Write to Rufus – Share a Firehouse Story with a Retired Brother

On January 16th 2015 the folks over at Senior Wish posted an interesting request.  It seems that retired Houston Fire Department Senior Captain Rufus S (Last name not mentioned) is suffering from Alzheimer’s and he can only recall  things he reads.

According to the SeniorWish folks Rufus got a few letters from current firefighters telling stories about their careers.  Apparently Rufus reds them often, reminiscing as if he was there.

Well, time to give Rufus some reading material folks.

I challenge you to write Rufus a letter about your day in the firehouse, exciting or not and send it along to him to read and relive as if it was his own.

Rufus S at Houston Station 7, back row right

Senior Wish has included the following address for all letters:


Spread the word at morning muster and dinner, will ya?

The little plane that wouldn’t go to Chicago

A children’s tale.


Once upon a time there was a little plane named 757.

757 was told by the pilots that she was supposed to go to Chicago, but 757 did not want to go to Chicago.

She tried to shut down boarding by fidgeting with the gate controls, but passengers continued to board.  Soon after they were all in and she was steered towards the runway she reached out with her magic and made one of the passengers ill.

The Paramedics were there when she pulled back into the gate, pleased that she had stopped the dreaded trip to Chicago.

But what is this?  The passenger is swiftly removed and her crew is given permission to pull back out and into flow for takeoff?!

757 tried and tried everything she could imagine but a few minutes later found herself on the runway given clearance to take off.  If she didn’t do something quickly, she’d be forced to fly to Chicago.

She didn’t want to harm the passengers, but something had to be done!

That’s when little 757 got the perfect idea!

“Flight 554 you are clear for takeoff runway 99 Right, have a good trip.”

“Copy, thanks, 554.”

“Uh, 554 this is Southwest 221 directly behind you, you have an APU fire, you’ll want to pull off the runway. Tower can you send someone out here, 554 is on fire.”

Little 757 had held her breath so long and suddenly blew it out so forcefully that the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) on the rear of the plane erupted in flames.

Perfect!  The fire would mean being towed back to the maintenance facility and certainly no trip to Chicago!  Little 757 had…wait a minute, what’s that tickling?

Rescue 10 had arrived swiftly and put the fire out.  So swiftly it seems that the pilot is now comfortable returning to the gate under her own power and having the mechanics evaluate any damage.

And there almost ends the tale of little 757 and her almost trip to Chicago.

Still Here. Still Sharing.

30 days away from you guys was tough, but I did OK.  I know there’s a hole in your heart from missing my rambling therapy experiment, but fear not fair reader, I’m back.

For reasons I can’t discuss I left the content of this site unchanged for 30 days, at my own request.

Now I can get back to venting, wishing, dreaming and sharing.

Speaking of sharing, those of you who subscribe to Fire Engineering Magazine should keep an eye out for your August 2014 issue which should contain an article about the way to enforce rules and regulations when it comes to sharing media.

“What the frack is sharing media?” you ask?

Sharing Media refers to the ever growing methods and, more importantly reasons, for sharing traditional (photo, paper, magazine, TV) and electronic (facebook, tweet, instagram, video) media.  Social media seems to focus on the facebook and the twitter and the instagram, which all require a set audience or group of friends.  I use Sharing Media to refer to any and all instances where an idea, sentence, paper, image, concept or anything else is shared with another in any format.  This covers internet sites, phone apps, newspaper and magazine articles, even the cork board at the local coffee shop.  The reason for this new definition is not only to expand the definition of media out of the pixels you see here but remind folks that it is the reason to share, not the method, that we should focus on.

In other words, focus on WHY, not HOW.

Most Fire Departments have rules covering the HOW that already cover the non pixelated methods of being foolish.  Simply expand that already existing net and, -boom-


You don’t need a social media policy.  You already have a Sharing Media Policy.  Use it.

More on that topic, why WHY is so important and what you as a line firefighter, emt, manager, company or chief officer can do TODAY to get out of the digital swamp of social media restriction in the upcoming (I’ve been told) issue.

As always I welcome you feedback on that and any other ramblings you find on these pixels, in other articles, forums or sites, in the interwebs or magazines.  I stand behind all my shared media and always consider the WHY before I share.  There’s a lot I want to share but have chosen not to.

Thanks for coming back and keep coming back as lots of product reviews are in the works including the flashlight I wish they sent me 2 of and a pair of boots without laces.  No, they’re not the Nikes from Back to the Future.

Above all be safe!


Top 5 Things Suburban and Rural Firefighters Take for Granted

As a rural firefighter and later a firefighter in a suburban setting there were a number of things I didn’t even realize I had, and as the old song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone.

This list is a result of my 12 years in the urban setting and constantly wishing I could have these things back:

5.  Pull through bays.

There is indeed a certain romance to backing back into the station each and every time, but late at night on a busy street, standing there blocking traffic so the engine can get back in…wears on you.  I miss the days of simply pulling around back, opening the door and pulling right through, staying nice and warm in my jump seat.

4. Large Apron

As part of my morning checks long ago, we’d pull the engine and ambulance out onto the giant apron in front of the station, fire up the generator, test the pump, give the rigs a wash, all completely pulled out of the bay and with still dozens of feet between the engine  and the sidewalk.  Here in the City we can barely get the driver’s door out of the station before it’s in the street, completely blocking the sidewalk in the process.  We conduct engine tests either double parked out front or down at the corner at a hydrant.

3.  Drive Time

When responding to a building alarm or report of fire getting dressed in full turnouts can be a challenging thing.  In my rural days I was driving alone so I just got dressed before I left.  Suburban firefighting meant I was sometimes in the passenger seat and got dressed on the way to the call.  In the City we’re lucky if we can get our coats on in time, much less full hood and gloves.  If you’ve ever seen a video of urban firefighters partially dressed in safety gear when they arrive it’s not because they’re lazy or not safety conscious but simply because they were so close there was no time to get dressed.

2.  Dinner alternatives

When we were not in the mood to cook at the fire station the suburbs had dozens upon dozens of options for the crew to wander in, radios in tow, and sit down for a meal at the Outback Steakhouse, Applebees or Waffle House.  A part of this ability was the slower call volume, being somewhat certain that your 2 hour dinner would not be interrupted.  Urban firefighters consider it an insult not to cook in the firehouse and besides, where would we park the Engine and Truck and how long would it take to get that table for 9?

1.  Parking

For the first 9 years of my Fire Service career I never parked more than 30 feet from where I was assigned to work for the day.  There was always plenty of parking spaces in front of, along the side and around back of the station.  At most urban stations there is no parking lot, no parking spaces, nothing.  In the City we have to coordinate with off going crews and swap out street parking spots sometimes over a block away.  One of our stations even had to shuttle folks to a nearby decommissioned station 4 blocks away to swap out parking spots.  Yuck.


So if you’ve got a parking spot nearby, a chance to grab a restaurant dinner, a drive to the scene long enough to get dressed, a full apron to do your rig checks and a pull through bay back at the station, take a deep breath and enjoy it Brothers and Sisters, because you don’t know how good you have it!


Coming soon: the Top 5 Things Urban Firefighters Take for Granted

Shared Narrative vs Personal Narrative in Apple Ad and why you should care

I speak on a number of topics, one of them being technology pros and cons for potential Fire Service Candidates through Fire Alumni.
It goes beyond the usual talks about the dangers of the evil social media and gives candidates tools they can use to better use the medium for their benefit.
In the presentation I discuss personal vs shared narrative as a way of addressing their desire to use the medium to communicate.  It’s not much use to tell you not to do something if I can’t explain WHY it is not a good idea.

Personal narrative is like a first person recollection of an event.
Shared narrative is including others in the event while simultaneously removing oneself from the event in order to do so.

I give 2 examples.

One is where a couple witnesses a romantic sunset and decides to photograph themselves with the sunset behind them. While they did experience the sunset, they also had to interrupt their personal narrative to arrange the photo, in which they are no longer enjoying the very thing they are hoping to share.

The second example is when I finally talked my young daughters into wanting to watch Star Wars.

We got bundled up on the couch, drinks and snacks at the ready and I started the DVD. The Lucas Film logo appeared and I suddenly wanted to share this personal narrative with friends, family and the girls when they got older. I crouched down in front of them and snapped a pic.
However, while I was doing that my eldest said, “Daddy, what do those words say?”

I had missed the opening scroll. Forever. I will never have that moment back.
My desire to share interrupted my experience of the moment.

According to the candidates that approach me following the presentation, this message is well received.

In order to keep errors on social media at bay, focus on personal narrative.

Today this Apple ad was circulating the interwebs machine and I think it perfectly encapsulates the importance of personal narrative.
Have a look:

The kid in the ad is ALWAYS on his phone.  Like I am most days I’ll admit, but we assume from most of the ad he is texting or playing a game (Like I likely am, remember, I’ve fallen victim to the allure of the shared narrative) but we later learn he is making a clever little video.

We see the family becoming emotional at certain parts of the video, not because of what they see, but because of the emotions they associate with the memory of the events being shown.  They are being shown events they took part in.  The kid who made the video did not take part, he filmed them.  Each of the images has him removed from the event in an effort to later share it with the people in the image.  For the family it is a reminder of personal narrative, for the kid it is only shared narrative.

The exact same error I made with my daughters and Star Wars Apple wants us to believe is a good reason to use their products.

I love the idea of collecting and editing video on a handheld device.

I don’t love the assumption that ignoring the present to revisit in the future should be our priority.  Our priority should be to live in the now, be with the people we are with and in the place we are in, not to post a clever status or photo to include others, but truly experience life while it happens.  If that later leads to a sharing of events, so be it, but just wait.


Imagine the family Christmas celebration this family could have had if the kid on the phone had taken part instead of filming.  We’d have no clever little video, but we would have the same memories and perhaps even more to talk about instead of looking to technology to share every moment at the expense of the moment itself.  Just as powerful to me would have been if the child was constantly reading a book the whole time, then stood and recounted all the fun times he witnessed.  he still would have missed the events themselves while reading.  It’s not the phone that is to blame here, it is the desire to share the experience before the experience has been…well…experienced.


I tell Fire Service Candidates that social media is not dangerous, it’s how you use it that is.  Technology has made it so easy to share anything with anyone at anytime the urge to transfer personal narrative to shared narrative can be difficult to overcome, but the only way to be truly successful and enjoy life is to do just that: Live Now.  Post Later.

Official Fire Service Ice Cream Rule

To finally dispel the myths, rumors and falsehoods regarding the Fire Service Ice Cream Rule (AKA Steaks, Cigars, etc) I offer the following definitive ruling on the matter:

Official Fire Service Ice Cream Rule:

1.  Purpose

To establish when a Member of a Company owes Ice Cream to the other members of said company.

2.  Scope

This rule applies to all Fire Service personnel, both paid, paid call and volunteer regardless of rank, station or assignment.

3.  Definitions

Company – A unit or similar single resource.  This can be defined as an Engine Company, Station House or Volunteer Post.

Member – Any person in official capacity at the time of the incident in question.

Ice Cream – While an abomination in the eyes of the Lord your God, something with a crap load of ingredients.

4.  Enough with the bullet points!  Onto the rule!

Ice Cream is owed only if a member of a company is portrayed in the media, be it television, print, online or otherwise (social media not affiliated with a media outlet excluded (see rule 8))  portrays the member in activities not associated with the assignment they are recorded at.  Being filmed fighting fire, cutting a car, rendering aid or performing regular assigned tasks on the scene of an emergency response DOES NOT entitle the members of the company to ice cream from the member involved. Also, for rules on double parenthesis, see rule 9.

5.  Who gets Ice Cream

Only other Members of the offending Member’s Company are required to be appeased with the cold Ice Cream goodness.  Depending on Agency or Department, this may include all units assigned to a house or all shifts on that unit.  It DOES NOT apply to other Companies, units, houses or personnel who wander in to mention being “owed” Ice Cream.

6.  Who doesn’t get Ice Cream

Officers above the rank of front line supervisor (Lieutenant/Captain/Sergeant) unless they were at the scene and may have to answer to the activities of the member caught not performing duties relevant to the scene in question.  All other houses, members and companies not assigned to the offending Member’s HOME Company.

7.  Oh yeah, that reminds me, HOME Company

Ice Cream is only owed to a Member’s HOME Company, not the Company where they were assigned when said incident took place.

8.  Social Media not involving media outlet

That doesn’t get Ice Cream but instead a pat on the head for the person trying, because that wreaks of desperation.

9.  Multiple Parenthesis

Nah, looks weird…or like math, which is WAY worse.


You got WHAT stuck in a bowling ball?

In my memoirs of EMS (Working title – My Life in CQI: Kill me now, just document it properly) some calls will stand above all others.  This, sadly, is not one of mine, but from a friend overseas.

No, not Mark.

I got an email about a curious rescue his agency was called to and was wondering what I would have done.

So, here is the scenario:


A 19 year old male has gotten his finger stuck in a bowling ball.  He somehow wedged it in there so far, it up against the webbing of his hand with very little wiggle room.  Rotating the ball is out of the question as he seems to have the finger next to it wedged in almost just as bad.

25 minutes into the call you’ve tried gel, ice, lubricants of questionable origin (who carries that stuff into a bowling alley?) and brute force.  Prayer is taking place and all options seem exhausted when the decision is made to simply move him, and the 16 pound bowling ball, to the hospital.  What will they do there?  Dunno.


What would you do?

Why it’s “48’s job” and not “A job for Engine 48″

In a recent post where I bragged that the Mrs can speak Fireman, BGMiller posted the following comment:

Okay HM, time for a question that’s been floating around my noggin for a while and this seems like as good a time as any to ask…
It’ll be a little convoluted but such is the nature of my brain.
Is it just a California thing to refer to a station’s companies by the possessive of the station number? (ie; 48′s caught a run for a structure fire…)
Does this come from it being more common in the West for multiple company stations to share numbers while departments in the MidWest and on the East coast tend to mix numbers in a station? (ie: LA County Station 51 was home to Squad 51 and Engine 51 or 127′s was Engine and Ladder 127 while here in Iowa my first due is Station 4 and houses Engine 4 and Truck 2.)
Just a little detail that’s been kicking around in my head.

Well BGM, I haven’t the foggiest.  I only know that where I’m working it has been like that since, oh, the late 1840s.

Tradition is an easy answer, but most of the nomenclature stems from when the Companies were Volunteer.  The wagon, engine etc actually belonged to the Company, as did the response area.  When asking about who was at a fire, you could say, “Oh that was at 4th and Brannan” or “It was in district 5, Battalion 3, Division 1″ similar to Companies in the military.

However, everyone knew where the engine companies were.  Before they were rolled into the municipal fire service and numbered in the order they joined they had names like Liberty Hose, Knickerbocker and Valiant.  It’s was Valiant’s fire, it was Knickerbocker’s fire.

When Knickerbocker joined the municipal and took on the number 5, it became Knickerbocker 5’s fire.  Then 5’s fire.  And here we are.

SFFD Gorter Tower

Ladders and Trucks came later when they were also rolled into the municipal service, joining in different order than the engines they would be housed with.  That’s why in some places Engine 4 is housed with Truck 1 etc.  In the early and mid 70’s when computers were added some Departments (including mine) changed the truck numbers to match the engine number to avoid confusion.

But when I was growing up in a suburban Department that was roughly the same age as me I heard my father and his buddies refer to other stations by their numbers as well.

“Are we drilling with 19’s this afternoon?”  It referred to the crew being a part of the company, part of the house.  The men and women assigned there belonged to it, not the other way around.

Does that answer your question?

Oh and BTW a tanker has wings.  😉

Overheard at HMHQ

Over lunch one Saturday…

HM looking at phone news feed – “Oh look, 48’s had a 2 alarm fire this morning.”

MrsHM – “48’s?  Which Companies are due on a second to the Island?”

HM, startled, -“What did you just say?”

MrsHM – “Didn’t I say that right?”

HM, proud, -“Yes, you did…”