The second part of the West coast trip had me spending time in the beautiful city of San Diego. My dad and step-mom recently moved from the San Francisco Bay area to San Diego and I was fortunate to by able stay in their beautiful new home and not another hotel.
I woke early Monday morning and made my way to the former naval barracks next to the San Diego airport. It was a day I had been training for over the last several weeks; Firehouse World’s live firefighting evolutions. I met up with several dozen firefighters for the walk through of our burn buildings. I knew we we in for some wild training when the cement building’s walls were still radiating heat from the previous day burns. We were divided in to groups of four and started on our first of eight stations.
The training was intense and the fires were hot. You need to train the way you fight and this was as realistic as I have ever encountered. The local news station even stopped by and asked the instructors about the best new products they have seen. The chief instructor mentioned Foxfire and how our illuminating products help with accountability, reducing disorientation and improving accountability.
San Diego's Fox News Feature
As we participated in the first few evolutions, I kept looking at how exhausted everyone was coming from station 4. Station 4 was a basement fire with advancement of a 2-1/2” line not only down three stair landings but also several corners. I was the lucky guy who was the “control”. We all want to be the nozzle but in this case I was the hose monkey in the back feeding and humping hose. As my team finally found the basement stairs and stated to go in to the bowels of the basement, I was at the top of the stairs helping advance the 2 1/2 line. As I started to re-adjust my position, I was literally blown back by the heat. I was at the top of the chimney taking the full brunt of the intense conductive heat. I could see my gear starting to “off-gas” and I was at the point were I almost backed out but I knew that was not an option. My brothers needed my help or they would not be able to advance the line deep enough to make the attack. At that point, it hit me. A team is only as strong as it’s weakest link and brotherhood is what keeps those links together. Even though I just met these guys a few hours ago I knew there was no way I would let them down by backing out. They made the knock and on the debrief they mentioned how important the “control” is to the successful completion of the mission. It's no fun being away from the nozzle, advancing hose around corners and pinch points, but it is an important position that is essential to the team.
The next day was the tradeshow and I could barely get out of bed that next day due to the exhaustion. I guess I’m not 18 any more.....
Even though the show was not as big as several of the other national shows we attend, we still had steady traffic. We had the opportunity to help our vendor Fire-Etc. of San Diego and we sold almost their entire stock of Foxfire products. We had great feedback from Chiefs to the firefighters about how our advanced photoluminescent technology has helped them in various limited light situations. Another highlight of the show was getting to have a afterhours party on the deck of the USS Midway and a great get together at the San Diego Fire Museum complete with bagpippers, a fire truck converted to a mobile pizza kitchen and the best handmade tacos I have ever tasted.
To read the first part of this post click here
We sometimes get tunnel vision in this job and think that you and your crew are so unique. We get wrapped up in the petty house politics and forget about the big picture. It’s so great to know that even for the largest fire department in the world, they have not forget the true meaning of brotherhood. They are just like all of us. Every station has the same guys, just different faces. It really doesn't get much better than hanging out with your fellow firefighters, your brothers, and sharing a good story or laugh. The guys at FDNY's Rescue 2 are no different, take a look at the picture below as they pretended our advanced photo-luminescent products set off the alarm on the portable gas meter....
When Capt. Flaherty invited me for visit at the burn center a few days later, I was humbled to meet FF Joe Vicarro of Rescue 2 waiting in the waiting room. He was standing his shift at the hospital making sure FF Weidman still had a fellow Rescue 2 firefighter with him. Capt. Flaherty came out to join us in the waiting room. We had a very deep and emotional discussion about brotherhood and how most people outside of the fire service just don’t get it sometimes. He let me know that they will have a member of Rescue 2 24/7 at the hospital until FF Wiedman comes home.
Capt. Flaherty and myself said goodbye to FF Viccaro at the burn unit and took a walk to a nearby Irish pub. We had more great discussions over a to a pint or two or three, my memory is a little lacking...Capt. Flaherty is very active with the FDNY's Emerald Society Pipes and Drums and has the opportunity to travel all over the country as an ambassador of FDNY. He let me know that his travels would be placed on hold and he would not be joining me again in San Diego in a few weeks because he will not be leaving his post at the hospital until all his firefighters come home.
FDNY is the leader of the fire industry, not just with training and tactics but also in modeling brotherhood. As we bid our farewell, I decided to walk the many blocks to ferry terminal to catch the boat back to my hotel in Hoboken, NJ. I used this private time to reflect as I walked dozens of blocks in this incredible city. I passed the UN headquarters and majestic views of this incredible city at night. My thoughts took me to my fellow firefighters on my department. I gave several of them a call. I shared with them my experiences over the past few days. I just wanted to talk to my guys. Although I didn’t say it, I wanted to hear their voices. I wanted them to know that if they were were iin the same condition as FF Weidman, I would be there for them. A few of them shared a story as we talked of when two of members of our department were critically injured in a training incident a few years before I joined. They told me that they too made sure someone was with them in the hospital at all times until they came home.
As I looked south, I saw the green glow of a beautiful woman in the distance. It was Lady Liberty standing so proudly. I was overwhelemed with so many thoughts. Thoughts of what my ancestors that immigrated from Germany, Hungary, Ireland, and England must have thought as they left their homelands to start anew in a young country a world away. I thought about how privilaged I have been to have had the opportunity to serve this great country as a US Marine. I thought about how how fortunate I am to serve my community as a firefighter. I thought of what is it that makes both of these organizations so elite, so special, and so great? It's not only just the individual men and women that serve but their ability to come together as a team. Their whole is truly greater than the sum of their parts. I was reminded of a quote from one of my favorite presidents, Theodore Roosevelt that put everything in perspective. "The spirit of brotherhood recognizes of necessity both the need of self-help and also the need of helping others in the only way which every ultimately does great god, that is, of helping them to help themselves.”
I have the privilege to visit firefighters and firehouses from all over the world to discuss the benefits of advanced photluminescent technology and how it can help illuminate search areas, increase accountability of tools and personnel and also reduce disorientation. I start every trip the same way, I stop by the nearest fire department introduce myself and share with my firefighting brothers stories, meals, and the benefits of Foxfire. I knew, however, this trip would be different. This was a pilgrimage, this was a chance to meet legends. FDNY is more than the largest combined fire department in the world, FDNY is an institution. The men in the FDNY are the heroes of the heroes, they are the best of the best.
American Novelist Sherwood Anderson said it best ”I think when an American stays away from New York too long something happens to him. Perhaps he becomes a little provincial, a little dead and afraid.” I visited NYC a few years ago and I remembered how empty lower Manhattan looked on approach to the airport. Missing were the majestic twin towers silhouetting Lady Liberty. This arrival was different, this time I passed the 75% completed Freedom Tower. The sight of this Phoenix rising from the ashes filled me with pride, patriotism, courage, and hope.
I could think of no one better to join me on this pilgrimage than the Iron-Fireman, Capt. Willie Wines and the Fire-Critic, Lt. Rhett Fleitz. The trip started by the two Virginians picking me up at JFK. The FDNY has 221 stations, there would be no way to visit all of them so we figured it would best if we focused on the Rescue units. Now for those of you who are not entirely familiar with large fire departments, Rescue units are different than than other Ladder and Engine companies. FDNY’s Rescue Units are the elite of the elite. They are all hand picked and are similar to a police department’s SWAT team or a military commando units like the Navy's SEALs or the Army's Green Berets. Each of the 5 NYC burroughs has their own Rescue unit and our goal was to visit as many as we could.
Our first stop was Rescue 4 in Queen’s. We didn't have a scheduled appointment and to be perfectly honest we didn’t know how we were going to be received. We introduced ourselves to the watch officer and were welcomed with open arms. We were given a tour and had the chance to visit with practically the entire crew. They could not have been more hospitable and gracious.
Next, we were off to Times Square for some sightseeing and a well deserved steak dinner. We stopped by one of my favorite bars in Manhattan located at the W hotel on Times Square. I guess we were quite a sight because Rhett and I weren’t wearing a designer suits and Willie had his big cowboy hat, championship belt buckle and fire-boots. While were waiting for our drinks in this ultra swanky lounge one of those metro-sexual Manhattanites asked Willie and Rhett were they from, when Rhett replied Virginia the guy trying to be as kind as possible possible asked how long we had been visiting this country...
After an incredible steak dinner and the famous Ben Benson’s Steak House we decided to pay homage to the World Trade Center site. We took the R train to the Financial District and as we exited the stairwell of the subway we emerged directly between the St. Paul’s churchyard and the crater of the twin towers. Words failed all of us and we each took a seat on the small wall of the cemetery and reflected in our own private silence. I was honored to share this special time with these fellow firefighter brothers. We walked the entire multi-block perimeter numb with emotion and feelings. The contrast of the construction lighting with black sky added to the reverence.
Before we knew it we were in front of the legendary “Ten House” This station is located in the World Trade Center and after that fateful day has become a quite a destination for people from all over the world visiting the WTC site. We wanted to pay our respects to this house and visit but we also were concerned that we may be bothering the brave FDNY firefighters that have to answer the door to every one of the thousands of daily tourists. Just like Rescue 4 these fellow brothers could not have been more welcoming and friendly. They even went so far as to invite us back the next day and meet the captain of the 10 truck.
To be contined....