About This Leatherhead

The first firehouse I ever set foot into was the volley company of my uncle.  I remember walking past the great pumper there, and trying to see past the coats and helmets along the wall.  It was a magical place to me.  I can recall that it was dark with the dim glint of a rainy summer night when we walked in and proceeded through the engine bay.  I could hear the voices of the firemen in the back of the house, probably the kitchen.  Good men dwelt there. They don’t make men like that anymore.

Old Pikesville, Md. Firehouse

"My uncle's Vollie house, Circa 1981"

The firehouse sat across from the Old Soldiers Home in Pikesville, Maryland.  The whole street smacks of history.  My grandmother, as a young lady remembered being the subject of whistling and playful calls as she walked passed by the old Confederate soldiers dwelling there.  The firehouse has been replaced by a modern one.  My uncle retired, I am in the midst of my career, the Old Soldier’s Home has become the barracks for the Maryland Troopers and the firehouse looks so small now, empty of firemen.  Things change.  But I can still feel the old firehouses, the men of years gone by.

I am a student of the fire service and will be for the rest of my career.  I was once told that when I had 10 years on the job, I could call myself experienced.  When I reached my tenth year, I didn’t feel like I knew enough yet.  I am driven to know, to understand, to gain knowledge and to add experience.  I do this so that I will not falter on the day of reckoning.   I do this so that in the end, the men I lead  will be able to say I watched over them vigilantly.  I do this so that my father and my uncle will have been justified in the pride they feel so strongly for me as I walk in their footsteps.  I do this to honor those who have fallen, having laid their lives down in the midst of their duty.  RFB and Ride the red rig.

I am a Warrior Poet.  Please join me and we’ll walk a bit together, perhaps smoke a stogie or two and share a strong cup of joe.  Take a seat on the tailboard.  We’ll blend together, share our hearts and minds, and become like brothers.  Leatherheads, sewn with sturdy thread, woven into the filigree that marks us as firemen.

26 Comments

  • drillmaster2 says:

    Anytime my friend, we need to find a place in the middle for us both!

    KTF
    Jeff

  • Dana Potter says:

    Brother- I was just made aware of your site through one of our members. Why doesn’t the fact that you have taken on this ‘project’ surprise me? Thank you for so eloquently putting into words what those of us committed to this great trade are all thinking and living.
    It is an honor to consider you my friend and I thank this great brotherhood of the FOOLS for bringing us all together.
    KTF, DTRT, DPT
    Dana

    • Hey Brother, Good to hear from you. The “project” as you call it, is just that I suppose. A work in progress. I am finding my way. Thanks for the encouragment, it keeps me going when I don’t know what to write or whether anyone cares to listen. Knowing the message is heard is great, that it is appreciated is a bonus! I want to speak and write about things that seem to get lost in the smoke, if you know what I mean. I do not wish to create a forum for debate, but I welcome discussion. This should be a place to turn to when the probie asks you “why should I do that? Why should I care?”. Thanks again! Take Care, Brother!

  • Juan Rodelo,, Jr.; Captain, Imperial County Fire Department says:

    ….I guess I could say that Chief Croker had brought me to you; I can truly and honestly say that I have been drawn to admire what I consider now some of the best writing I ‘ve seen in a good while, and I am an avid reader, a student of the art of fire…I find sense in your thoughts, while interesting they have something to teach and the best of all, exemplified. A newly promoted officer, as I am, should consider your thoughts and experiences an expository tool that helps deal with this lifestyle we had chosen…I am delighted to have had the chance, and honor, to read some of writing…looking forward to read even more…Keep on writing…celebrate the fact that you posses the ability many dream of…possibly, we’ll learn a thing or two along the way…

    • Thanks for the props, Brother Juan! I write these things out because they will not keep silent in my head. As a young officer, no one was there to guide me and show me the way so I scrounged for lessons in old books and compared my notes on good examples of leadership and the bad. The advent of the Internet really opened a lot of doors for information and a disciplined and self-motivated officer can find solas and encouragement through this medium that just didn’t exist before. It is my most heartfelt intent brother, that another officer, aspiring officer or young probie can come to my blog and realize that he isn’t alone, these lessons have been learned and overcome by countless firemen before them. And I believe it is incumbent upon us all to hold each other up. Thanks for reminding me! “I am not here for me, I am here for we. And we, are here for them!” — Unknown

    • Boss says:

      Too many compliments too little space, tahkns!

  • Roland says:

    Captain…..no fireman here. Retired Navy Hospital Corpsman turned EMS and college student. But your words resonate with me…I was blessed with great mentors. I hope you don’t mind sharing a cup of joe with me as well.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Roland, fireman or not, much of what I talk about would apply to anyone in a paramilitary setting and especially to a veteran. Corpsmen were well cared for among the Marines I served with. I did not see combat during my service, but we knew the history you Corpsmen brought with you and we respected that. You guys had all the needles! My aim is at the men and women I have spent the past twenty years living and working with. So my writing is full of the talk of things they will find common ground in. I too am an EMT as many of us are and I have been for my whole career. I don’t mean to downplay its role in our work. However I don’t view it as the reason I am in the fire service. I am first a fireman. You are welcome here anytime, Doc and please, feel free to contribute your thoughts. You will find Brotherhood here! Semper Fi.

      • Roland says:

        I agree, Ben and thank you very much. I will be posting as much as I can….between school (going for my Bachelor’s in Public Health-thank you Uncle Sam) and the shifts it might not be as often as I would like.

        However here is a question I do want to share a cup of joe with you over….We have made great advancements in the field on both sides as you well know in terms of tech and innovation.

        Someone in one of my classes stated he felt we are losing the “human element” somewhat-that the teaching skills and the one on one is being lost. I have my own views on that.

        Do you agree??

        • Ben Fleagle says:

          I do agree in part, but was your fellow student referring to interaction with the public during a response or in another venue? I do feel it is easier and easier these days to build walls between ourselves and the public. Cozy firehouses, good paychecks and a misplaced sense of superiority can get us way off track. In what perspective was the question intended? I don’t mind a bit, I’ll start a fresh pot o’ Joe.

          • Roland says:

            His context was in both the public and within the house itself…..he was pointing out in particular the issue of division within the fire guys and the EMT’s-he works for a large department here in Texas.

            He recently transferred from a house that had a 2nd generation boss who carried some of the same prejudice issues of fireman vs EMT’s his dad (who was a retired Deputy Chief-now deceased)did.

            The guy had a thing for putting down EMT’s-they are not “real firemen” that kind of thing.

            But the human element part I speak of came during a training in-service day-my classmate was one of the guys teaching a group of guys from his sector and was using some really new software to show how it worked.

            Afterwards the Captain calls him in and says “You really think they learned anything from all that show and tell. You have to use the equipment to get the right result..stuff is too fancy nowdays. Too easy”

          • Ben Fleagle says:

            Roland,

            I apologise for taking a while to reply. I won’t be able to dive into this for another day or two, but trust me, I’m already musin’ on it. I have thought much on this subject. I’ll get back with you soon. Coffee’s perkin’.

  • Roland says:

    Not a problem, Ben. Whenever you are ready.

  • Roland says:

    Good afternoon And Semper Fi, Leatherhead. Am heading with my partner and the rig to work a state playoff football game today.

    Just wanted to touch base.Reply when you can. Take care and be safe.

  • Roland says:

    Hello Leatherhead and Semper Fi. Been a heck of a week-am prepping for Finals. Hope things are good with you.

    Take care up there!

    Roland

  • Roland says:

    Hey Ben- Finished my last final today. Hope things are well and take care. Answer when you can.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Roland,

      The past few weeks have been busy with work and holiday events, very little time for the blog. I appreciate your patience. I’ve thought quite a bit about your classmate’s comments and these are topics that take time to discuss, hash over and “mull” adequately. Every one has an opinion. My take is this; on the issue of fireman vs. paramedic, while I enjoy a little verbal banter with “road nurses”, I respect their knowledge, skills and perspective. As an EMT-III (Alaska has very broad Standing Orders), I can do most of what a paramedic can and yet I’m trained to follow an algorithm, resulting in similar results. The difference is, my objective is to transport rapidly, getting the patient to the hospital as fast a possible. The idea of hanging out on scene and performing advanced procedures is going by the sideboard. Without permission, I can start I.V.’s, push authorized meds, intubate, cardiovert, pace, defibrillate and transport. For the patient in our area, its a pretty good deal financially. Paramedics cost way more. Like I said, I respect their knowledge and skills. The beef most of us have with EMS is the training and readiness issue. If you are going to call yourself a fireman, then train to be one. I would never call myself a paramedic and yet not train to be one. Why is that a profession that can kill so randomly and easily is treated as if “it won’t happen to me”? As for attitudes, well, people gotta grow up.

      As for modern technology in our profession, for the most part, I don’t like it. I agree with the idea that it makes us less in tune with what is going on physically. I believe that for now, the next few decades, those who can bridge both the old ways and the new most easily will be successful. He’s right, we have to keep our humanity involved in what we do. Our job is humanity. It certainly isn’t about net profits, we specialize in neutralizing human suffering. But technology, used appropriately cannot be argued with easily. I don’t have to like it. But often, it seems that technology amounts in the end to very little gain. For now, we still have to know how to do effective CPR and we still need to be good and making a stretch down the dark hallway…or we may die. This is good coffee…

      • Roland says:

        Ben-Happy Holidays to you and thank you.

        Those are very good points you brought up and it appears you mulled over them quite judging from the reply.

        But it sounds like you have got a large Mr. Coffee pot coming up with my question down the line when you talk “face to face” so to speak with with brothers from both sides of the fence:)

        But you are also the type who can get the question and make a strong and honorable essay without bias and with truth.

        This is good coffee.

        Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  • Roland Miller says:

    Happy New Year, Ben. I hope you and yours had and have a safe holiday season.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      A Happy New Year to you as well Roland. We spent our New Year running between fires, while fireworks popped overhead. Keep warm.

  • Roland Miller says:

    We rolled on two gang related shootings New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day about 3:00 a.m. No deaths four wounded-one serious but expected to recover.

    The PD caught the 2nd group – turned out they fired on the wrong house.

  • Ben says:

    Leatherhead-
    i am from a small career dept in MN, ive been there for 5 years now. after proby time i was assigned to my engine co. I am in my mid 20’s and the closedt to my age on my engine of 4 is 45. Fire brotherhood has long been lost at my department. there is no meals together or any of that team building stuff. no one want to train or go to fires how dose this get changed its hard to get career job here dont want to test just to be with other firefighters not just city employees.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Rocket,

      Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. I have truly been overwhelmed with work, teaching and being a family man. Seeking time to write has become a priority on my list.
      I tell you what. You are in for the long haul. Part of what builds brotherhood is suffering together. I have often been asked “What makes a firefighter a brother?” Simple. Like Capt. Mike Dugan of FDNY will say, “Anyone who has faced the long dark hallway is my brother”. It doesn’t matter whether it is suffering on a job, in training, working hard on the drill ground, or long nights on the rig running to your usual ‘good intents’. If life is easy and slow, then brotherhood will generally not show itself. It doesn’t have to be that way though and it can begin right there with you. If you’re up to the struggle, (and it will be one) then I encourage you to start by setting the example. Be the firefighter you expect others to be. Keep yourself sharp, seeking training constantly, seek knowledge and differing opinions, perform every task as if you are doing it for God himself! There will be times when you feel it is for naught, but eventually someone comes along who notices what you’re doing and what you’re about. Then there’s two of you. Find ways to instill company pride, and treat every “brother” like he/she is just that. Give credit where it is due, and respect when that is due as well. Most importantly, hold no grudge.
      And if all else fails, tie yourself in with firefighters in other departments that demonstrate the professionalism and brotherhood spirit you are seeking. This will pay off when you feel like quitting. You are not the first, not the last to find yourself in this position. If you can’t move on, then dig in. Begin change right where you’re standing.
      ..And come by and grab a cup o’ Joe when you need to get it off your chest!

      Leatherhead109
      FTM-PTB-RFB

  • Ryan says:

    Cap, I work for a small dept in northern CA. Ive been here for a couple years, and as the time has passed, Ive realized a few things about where I work. The deep seeded brotherhood that I have with other guys at other depts Ive worked for, doesn’t exist here. I come from an Army background, and you know as well as I, that the military bond we share is unbreakable. Before I arrived, the jakes here didn’t break bread together, train together (very much), share their lives, stories, or experiences. I made it my personal goal to change that, one shift at a time. And it has worked, on our shift at least. The biggest issue we’re faced with right now is lack of leadership, and a false sense of confidence and, for lack of a better phrase, our chief and administration are less than stellar. They lack the experience needed to guide/train us, and the morals, iron will, and willingness to listen to effectively and successfully foster those same attributes in their firemen. They are constantly suspect of us, like we need to be babysat, or micro-managed.
    There are a few of us however, that have realized that WE need to be the leaders we’re looking for. We’re all willing to follow the right person, if they’d just give us someone to lead us. Those of us that have had this epiphany, if you will, are also the jakes that are constantly taking classes, leading training and trying our best to pay it forward, even though sometimes we feel discouraged. Ive been in the fire service for 12 years, and never have I been faced with an issue like the one in front of me now. We aren’t encouraged to train, and when theres an opportunity to maybe burn a house, or use it for forcible entry/vent/search training, the chief simply tells us “no, its too much work and liability”. We aren’t running 10 calls a day here, and I see that as an opportunity to maximize training and be the best we can be with the time available. The admin doesn’t agree.
    I guess my question is, how can we respectfully, effectively, and reasonably affect change not only in our practices, but within the brotherhood of our ranks? Theres a great many things that need to change ’round here, but I figured with a strong cup, and a good stogie, this would be a good place to start…

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Ryan,

      Sorry for taking so long to reply, I’m working on my BA and taking on a side “Volunteer” position, so my time is clogged up….However, that’s an excuse. As for your question, you are asking the same question that is asked by all of those who are conscious of their oath, their professsion and its burden of service. Those of us ahead of you have been down this path, so many times. First of all, I can only tell you what has worked for me and mine, those I run with. Secondly, do not lose heart. There is a struggle we engage in, to keep our profession focused where it should be and we are many, but we are outnumbered. We will probably never get the things cleaned up to the degree we would all like, with training on a consistent basis, realistic, profession level and enthusiastic participation, but if we don’t keep constant pressure on, who will? It is referred to as the 20%. Twenty percent keep the organization on the move, of that 20%, only 1% are dug in deepest and are giving everything they’ve got. Strive to be a part of the HOUSE OF 1%. You won’t get a medal. You’ll get a good nights rest with a clear understanding that you have done your duty and more.

      How do you do this respectfully, effectively and within reason? Time, patience, fortitude and honor. Few departments change over night, brother. So be ready for the long haul, or go find another department. I hate to put it that way, but it is a labor of love.

      TRY THIS: Give that respect. Recognize that there are a lot of guys and gals on the job, who are not devoted as much as you, but still do a good days work, when on the clock. Give them respect due. Recognize those who just don’t get it. Never will. These two groups make up the majority. Give respect due for wearing the badge. Never dishonor them without just cause. They will follow in the end, if the leadership goes your way. Don’t make it harder for yourself.

      Be leaders at all levels. Start at the bottom, encouraging the newest guy to give everything he/she’s got. Make training happen. Don’t fuss if its two of you, three or four and not the whole platoon. Make it happen. Half hour, hour, whatever you can fit in. Make it part of the culture on your company, then when it takes, move it to the entire shift. Lead all the time, not just when the rig is running. Be positive, set the example, take a punch to the chin and smile…(when your done with your fit, lets get to work, …brother) You lead like that and people will follow. Sometimes only in dribbles, but thats because their may be a total lack of depth of character on the crew, but it will take. Give it time.

      My cups empty,…need some more Joe. Let me know if you want to talk it up..bdfleagle@gmail.com

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