians were foolish for claiming they were going to live forever, yet we still speak their names and honor their traditions in our museums and textbooks. They truly did accomplish living forever and if we want these men to be remembered in the same way we must continue to share their stories and speak their names aloud.
In my search for a story to share about those who died on September 11th, I kept coming back to a number: 10.  10 years, 10 Engine, Ladder 10…10 House…

A firehouse is much like a family and when a member of a family dies it can have an impact on the survivors. But what if more than 1 dies? Or 2. What about 6?

This year I share the memories of 10 House and the day she lost 6 of her children.


10 House is the quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder 10 who, in 1984, adopted the logo of a firefighter straddling the tops of the twin towers on fire reading “First due at the big one.” And they were.  Reports from survivors say that even as they rolled out the door there were already bodies in the street.
The firehouse is on Liberty Street directly across the street from the World Trade Center. The house survived the collapse and was re-opened after getting fixed up, but her family is still healing.
Both companies were established in 1865, later moving to the same house.  It is one of the few houses where the engine and ladder companies happen to have the same numbers. For almost 150 years she saw only 3 deaths in the line of duty, on that September morning the number would triple.

Lt. Gregg Arthur Atlas – Aged 44 years, Lieutenant Engine 10

Firefighter Paul Pansini – Father of 3 children, Firefighter Engine 10

Lt. Stephen Gary Harrell – Age 44, Member of 10 House assigned to Battalion 7

Sean Patrick Tallon – 26, Marine Reservist and only weeks away from completing Probationary status on Ladder 10.

Jeffrey James Olsen – Age 31, Firefighter Ladder 10

James J. Corrigan – Retired Captain from 10 House, oversaw Fire and Safety Operation for the WTC complex


The house was a gathering point for those wishing to visit the FDNY to offer their condolences.  Like many houses it was covered with patches and shirts from visiting firefighters, letting the members know they were in others’ thoughts.  A beautiful memorial was erected inside dedicated to the 6 members who died and included was a newer plaque honoring the 3 that had fallen between 1867 and 2000.

10 House became the site of a 56 foot bronze relief sculpture donated by Holland & Knight , a Law Office, who lost  employee Glenn J. Winuk, also a volunteer firefighter, when 10 House lost her children.  The relief was dedicated in 2006 and is the only 9/11 related site on my list of things to see when I visit New York later in the month.

I don’t want to see where 10 House lost, I want to see where she lives on.

You can learn more about 10 House on their excellent website.

2009’s memory

2010’s memory

Probie, probie, probie…

A brand new class of recruits has graduated from the Division of Training and are now settling into the firehouses throughout the City.  I applaud them for making it through and for giving it their all to be welcomed into their probie houses for the first 4 month rotation.

They will either spend those 4 months assigned to an engine or truck company, then another 4 months on the other prior to being retested and released into the wild known as “Unassigned.”

Having a probie in the house is both a blessing and a curse.

  • First of all, no more toilets to clean when there’s a probie about.  But chances are their last job didn’t have them doing janitorial skills for 2 hours a morning, so usually it has to be redone.
  • They’re behind on the cooking charts, so we get a break from cooking for a bit.  Again, unlikely they cooked for 9 at their last job, so the portions will be off for a few weeks.
  • We won’t have to sit by the phone on the day watch anymore. Or will we?  When the probie answers the phone, then sheepishly looks around the room of people they just introduced themselves to and asks “Is there a Justin here today?” we might as well just keep on answering it.
  • Drills drills drills.  And not the regular go grab a hydrant and flow some water drills, but the go through it 50 times in 50 different ways drills since we’ll be trusting the newbie with our lives as soon as 2 minutes from now if we catch a fire.
  • Speaking of fire, no nozzle time for a bit, probie needs the experience.  Fine by me, I’m a layout guy anyhow.
  • One less person to trade with in house.
  • More details to other houses since the probie needs to stay with a regular officer.  Pack your bags.


But in the end, they need to fit in with the company they’re assigned to.  Too often in recent years probie classes have hit the floor on day 1 with a sigh of relief that they finally “made it.”  Wrong attitude McFly.  Stepping foot into our house, our home, is not your destination.  You are a guest.  A regular guest, but a guest just the same.

That means full station uniform at all times, even in the morning before you get relieved.  You will offer to take the nightwatch and not take no for an answer.

It means that wen you are cleared to dress down for PT, you allow time to get clean and back into uniform prior to the meal.

Being a guest also means not lounging on the couch, no matter what the senior members may be doing.  Grab a manual or a couple fathoms of rope and make yourself busy.

This is your time to get up to speed, not downshift.  You may think you’ve got it made and have crested the plateau, but fortunately in this business, one accomplishment simply leads to another opportunity to improve, excel and advance.


Welcome probies, now get upstairs and clean the Rescue Captain’s room!

Silence is golden. So is fire.

An automatic alarm call is not unlike getting the elderly disoriented call on the EMS side.  There’s a lot of investigating involved and most times it’s something simple.

But as we all know, other times, it’s not.


An automatic alarm is ringing at an apartment building.


Alarm bells in my agency are handled by a minimum of one engine, one truck and a Battalion Chief.  This allows us to do a pretty darn good investigation and get started working if the alarm turns out to be the real deal.

As we pull up we notice no one outside and no alarm ringing.  Odd.

Inside to the alarm panel and it has been silenced, but is still telling us trouble on the third floor.

As we begin to climb the stairs to the third floor a man emerges from the ground floor unit waving his arms and pushing us out of the building.  Well, he’s trying to anyway.

“I was painting and set it off, no fire here! No fire here!”

As we get up to the third floor there is not only a smell of burnt food, but the faint ringing of a smoke detector.

“Control, balance this alarm to a full box” we hear over the air from the truck crew on the roof.

“We’ve got heavy smoke now from a skylight, third floor bravo side.”

Entry is made into the unit and we find a woman standing in her living room, the only room in the house not banked with smoke.  The open window is allowing horizontal ventilation for the pot of oil in her kitchen that is now extending into her cabinets.

It’s a quick and easy job removing the pot of oil and knocking down the fire with the pump can and we let the companies coming in behind us search for extension.

The woman is surprised it took us so long to get there, telling us the fire had been burning for over 10 minutes and the alarm bells only rang for a few moments, then were silenced.  She thought that meant we had arrived.  She was unharmed and we decided not to tell her about the man downstairs who silenced the alarm.

The Chief downstairs was taking care of that for us.


So many times we arrive to alarms silenced by occupants who don’t like the noise or inconvenience of the alarm going off.  Tough.  When it rings, get out and wait for us to investigate.  When it’s safe we’ll let you back in.

the Crossover Episode 15 – DC Needs their heads examined

The Happy Medic and Motorcop are back with a look into the Washington DC idea of preventing crime using unarmed firefighters, then some tips on how to answer the dreaded oral boards question “Why do you want this job” and we finish with an exciting announcement about cancer and the month of September.


You Make the Call – Stove Fire

You are assigned to a three person engine company dispatched to a reported kitchen fire in a restaurant.  On arrival you have light smoke showing and a manager advises you a cutting board is on fire on the stove top and that all employees and patrons have exited and are accounted for.

The building is 3 story type 5 with the top 2 floors residential.

Conditions inside are smoky but the kitchen area is visible from outside and only 20 feet inside the front door. It is open to the dining area, only a half wall separates the kitchen from the rest of the area.  You observe flame across 8 burners climbing 2-3 feet towards the vent.


All utilities, ventilation, search and other concerns are being handled by other responders.


Your selection of suppression devices is as follows:

1)Water extinguisher

2)CO2 extinguisher

3)150′ 1 3/4″ preconnect

4)1″ booster reel


Which do you choose and why?  You Make the Call.

Rip Shears Review

Rip Shear RS-1

A few weeks back I received a care package from the folks at Rip Shears.  Inside was quite the interesting little device, a removable dual blade cutter that can be attached to any standard 7 1/4″ trauma shear. From there you simply start a cut with the shears, then flip and rip. Take a look at this short YouTUBE video from Rip Shears:
[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWBRptlMfFc’]

This at first had me nervous.  Do I really need an open blade on my shears?  I wear a pair of shears on my duty and turnout belts and adding something so seemingly dangerous had me concerned I’d be replacing belt loops and turnout straps.

This was not the case at all.  I’ll get to the 2 issues I have with the product after I tell you why I’ll always be carrying one with me in the field from now on.


The Rip Shear seems like a simple device and it really is.  The fact that it is small and detachable means I can move it from shears to shears as needed instead of some giant device.  It also fits nearly perfectly into my existing leather pouch, since the shears fit as well.  I don’t wear BDU pants but did have a chance to test the shears snapped into a pair of Perfection pants supplied by Chronicles of EMS uniform supplier ALLMED.

AllMED Perfection EMT Pant

As you can see the gear does not hamper the ability to wear it, but the pocket just barely covers the blade, enough to likely get caught once or twice.

Drawback #1: The blades in the upward position.

When showing this tool around the ambulance yard one morning, one of the EMTs loved it.  He removed his regular shears from a lateral behind the back pouch and inserted the military green shears.  To show how easily they would deploy he pulled them out, not noticing his shirt got caught, and cut a clean rip in his shirt.  From this experience we chose to reverse the blade direction using only a screwdriver and voila, problem solved.





(l) as shipped (r)inverted


I now carry my own rip shear with the blades oriented down, took 45 seconds to switch.  There are no special tools required to remove and replace the Rip Shears, simply use a phillips screwdriver to remove the three screws, remove the blade unit and the guide unit, done.  The setup of the screws and hardware allows for the inverting of the blade and for attaching it to almost anything.

This far outweighs a single use tool that does not already incorporate itself into gear you already have.  Space in the bags and in my pouch is at a premium these days, so this little guy is more than welcome.


Another early concern was that the open blade would catch a finger.  I have to admit I was scared to handle these at first, but as shown in the photo, even little 5 year old fingers are safe from wandering into the blade area on the Rip Shears.  Fear not my thin fingered friends, you’re safe.

A 5 y/o's pinky finger does not fit

It took about 3-4 shifts to get used to having the slight extra height on my pouch and I now remove it to sit on furniture at work, mainly to discourage dirty looks when folks realize what’s on there.

The Rip Shear is available in black and a really neat glow-in-the-dark material that has been handy to have on a dark road on a night MVC.  Since EMTs can be excitable and use shears only to throw them away, I can easily track down my set and replace the Rip Shear onto another standard shear back at the station.

Drawback #2: The shears provided have a lip on the end too extreme to fit many pouches.  Again, easy fix here, just remove it and place it on a pair that does fit.  You can order your Rip Shear already attached to a set of shears, the website advises the manufacturer may change, so this may have simply been THAT particular supplier.  Yours may be different.


A perfect fit

The versatility of this product more than makes up for the out of the box issues we noticed.  When using the shears they worked exactly as advertised going through a few pairs of jeans in their time on my shears as well as the leather jacket of a very disagreeable clavicle fracture.  They cut like they look like they should.  No problems there.


I had hoped to grab an old pair of turnouts and use them to show how well they cut, but recent events here made it seem in poor taste.  Perhaps someone out there has an old set they would be willing to donate to Rip Shears?


Made in the USA and designed with Paramedic and EMT input I can’t think of a better addition to your kit for around $15.

Visit their website for more details and links to where to buy your own Rip Shears.