“Check your gear, Brother”

"Your gear just might make the difference"

Wipe the sleep from the eyes, kiss the wife, wish the kids a good day in your head like a prayer (you don’t want to wake them), head out the door and close it quietly behind you.  Your feet crunch in the snow as you walk to the old Ford.  And slowly, at least by the end of the drive to town, you change into the officer who greets the company in the kitchen, “Hey Cap” …”Morn’ Cap!”, …or just “Hey boss!”.

Pass down and morning checks, the chuckles about the things that never change and watching the proverbial, reliably “late guy” show up in the nick of time.

Morning checks. You pull your gear from the rack and make sure that things are as they should be. This means of course that you are looking to see that everything is where you expect it to be in the event you need it. And if you happen to have used it last shift, did you put it back in its proper place when you finished the run? If you’re like me, maybe you meant to, but you became distracted. The battalion called you over to the other wrecked vehicle, or you really needed to use the ca mode and made a beeline when the bay door rolled up back at the house. Did you remember to go back and return your gear to “ready mode”? Have you pulled out your snips and checked for the rust that would make life miserable in the dark with one hand should you be enshrouded in cable and wire from a collapsed ceiling. Better clean and lube them up. Is your flashlight working? Fresh batteries.  Check your hood, make sure its placed where you always look for it, check it for holes and rips.  Your gloves, your belt, your webbing.

Here’s one that frequently snags me. I shove my Scott mask back in the mask bag and somehow the gremlins got in there and turned on my voice emitter. Next shift, I pull it out on a run and find that the battery is dead,….I forgot to check it that morning when I came on.

Sometimes I think to myself that if I were in a bigger department, with less demands for my time as an officer, more time to focus on just my crew and my engine, then perhaps I would be more disciplined in the small things like that.  Maybe not.  I think I’ll have to struggle with that no matter what.

But you have to force yourself through these things unless you are the type that is pathologically organized and hyper self- disciplined.  Not that I’m knocking those guys, but I’m not blessed that way.  I have to work at discipline and so do the majority of those I work with.  So we chuckle at the hyper types, we are awed and amused.

Something so simple as where you put the snips in your turnout coat can change the forward progress in your life, ..can’t it.  It brings to mind FF Kimberly Smith of Houston Fire, who it is believed was cutting her way to survival when her air ran out.  Trapped under a roof collapse and enmeshed in wires and cable,  she perished along with her fellow firefighter and 19 year veteran Lewis Mayo.  No, the wire snips didn’t save her life.  But she died trying.  She was able to get to her cutters and get them out in an attempt to get free.  In another situation, one that hasn’t yet gotten completely out of control, it may have made the difference.

So you check your gear, every shift.  Or do y0u?  Are you one of those guys that treats his turnouts like a work bag or a set of shop cover-alls.  Are you the engineer?  Are your turnouts still on the hook when everyone else has set theirs up for the shift?  Some engineers hardly ever make entry.  But, that doesn’t mean they won’t ever.  Never say never in the fire service.  How many times have I been on a run or working a job and reached for the tool or light or item I thought I had, but didn’t?  Too many to feel good about it.  These things need to be automatic, they need to be set, ready for action, any given day.

As I get up in the morning and leave home, headed for another tour at the firehouse, I try to tell myself I’ll be back.  I’m confident that I will.  I would like to say that I don’t think about it much, but the truth is, as I get older it passes through my mind almost every morning as I leave for work, even though it is only a split second thought.  Far better men than me have left home for the last time, the last tour, the last hug goodbye.  As the years have come on, I don’t take those moments for granted anymore.  I pray about that sometimes.  “Bring me home, Lord”, the simple prayer that passes through my mind as I put the truck in gear and back out of the driveway.  I want to see my children’s faces as their father walks in the door.  So much is out of our control, so I prefer to leave it to Him.  But I have to do my part, …and so do you.

Check your gear, Brother. .. then we’ll sit and have a hot cup’a joe.

6 Comments

  • jstwndrng says:

    Ben,
    I’m happy to be the first to comment here. I’m really moved by the image of you pulling out of your driveway with a prayer on your lips for safe return. That must be a hard thing for you, a hard thing for each member of the family to deal with in their own way, every time you walk out the door. Reminds me to pray for you and your fellows. It is sad to hear of the fallen FFs in Houston. I hope your mates all read this. It seems like solid advice that will save lives.
    -Matt

  • Matt –

    Sadly, the Houston thing seems to keep happening all over the country. We have less fire, and more death. We, as a service, are trying to learn to balance a straight forward mission, with not so straight forward circumstances. Its easy to say, “A building isn’t worth your life”. But its not really that simple. Sometimes, we really don’t know if the building is empty, and many firefighters argue about whether we can ever be sure that no one is in a burning building, unless we, the firemen, verify it. This has led to many lost lives. One statistic that really galls me is the one that i have personal experience with. The people that are missing or the neighbors insist are “inside” turn up after the fireman has fallen through the floor while trying to find people that never were inside. They were “out” At the store, the bar, “gone” for the week. Not really anyone’s fault. But its our job and we have to reconcile the loss. We are game enough, but no one wants to lose everything over nothing.

    Anyway, thanks for your comment. I took your advice by the way. Check the other page.

    Ben

  • jstwndrng says:

    I feel for you. That must cause much anxiety. Doesn’t the military have infra-red vision for locating life forms? I guess infra red might not work in a fire, come to think of it, but what about the other technologies for seeing into buildings? Am I right that it’s the not being able to see into the situation that causes you the most difficulty?

    • Yes and no, Matt. We do have the technology. Its called a Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC). It shows us a scale of heat, so …a can of cold soda will appear very dark, a body lighter, and fire even lighter. You have to learn to interpret what you see as the camera can fool you into missing a heat signature if everything in the room is hot. But many companies (fire engine/truck crews) do not have one available to them or if they do, only one firefighter is equipped. Everyone else is still operating dark.
      But there is no technology available to us yet, that will identify someone from outside. That still has to be determined the old fashioned way. The same way Uncle J. did it, and the way it was done before him. Hard work. It will make a good blog article when I tackle that one, for just now I can hardly think of the words to describe what the experience is like. Certainly it is nothing like the movies….at all.

      As for anxiety, during the event, stress is having a free for all. Our cardiac output and adrenalin production exceeds an average man’s by a weeks worth in the first five minutes of the event. Our bodies are bombarded during a structure fire. It makes for a pretty kick study in itself, except for the effect is definitely detrimental.

  • Tony Gillan says:

    Ben
    Good work on the blog.You always have a passion for this calling, and it shows in you writing.
    KTF BROTHER.See you in Sept
    Tony Gillan

  • Ron Wackford says:

    Very nice, well said.

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