Friday, June 16, 2006

Someone Who's Been There

by Tom Blyth, FF/EMT, Southwest Harbor VFD, Me

You can only learn from someone who's been there . . .

I was a very motivated (i.e., annoying) probie. I was at my station all the time, anytime I could be. Always underfoot, always asking questions. They guys were real good about it. They spent the time with me explaining the ins and outs of the job. The things you can only learn from someone who's been there. And then there were the stories, always the stories, and the arguments. Straight tips vs. Fog nozzles, ladders vs. Quints, Leather forever, etc. It wasn't the academy, but I learned a lot of things from those guys. I respected them like my own Dad. If they said it was so, as far as I was concerned that's the way it was.

One of those arguments began when the town decided to fill an open full time position through the civil service hiring process instead of filling it with one of our call people, as had been the norm in the past. The grumbling got worse when the testing revealed the best candidate was a woman from another part of the state. It was pretty much the main topic of discussion, and many of the guys were not very happy about it. "She won't be strong enough; she won't be able to carry us out if we go down!" "It's not right for the council to force a political agenda on us." etc. You get the picture.

One extremely hot summer day we were dispatched two towns over for manpower at a structure. It was a large old New England farmhouse. The first due volunteer companies made a good knockdown, but it was a tough overhaul, it was in the walls and the floors and the heat was taking its toll on their personnel. We were sent in to relieve the attic crew as soon as we got there. The Lt. told Jimmy to keep an eye on me, because it was my first time inside. Now I hadn't bothered to buy the eyeglass inserts for my Scott mask because, as the older guys said, "You can't see anything inside anyway."

When we got to the attic all I could see were piles of insulation and a few blurry figures swinging tools. The blurry one in the red helmet said "Over here guys, but watch out there's holes cut all in this floor". I called out "No problem Cap" and headed over towards him. I made it two steps and felt something strange on my third. By the time I registered what was happening I was already waist deep in the hole and on my way to the floor below. "Oh, @#*!" I thought. Then just as suddenly as I fell, I was sitting on the attic floor. One of those blurry figures had managed to catch me by the straps of my airpack and pulled my foolish butt back up through the hole. After a few seconds I assured both Jimmy and the Capt. that I was OK. I was then treated to a rather profane yet informative lecture about working in low visibility conditions. When class was dismissed, I turned to the guy who caught me and said "thanks a lot, buddy!" The guy leaned down so that our masks were almost touching and said "No problem Honey!" Turns out the "guy" who just saved my ass was a 36 year old housewife! I experienced a paradigm shift about women in the fire service right there on that attic floor. I was forced to come to the realization that some of my professors at the "Firehouse Academy" may have passed along some outdated information. I now work for a different department, with good brothers AND sisters I can depend on. Now that I'm a little older and wiser I realize there are some things you can only learn from someone who's been there.

(Tom says he submitted this story because, "The Gloved Hand story reminded me of a similar experience I had as a probie.")
You can e-mail Tom Blyth at

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