Where does this Murphy character hang out? I need to go see him about this silly law of his…

Murphy’s law is an adage as old as time which is usually repeated as being “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. While there are varying interpretations on “going wrong” (everything from having the point on your pencil break halfway through a test to getting into a car accident on the way to a job interview, and worse…), last Thursday was a good case in point.

I got home from work, and you were busy eating supper (which meant that your mother was being sitting there looking incredibly worn out while trying to keep you from falling asleep during your meal). I said a quick hello, and then hurried right back out the door to pick up her mother’s day present (note to you – I will only be doing your shopping for so long, so starting thinking, and saving, now for mother’s days in the future).

By the time that I had returned, you were full and still wide awake, so I offered to hold you while mom downed some supper of her own. I had an hour until I had to head over to the station to help out with an EMS practical test, so this seemed like a good chance to bond.

You slept through the bonding, but I got my fill anyway, and then off to the station I went. The testing was pretty uneventful, and I returned home an hour or two after I had left. Your mother was just wrapping up with your next feeding, so I volunteered again for some father/son bonding time while she got some time to herself. We sat on the couch, I showed you a few of my favorite TV shows (which you also slept through – oh, the life of week old baby!), and your “big brother” (Roscoe the beagle) did his part by snoring from the other end of the couch.

All of that peacefullness was forgotten in a heartbeat as the pager went off: “Paging fire for a fully involved garage fire”. That alone is usually my cue to get ready and head for the door (as the “all call” page is not far behind), so I stood up with you in arm and started heading towards the bathroom with the unenviable task of letting your mother know that I was about to head out the door for third time since I had been home from work.

As her “I’ll be out in a minute, hang on” reply drifted towards me, the last few words were drowned out by an update from dispatch: “I am on the line now with a caller who states that they are trapped in the residence, with flames advancing towards them”. The usual hurry of getting dressed and running out the door was hastened even more. I quickly did the father to mother handoff (and tried to avoid the pained look in your mother’s eyes) and kissed her cheek as I ran out the door to my car.

Address confirmed, located on the map, and out the station door three of us headed in one of the department pickups. As we got closer, the plume of smoke against the night sky made the location of the fire pretty obvious (as did the ambulance that pulled out in front of us, heading to the same spot). Command came over the radio “hook a hydrant for us as soon as you get here”, and we knew our first assignment.

As we arrived on scene, three doors burst open as the gear lever slammed into park. Two of us ran towards the hydrant, and the hose was hooked up. I stood by as I waited for the signal to open the hydrant – and realized my first mistake of the day. Luckily, one of the other firefighters gave me the signal manually, because I had forgotten to grab a radio as I hurried out of the truck.

By this time, the other two guys who had arrived with me were “packed up” (oxygen tank on their back, mask on, ready to head in) and given their assignment. I hurried to get a pack on as well, and by now another truck had arrived. I was partnered up with another guy, and given the task of checking the neighboring house. Not wanting to be caught “deaf” again, I ran back to the truck I had arrived in and grabbed a radio before heading off to our task.

Three of us heading to the neighboring house, and began to attempt to force entry on the main door. It turned out that the house was vacant, and we headed back to staging for our next assignment (so far I had managed to stay relatively clean – pay attention, this will come back later in the story).

Another firefighter and I were assigned to grab a chainsaw and a ladder, and start making some ventilation holes. Got that going, and then I was working hosing off insulation coming off of the side of the house as other firefighters worked on checking for fire extension. A little bit of moving hoses around as the attack crews repositioned themselves, and I was running low on my first air tank.

I headed back towards the staging area to change out air tanks, and was caught in a decision point. One of the other firefighters was being tasked with shuttling empty air tanks back to the station to refill them, but they needed somebody to go along to help out. Before I realized what had happened, I heard a voice that sounded a lot like mine saying “I can go along”.

So now I had signed myself up for shuttling air tanks back and forth. Not the most glamorous job on the fireground, but definitely still something that needs to be done. The two of us loaded up a dozen or so empty air bottles into the back of a truck, and headed for the station.

I was pretty proud of myself for remembering how to correctly cascade (filling each bottle with some air from each tank in the system, rather than just cheating and using the last tank because it had more than enough pressure to fill an air bottle in one shot). We got them all filled up, loaded back into the truck, and back to the scene we went.

Mistake #2 – it turns out that they had been trying to contact us while we were at the station. I had managed to grab a radio early in the incident (after I realized that I had forgotten to grab one upon initial arrival), but it had sat in my coat pocket – which was in the back seat of the truck while we were in the station filling bottles. After a quick comment about doing a better job of staying in contact, the two of us headed back to the station with another load of empty bottles.

Things went a little faster yet this time, and we even had a radio with us. My co-pilot laid out dirty hose to dry while I filled bottles, and the radio stayed silent. As I was finishing up, my fellow firefighter reminded me that he had been instructed to call back over the radio to command once we were ready to return. He tried raising them twice over the radio, and then made the decision that we should leave the bottles at the station since command hadn’t responded to instruct us to bring them back.

The entire drive back this decision knawed at me a bit, but onward we went. It didn’t take long for mistake #3 to show itself:
Command: “You better take this empty bottles back quickly, we are running low on spares.”
Me: “We have a dozen at the station, should we bring those back before filling these?”
Command: “Say that again?!?”

Lesson learned. If you don’t agree with the decision of senior officer, you don’t contradict him – but you can certainly repeat the instruction back to him, possibly with information that you think he should know and see if the order changes. In this case, I could have pointed out that if the air tanks aren’t being used, they go on the trucks – and the trucks are still at the fire, so probably good to bring them back even if we couldn’t get ahold of command to confirm that order.

If only the downward spiral had ended there…

Tail between our legs, we took the empties back with us to the station. We dropped them off for filling (another truck had now returned back to the station, as the incident was quickly moving towards the salvage and overhaul phase), and loaded up the full tanks from the previous run to take them back to the scene.

Right as I had set the last full tank down on the tarp (green half for full, red half for used – thankfully I got this part right!), I heard a comment from somewhere behind me – “Which fire were you at? You look far too clean to have been here!”

I could feel my face turn a bit red, and any sort of snappy comeback was hidden behind the fog of still reeling from my list of mistakes so far this evening. I know that I mumbled something, then I turned back to what I was doing. The jokes kept coming about my clean gear, and then I got my next assignment – to go back into the vacant house next door, and see how bad the smoke conditions in there had gotten. I tried to gather myself together again, and headed off towards the house.

I got about three steps before I heard “Wait!”. I turned around, and someone was handing me my hood – “Wouldn’t want you to get this dirty, it wouldn’t look right with the rest of your gear!”. Apparently my hood had fallen out of my pocket onto the ground as I walked towards the house. Not mistake #4 – but it sure didn’t help how I was feeling at the moment. I thanked him, and continued on into the house. I made a quick sweep, and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I returned back to staging to report my findings, and await my next assignment.

It didn’t take long, and then I was instructed to go pull the pickup closer so that we could load it up with dirty hose and spent air packs. This seemed like a task that I could handle – after all, I had done more time in the truck than anywhere else! I walked over to the truck (looking to make sure that all four doors were closed as I walked over), put the truck in gear, and then started to roll forwards.

Ting. Ting. Ting ting ting.

I immediately stopped, put the truck back into park, and then opened my door. Without even looking, I knew what had happened. As I got out to walk around behind the truck, the captain in charge started to walk in my direction. Sure enough, as I rounded the back of the truck, I could see that the tailgate was down and there was an air tank laying in the road a few feet behind the truck.

Mistake #4 – when you are the driver of the truck, you do a complete 360 before you get in and move it, even if you are only moving it a few feet. As the captain walked over to see what happened, my heart sunk when I looked up to see that there was a cop parked a few feet from me. No doubt in my mind whatsoever that he saw what happened (and I swear that he was trying hard to hide a smile). As the captain came over, I told him what happened and offered to make sure that the air tank got set aside to be inspected upon our return to the station (and didn’t accidentally make it back into service without being looked at first). Thankfully it was just one, because there were quite a few air bottles and packs laying in the back.

Next lesson (I knew this one, but apparently Mr. Murphy wanted to remind me) – always, always, ALWAYS check everything. No matter how seeminly insignificant your action, always know what you are getting into. I only moved the truck 20 feet, but that was enough to make a round object roll.

I set the air bottle in the cab of the truck, closed the tailgate, and then moved the truck ahead so that we could finish loading it. The rest of the incident went rather uneventfully (thank you – I needed a break!), and we got all of the dirty hose drained, folded up, and into the back of the truck. As it came time to leave, the truck was pretty full with stuff. I did my best to make sure that nothing in the back was in danger of sliding on the ride home, and then hung back to see if someone else would volunteer to drive back. No such luck, so I took a deep breath and hopped in the driver’s seat one more time.

The truck was a bit more full, as we had the entire box full (the normal pump/toolbox/chainsaw compliment, plus all of the spent air packs and hose lengths) plus five guys plus their stuff…plus the gatorade cooler. I set my helmet in the middle of the seat next to me (on top of the usual compliment of maps and bare bones medical supplies), and then shoved my mask and its bag down between my seat and the door. I was pretty nervous for the entire drive back to the station, but I never did hear the sound of anything shifting or bouncing off of the pavement, and we made it back to the station in one piece.

I lined up with the apron of the driveway, and starting backing into the apparatus bay (nothing says extra nerves like the night I had already had compounded by the department safety officer sitting directly behind me in the truck while I backed in!). It is customary to get yourself close, and then to open the driver’s side door to stare at the ground while backing into your spot, as there is a black mark on the floor and another on the stepboard of each of the trucks to help make sure that you are in just the right spot (it is a pretty tight fit for everything as is).

As I opened up the door, I heard a quiet thud and realized that my mask and its bag had just fallen. I stopped (to avoid running them over), and thankfully somebody leaned in and moved them out of the way of the tire. I got the truck into place, put it into park, turned it off, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I stashed my gear back in my locker, and only caught a few more playful “Wow, new gear?” comments as we all set to work unpacking the used gear and getting the trucks ready to be put back into service again. Once everything was back in place, we all gathered around the desk to fill out of time sheets, and had a quick debriefing about the incident.

The crazy night now over, I filled out my time sheet and hurriedly made my way towards the door. It was already after 1:30 in the morning (the call came in a little after 9pm), and I still had to shower and try to sleep before heading to work again in the morning. With the way that my luck was going, I was sure that the dog would also want to go outside when I got home, and you surely had a rather fragrant diaper just waiting for my to key to hit the door lock at home.

Life Lesson – when your day seems to be falling apart around you, its ok to take a deep breath…then keep moving forward, but be sure to stop and look back afterwards, because you likely got inundated with more than one “teachable moment” all at once. It’s easy to see the above story as either the plot line for a new comedy (your aunt sure got a good laugh as I detailed the entire evening for her) or a day gone horribly wrong. What is harder to see is that sometimes life decides to hand you a bunch of lessons all at once. Some might be subtle (walk completely around the truck instead of just looking at 3 sides as you walk up) and some might be repeated so that they become obvious (people on the fireground often communicate with radios, make sure that you grab one) – but all are important. Be sure to not take yourself too seriously (it really must have been a funny sight to see most everyone else not in command covered in blown-in insulation and soot, while at most my turnout gear was a few shades darker than factory fresh from previous incidents), but be sure to take the opportunity to learn seriously, because the laughing will quickly turn sour if the same mistakes keep happening to you again and again.

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I tried to tell you…

For an entire month now, I have been trying to pass on some life lessons to you – all with the goal of trying to save you from having to figure everything out for yourself. If you are anything like me, you will try to do everything on your own. It won’t matter how it worked out for someone else, you just have to find out on your own.

I get it. I have been there myself. Fortunately, my 30 years on this earth are starting to teach me that I don’t have to do everything the hard way. Knowing that it very well might take you just as long to come that same realization, today’s lesson is a bit of a break from the previous themes.

It was a relatively uneventful evening. Usually, I can remember what I was doing when the page came in. This particular night, it couldn’t have been anything too important because I really just remember how the page came in.

“RP states that four townhomes are fully involved, with smoke and possibly fire coming from multiple windows”.

The RP, or reporting party, doesn’t always get it 100% right – but hearing four fully involved townhomes is serious enough that my heart starts racing as I pull on my tennis shoes and my sweatshirt. Even if they are exagerrating, this still sounds bad.

I run out to my car, and head over to the station. As I am pulling up the suspenders on my bunker pants, my carpool buddy and two other guys come running in. We all grab our gear, and hop in the truck. I grab the front passenger seat, and quickly key the radio mic: “In route with 4.”

The call was on the northern edge of town, so we choose a route with mostly fast, straight roads, and work our way over. Normally, I would have expected to see the tell-tale curls of smoke rising towards the clouds – but nothing visible this time. I figured that the nighttime darkness must just be masking the smoke, and we press on.

As we turn off of the main road and start heading back towards the address we were dispatched to, we start to catch some of the radio traffic from the first arriving truck. This doesn’t quite sound like what we were told initially…

As we parked the truck and hopped out, we take a quick look around. There is definitely some smoke, and we see a hose line stretched, but the activity seems to be centered around the garage of the corner townhome. We have oxygen tanks on our back now, and my carpool buddy and I get sent to grab a gas-powered fan and head around towards the back of the townhome. We get the patio door open, and set up the fan to pressurize the home, hopefully forcing the smoke back out through the garage.

All Rights Reserved - Neil Schostag, http://www.flickr.com/photos/11429168@N06/

As things calmed down a bit, we had time to stop and figure out what had happened. We hooked one of the pickups to the car in the garage, and dragged it backwards into their driveway. It appears that the car had caught fire in the garage, quickly filling it with smoke. Once the owner realized that the car was still running, they had opened the inside door to the garage – which quickly caused the smoke to get into the home. Thankfully, this scene had been much less devastating than the initial page. The car was a loss, and there was likely a strong smell of smoke which would hang over the neighborhood for a while, but everyone made it out ok, and everyone still had a roof over their head.

Life Lesson #26: Take note of what you are told, but be sure to form your own opinion too. In this case, we were told that four townhomes were fully involved. In reality, one car had caught fire and there was lots of smoke around. The fire department was still needed, but arriving and forming our own opinion of the situation was crucial to deciding the correct course of action. I have spent a month now trying to tell you things, but don’t every be afraid to form your own opinion. You wouldn’t be my son if you didn’t!

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Someone to look up to

In my last lesson, I told you a little bit about our “Firefighter 1” class. There are certainly many more stories and lessons to come from that experience, but today I want to fast forward a little bit.


As part our new recruit training, we went through a secondary, in-house course called “entry level part-time firefighter training” (or ELF, as some people like to call it). This was led by one of the full-time firefighters in our department, and involved a really long checklist of things to get “signed off” on, pages and pages SOPs and SOGs to read and understand, and lots of “lets go upstairs and try it”.


As we were going through our “ELF” training, we also started attending the regular Thursday night department training. For us, this was our first real exposure to many of the other members of the department – and vice versa.


Many of the guys were quick to offer a smile and a handshake, and others were good about asking if you needed help figuring something out as we worked through the various scenarios on a given night. It didn’t take long, however, to figure out the guys who really took their mentor role seriously.


Sometimes it will be the people who are natural teachers, other times it will be the people with an over-abundance of patience. Sometimes it will even be the guy who knows the most and has been around the longest (whether he is good at teaching someone else or not).


In my case, I certainly had a lot of help from pretty much everyone – but one person in particular stood out in mind as constantly doing his best to look out for me.


His locker was near mine, which meant that we would invariably bump into each other near the beginning and end of each training. We got put into the same group for various scenarios, and we ended up working together at a few of my first few calls.


Over the past two years, he has been the guy that I go to with the questions I would feel dumb asking someone else, and he has been the guy that I have turned to when I am not sure what the “right” answer to something is.


I have learned a lot from him, and there are probably a lot of reasons why. He and I tend to think along the same lines, so often he is able to clarify things for me because I can “get” where he is coming from. He has been around for a while, so he certainly has a lot of firefighting experience to draw from. He is in this business for the same reasons as I am (neither of us plan on getting rich being a part-time firefighter, but there is still a reasonable amount of compensation that should make up for the time commitment).


Life Lesson #25: Some people will happen to be at the right place at the right time to help you out once, and some people will prove to be a valuable mentor throughout your life. I have learned a lot from quite a few members of my department (and I hope that as you grow older, you get to meet and know many of them), but it always good to be able to find a small group of people that you can go to as you grow (mentally and physically). It is my strong hope that examples like this help pave the way for me to be the kind of fatherly mentor that you deserve.

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Look who finally arrived!

As my fire department prepares to hire the next class of new recruits since I joined, we are spending a lot of time discussing how to best get a new firefighter up to speed. Given that my class of recruits was one of the most recent (and the documentation from our hiring process was most easy to dig up), we started off using the process that my class had followed as our template.

We were initially sent off to several months of “Firefighter 1 school” (two evenings a week, plus long days every other Saturday) with members of two other departments – the assumption being that it is more economically feasible for several departments to send a small group of recruits than for one department to try and do it on their own.

This is where the lesson starts. Our department was the last one to sign up in that round of training, so the schedule had already been set up so that the training sessions alternated between the stations of the other two departments involved. We received a copy of the tentative schedule, with a promise from our chief that he would work on getting some of the sessions moved to our station.

After meeting with the chief and getting our gear issued to us on Monday night, we met at the station again Tuesday evening to load up our gear and head out. The schedule we had received told us to head to the closer of the two other towns, and so we had planned our departure time accordingly. When we arrived, we parked the car and the five of us headed to what we assumed was the fire department door (this particular town has dual purpose building, with the police taking up the eastern half and the basement, and the fire department taking up the western half and the second floor).

No answer at the fire department door (which was locked), so we backtracked to what we assumed was the police department entrance. Being that this was technically outside of business hours, we had to ring the doorbell and wait. The police officer who answered the door had no clue what we were talking about, and so he took us downstairs while he tried to radio some of his coworkers to see if anyone knew anything about a fire training that was supposed to be held there that night.

Fast forward half an hour (we had arrived at the station 5 minutes before the start of class), and we finally figured out the problem – the schedule our department had received was outdated, and the first night was going to be held at the other station…25 minutes down the road.

We all hurried back out to the car, and made our way to our new destination. Luckily, the small town involved was one that I drive through regularly on my way to your grandpa’s house…and even more luckily, that town is small enough to just have one main road that everything is on.

We arrived at the station an hour after the start of class – and never heard the end of it over the next few months. No matter how early we were to class, we always heard something like “good of you guys to show up!” over and over again.

As it would turn out, most of the guys from the other two departments actually had some “real” firefighter experience (having been on their respective departments anywhere from 1-5 years), which made the potential inferiority complex that much bigger. Thankfully, a little good natured ribbing at the beginning of each class was about all that ever came of first night adventure. Each and every firefighter there was more than willing to lend a hand or help us out as we worked through seeing much of the equipment for the first time.

Life Lesson #24: Never be afraid to ask for help. This one is often a tricky one to figure out. It can take years to figure the delicate balance out, but the guy who never asks for help and does things wrong can get him in just as much trouble as the guy who never tries to figure stuff out on his own, and just constantly asks for help on even the simplest tasks. In our class, my class did what we could to figure things out on our own – but as the class progressed, we got more and more comfortable with the fact that the other two groups had a head start on us, and we leaned on them for the things that we needed help with. So far, I have a 30 year head start on you – but that shouldn’t stop you from asking me anything. There are some things that only time and experience will teach you, so if I can help give you a leg up…

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Flying in the face of the “guy code”

As you grow older, this is likely to seem like one of the more controversial pieces of advice that I try to pass on to you. Sitcoms make light of men who open the instructions and get all of their tools together before starting on a project, and an entire show has been created to highlight videos of things that didn’t go quite right.

 Once a year, there is a training on the schedule simply called “SCBA training”. SCBA, or self-contained breathing apparatus, refers to the big air tank (connected by a hose to a mask) which you commonly see on the backs of firefighters running into a burning building in the movies (or don’t see used at all, if you are watching Kurt Russell run into a burning warehouse during an airing of “Backdraft” on one of the classic movie channels).

 This training is vital because while breathing while sitting in your living room is mostly an involuntary action, breathing fresh oxygen in a hazardous environment (such as a smoke-filled room) is a necessity not to be taken for granted.

 There are instructions on how to refill the oxygen cylinder. There are instructions for how to properly attach the oxygen cylinder to the backpack and regulator. There are instructions for how to attach the regulator to your mask, and how to properly wear the mask to ensure a good seal. There are instructions for how to attach your oxygen cylinder to your partner’s so that you can share your oxygen in an emergency (“buddy breathing”), there are even instructions for how to drag a 50 foot hose in and attach it to a downed firefighter’s air supply so that he can breath fresh oxygen from an air tank located in a different room (and allowing for us to switch tanks “on the fly” for extended rescue scenarios, as there are several breaths of air in the hose at any given time – meaning that the oxygen tank at the other end of the hose can be changed without the recipient noticing that there is no oxygen tank connected for several seconds).

 This can seem repetitive, but carefully following the instructions line by line can mean the difference between fresh oxygen entering your nice, pink lungs and the toxic by-products of a fire filling your lungs (leaving you with immediate respiratory issues now, or even chronic issues down the road). Given the choice between repeating this talk every year (along with the associated practical application of our newly-remembered skills), and hoping that our collective memory is sufficient in the midst of the chaos at a scene where things start to go bad in a hurry, I will take the former each and every time.

 Life Lesson #23: Always read the instructions. This one has practical applications in your life. When your mother and I bought this house, we did a lot of remodeling. As the dust started to settle, it became obvious that a furniture upgrade was necessary. All of the catalogs coming in the mail made new bedroom furniture seem so appealing – but they neglected to make it clear that your beautiful new bed frame and dresser would come off of the shelf in 5 or six boxes full of flat pieces, with a small bag of hardware neatly taped to the corner.

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Make a plan, execute your plan – and then change plans

I told you about the end of this evening before, but the way that the rest of the day went is worth repeating, as this particular day was chock full of lessons.

We were involved in a lengthy water rescue-turned-recovery incident, and so the page went across the night before: “Anyone available to volunteer should report to the scene at 8am tomorrow morning”. Based on how the last few weeks had gone, I knew that this meant heading to our station between 7 and 7:30 to get our gear together, and then those of us from our department heading out to the scene would load up and head out together.

This particular day involved creating some virtual sections in the river again (starting where the previous day’s search had ended), getting into our gumby suits, and scouring the bottom of the river. We spent four hours in the water in the morning, and then regrouped at lunch time for a meal on the shore, and to plan for the afternoon.

The afternoon was more of the same, and the emotional and physical toll starts to add up. We spent another four or five hours in the water after lunch, and then regrouped one last time to report everyone’s progress for the day. We packed up our gear, and headed back to the station. Half an hour or so of putting everything back in its place, a little debriefing with duty shift, and then I headed for home.

Your mother and grandparents had been working in the yard all day, and their efforts were pretty obvious. There used to be a small garden in the middle of the back yard (long ago taken over by wildflowers, and a favorite nesting spot every spring by our resident momma bunny), but now it had been leveled out and weeded, and grass seed had been liberally sprinkled with grass seed. I walked around the yard with your mother, and her face positively beamed at how her plan was coming together.

Her parents decided to stick around for a bit, and I offered to pickup pizzas for everyone. I phoned in the order, went to the bathroom to clean up a little bit, and then hopped in your grandpa’s truck to head over and pick up supper. I ran in, paid for our food, and headed home – anticipating a relaxing evening after a long day for all of us.

As I was pulling back into the driveway, the tones dropped. “Report of a garage on fire…”

 I ran in the door, dropped the pizzas on the dining room table, and breathlessly called to your mother in the living room: “Time to head back to work!” 

Life Lesson #22: Plans change. A common phrase starts with “The best made plans…”. The point here is that you can plan and plan and plan – but always be ready for something or someone to throw a wrench into things. That isn’t to say that you should never make plans, but instead the point here is that you should always make plans…and be ready to react to changing conditions. The kind of people that are best able to roll with the punches are those who are chronic planners, because they can just as easily switch to plan B (or C, or D) in midstream and make it work.

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Ready, Set…Start Over

After the somewhat serious topic of yesterday, it’s probably time to throw in a lesson with a bit of humor.

It was a Thursday night in the middle of the summer, and we were at fire training. As is typical, there were several “stations” set up, and we formed small groups to cycle through each of them. I don’t remember what all of the different scenarios were, but I do remember that at the time when the page came in, we had just finished up “rescuing” Randy from under the axle of the tanker. This involved a few different tries so that we could figure out the best, most expedient method – but the general theme was using air bags and cribbing to lift the truck while employing an urgent move to slide Randy out as soon as the axle was off of his chest.

The tones dropped, and there was a quick flurry of activity as we figured out who was going on the run. The captain on duty sent three of us to go, and so we hurriedly grabbed our gear and headed out to the apron of the driveway to hop in one of the pickups. As we were throwing our gear into the back of the truck, I was elected as the driver (having been freshly minted as an “approved” driver when going to an emergency call).

When you take off on a call, there is a lot going on. If it is a medical call (which this one was), you load your bunker gear into the truck you are taking rather than wearing it. The driver is in charge of doing a quick “360” (walking around the truck to make sure that all doors are closed, nothing is hanging off, nothing blockings the wheels, etc.). The passenger is in charge of running the radio (and grabbing the personal accountability tags of everyone on the truck if we are heading to a fire call), and one of the two people in a front seat is in charge of turning the siren and lights on.

I hopped in the driver’s seat and turned on the main power switch. As I turned the key in the ignition, my co-pilot was already one step ahead of me – his left hand turning on the lights and the siren and his right hand keyed the radio to let dispatch know that we were on our way.

I thought that I heard the engine catch (which would have been no small feat over the siren and the radio traffic), so I put the truck into gear and hit the gas…and we started rolling down the apron of the driveway. Not thundering off to a call, but slowly rolling down the incline. In front of everyone in the apparatus bay.

Thankfully, I quickly put my foot on the brake, threw the truck into neutral, and the second time I turned the key long enough to make sure that the truck had actually started. We took off out of the driveway under our own power, and the rest of the drive to the incident was uneventful by comparison.

Life Lesson #21: Take things one step at a time. You could also file this one under “are never too old to learn something (or relearn it again while laughing at yourself)”. I have driven (after successfully starting) numerous vehicles in my 14 years of driving. I don’t expect you to know this anytime soon, but it is pretty universally known among the driving portion of the population that you turn the key, wait for the engine to start, and then put the vehicle into gear.

Everybody had a few quick laughs at my expense once we got back to the station (and I joined in a bit too), but the lesson here is simple. No matter how many times you have done something, always be sure to stop and take it one step at a time. Everytime I try to rush things, it seems like one of the most basic steps decides to step forward and keep me humble.

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