I’m just going to remain rough around the edges


Yesterday I had an idea. The idea to apply for the position of fire chief that will be open soon. Now mind you, up until a few months ago, I was doing good to just get to work in the first place. Someday soon I will write about the last straw that sent me over the edge into the “I don’t give a damn” pit.

Up until a few months ago, some  good therapy, and the right cocktail to handle depression, I had said “fuck it”. (I’m sorry, Mom and Dad!)  I was even considering quitting my job. I was at probably the lowest point I could get before my brain became so unbalanced from depression that it might have considered suicide. I never wanted to commit suicide, by the way, because I have too many people that love me and vice versa. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t start that rumor. (I know some mouthy people will read this. Some who like to spin the truth.)

For me, the time before the point of no return was indifference. No care given. No feelings…at all.  No sadness. And definitely no joy. Short tempered was the closest I could get to feeling anything. But it only lasted a split second. Other than that it was: When did I shower last? Housework, schmouse-work. Why bother going to the last place I feel normal… Crossfit Hixson? Because exercise is stupid. We have dogs? You can skip school today because I don’t want to drive you over there. Good luck finding food to feed yourselves, kids. Dry cereal for dinner, maybe? And so on and so on….

So here I was yesterday, considering applying for the most stressful, time-consuming, ‘in the spot-light’ kind of a job on the department (in my opinion).

I talked to my husband, my best friend, and 4 of the men I work with that I trust to tell me the truth, not just what they think I want to hear. I can’t even begin to say how important it is to have these people. The ones who shoot you straight. Not scared to give you feedback on what you do and how you do it…good or bad. People, who you know when you turn your back, won’t talk shit about you. People rough around the edges.

Finding these people takes time no matter where you work or what position you are in. You may have to fly solo for a bit before you find them. That means keeping your mouth shut and just observing. Be careful who you confide in. Maybe even throw something out there to see how far it goes and who takes it there. Yes, that’s baiting someone. But who cares. Just be aware that someone may try it on you. So when you say “I won’t tell anyone”….. don’t.

So back to applying for the chief job…I conducted a poll with those 6 people. It came back unanimous. “You can do it.” “Go for it.” And…..”the person you will report to probably can’t handle you”. Hahaha!

I cuss. I’m a smartass. I have reached a point where pissing people off doesn’t bother me if it’s what I have to do. I suck up to no one. Money and power aren’t what I think life is about. I’ll tell you like it is. I’m rough around the edges.

Let’s face it. Around here the big chief has pretty much been chosen before the job is even open. So far in my career, none of the 4 chief appointments have been a surprise. Well….there was that one time they  made a “Rowe” chief. Worst chief ever.

But the job is always posted and people always apply. And they should. There are a ton of perfect candidates for the job. And the process can be a good experience to use later on down the road.

But me….not going to happen. I enjoy my free time. I don’t need anything more to deal with. And I rather be out with the men and women making a difference in that capacity….ya know….delivering them water and occasionally acting like an Incident Commander and stuff.

I believe that most people eventually find their niche. And mine is with those rough around the edges.

I can’t make this stuff up: Volume 2

Here are a couple of stories from when I was on an engine company…..

One night we got a called to forced entry on a residence to gain access to a patient in a diabetic emergency. When we got there we could see an elderly lady through the front windows. She literally looked like a fish out of water flipping and flopping. Knocking over furniture. Injuring herself. Making a sound I can’t even begin describe. 

One of my firefighters wanted to force the door but I said there was no sense in damaging it. I busted out a small pane of glass in the grid of the front window. I reached in, unlocked, and opened it. I then used my cat-like skills to climb through the window. I only took out a table lamp when I fell in.

I immediately made my way to the door to unlock it for the medics to come in. I turned around and the lady was suddenly on me like white on rice, pulling me to the ground with her. Strong. As. Hell.

We had to hold her down while the medic started an IV. Have you ever tried to hold down an elderly lady? It was awful because her thin skin was tearing. But once the IV started she immediately came around. At first asking us to kill her. Then asking what happened. Then saying how embarrassed she was. 

Bless her heart, she was so sweet and so horrified. But we tried to make her feel better about it. We lied and told her she had just been “rolling around some”. I’m not sure she bought it.  
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One day we responded to a party having “difficulty breathing”. Lord have mercy. When we rolled up she was already coming out the door. And I couldn’t. stop. staring. 

She had very clearly gotten a face lift the day before. And when she woke up that morning…..holy shit!!!! Her face was green and yellow with infection and so swollen that the staples all around her face where ripping out. Her mouth was so taut that she could barely speak and I thought for sure the sides of her mouth would split all the way to her ears.

She was terrified. I was trying not to look terrified.

 She sat on the firetruck tailboard while we waited for the ambulance. It was so hard not to stare. She was trying to tell me something. I’m not sure what. It came out mostly as drool. Then she passed out.

I cried for her later that night. 

It. Was. Awful.

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Turkey comas and dysfunction

Unbeknownst to us at the time this picture was taken, we had enough food to feed all the companies that respond on the 3rd alarm fire we had. We rotated crews to the station to eat a Thanksgiving meal.

Some days I absolutely amaze myself. They don’t happen often. As a matter of fact, it might only be once a month. The rest of the time I’m turning in circles wondering where to start.

This feeling reminds me of Thanksgiving Day 2017 when I found myself in the street looking at a 2nd alarm fire (it was only 2nd alarm at that moment). We had just finished our firehall Thanksgiving feast. I was making myself comfy on my couch when the tones hit. 

I’m not even sure how I got there. I was in a turkey coma and I just followed my firetrucks rolling out of the station. This day, I had to. I was so sleepy! Plus I didn’t hear the address. Ha!

I rarely lead the way to a call. In my opinion, the firetrucks need to roll in first. They are the most important and so is there placement. Some may say this is the wrong approach and that as a leader I should go in first. But I disagree in this situation. It took me a while to figure out my officers. To learn how they think. Learn how the respond to me. And I choose to LEAD from the back of the pack because I have faith in them.

It can be done. Pushing them forward. Letting them make decisions on their own and to take control. Hell, they are adults getting paid to make decisions. Most of my officers are seasoned and know what they are doing. They know their people the best. They and their drivers know the maximum abilities and limitations of their apparatus. Use that to your advantage.

They know I will make a decision.They know who is ultimately “in charge” (I don’t like that saying). They know when I say to do something a certain way then they need to do it because there is usually a reason. I don’t give out piddly orders just because I can. They also know that all responsibility falls on me if things goes wrong. And I have broad enough shoulders to take that. 

So back to Thanksgiving….

This is what we refer to as the fire “gettin’ it”. 

As I rounded the corner and said “Oh Shit” at the amount of flames literally roaring out the windows, I didn’t bother to look at any street sign. Genius. This building was a block long. In order to do a 360 I had to speed walk pretty far. (For those who know me, picture that in your head. Haha!). 

 While trying to direct incoming firetrucks to where they needed to go, I found myself a block down the road turning circles…. literally. I had no clue what street I was standing on. This moment later became the only way I could describe to a counselor and my psychiatrist, how I felt. Perfect analogy.

Just in case you need one I’m going to insert this here…

www.riverviewpsychiatry.com

Most supervisors will have very similar moments (turning in circles). And they won’t tell a soul. But me?? I think it’s funny. I can laugh at myself. I’m me and I’m not perfect. Do I often say “I’m not perfect”? Yes. Do I admit when I mess up? Yes. Do I share my story about literally turning in circles in the street? Yes, obviously I do. 

I posted on Facebook and in a recent blog about pulling into the driveway and thinking the newspaper was a cat. I had someone comment “I can’t believe you would post that.” 

Well why not? A huge part of fire service in EGO. And ego, in my opinion, holds us back. Ego tells us we are all knowing, we are perfect, our way is the only way. And that just simply isn’t true. Ego tells us that those we supervise are literally beneath us. That definitely isn’t true.

Our people are assets. Treating them as such gets you further. Letting them know that you aren’t perfect too isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s just simply a way to communicate with your people. Letting them know that despite wanting things to go perfectly, they won’t. And you know that from experience.  


a 360- the term we use in the fire service to describe walking around the entire structure (360°) involved in fire in order to see everything, such as fire extent, exposures, potential hazards or suppression hindrance.

I Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Volume 1

All in a day’s work…..

A private multi-million dollar company dialed 911 in order to get a firetruck to come babysit 2 propane tanks while they burned off left over propane fumes in them. 

For 16 hours. And for free.

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A man calls from a gas station saying he was assaulted and he was dying. He needed cops and an ambulance, pronto! 
He had been maced by his Uber driver.

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I hear one of my crews get dispatched on an assault victim. They stage a block away and wait for the police to arrive and secure the scene. All of the sudden I hear the Captain come over the radio….”Umm, dispatch? Can we tell PD to step it up? We’ve got a guy running around in the road with a machete”.
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It’s 1230hrs. I’m about to turn in for the night hopeful to get some sleep. But we get dispatched on a vehicle wreck with entrapment. It’s pouring down rain, dark outside, and the incident is at the furthest end of our district…and literally at the edge of the city limits.

Dispatch then updates saying that the vehicle was off the road and was filling up with water.  I have the “this shit just got real” thought.

So here we go, one engine company, two rescue squads, my truck, several patrol cars and an ambulance driving with lights and sirens to respond to this vehicle entrapment off the road filling with water and 2 people trapped. In the dark. In the pouring down rain. 
Upon arrival, we found a car with it’s front passenger side tire off the roadway. Water was high all around it….about up to the bottom of the doors. Lady was “trapped” because she didn’t want to get her feet wet. 

Make a decision

This cracks me up every time I read it!

www.powerofpositivity.com

I just got a phone call from one of my officers telling me that they had been dispatched to go sit at a private company and babysit two propane tanks while the fumes were burned off. 8 hours for each tank . 

Um…No. The officer knew he needed to run it by me. I, on the other hand, don’t have to run it by anybody. They pay me to make those type of decisions. So my response was…”Tell them I said “no” and that I said we don’t do that. They can call and hire a private company for that.” I know my officer is tactful and I knew he could handle the situation. But just in case, I added, “If they give you any trouble let me know. I’ll head that way.”

Know your people. Trust them, if they have earned it. Have their backs.  Even when they make a decision that isn’t the best choice. Back them for at least making a decision. Remember it could ALWAYS be YOU making the bad decision.

On with the story….I made a decision. I didn’t call and ask someone above me what I should do. I didn’t run my decision by anyone. I didn’t ask permission to say “no”. I just made a decision. 

It took all of 1 minute to make. We are EMERGENCY responders. Standing by for a burn-off isn’t an emergency. Now if it exploded then we would respond as the emergency responders that we are.

 Plus it is hot as hell outside. How miserable!! And boring!! We have training to do. Calls to run. Equipment to maintain. I can’t make my people sit in a running firetruck for 16 hours. 

Could I justify 16 hours of burning diesel at the taxpayer’s expense? AND at the expense of their safety? What if a house caught on fire and the closest firetruck was sitting there babysitting a tank? Nope. Not gonna happen. 

Unless…that company decides to call my boss. Then things could get flipped on me. You never know who might want to do favors for who. But my decision stands and I won’t back down. Won’t be the first and definitely not the last time. And because I’ve had my co-workers back time and time again, they have had mine. 

That’s how it is supposed to work.

I don’t care if it’s a multi-million dollar company. I don’t care who’s connected to who. My people are worth more to me than that. And so are the citizens of our city. 

July 16, 2015

WARNING: This is going to be a long post. So grab a drink or some ice cream. I haven’t talked much about it since it happened. And I’ve only sat down once before now and written anything down. I don’t know why I haven’t been able to. My role was totally insignificant compared to those who sacrificed their lives and those men who charged in and kill that piece of shit.  

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It’s been 2 years since the terrorist attack in Chattanooga. Althought I wasn’t in the gunfight or have direct contact with the victims, that day messed me up. I’ve been different ever since.

 A huge part of me believes that I’m ridiculous for being so torn by it when I wasn’t directly involved with those who died. I didn’t fire a weapon or get shot at. But when you work in emergency services you never really know which call will effect you. So I guess this one got me and now I am trying to give myself a break and share my little piece of that day. 

Some would say that September 11th changed their view of the world. Back then I was 26 years old, single, with no kids. I had only about 4 years under my belt as a firefighter. I was still 10ft tall, bullet-proof, and naive. And although it did have an effect on me, I wasn’t physically there. It had no direct impact on my life.  14 years later I found myself standing in the middle of a highway trying to provide some organized help to chaos and keep account of men and women that weren’t normally under my command. 

Let me sidetrack here a minute and explain some relevant information about myself. If you know me well you can scroll past  this. Haha! For those that don’t know me, I have been certified as a “police officer” since 2003.  But you won’t see me walking around writing tickets or arresting people. Most people don’t even know. 

I attended the local police academy. At that time I was a Lieutenant for the fire department. POST (Police Officer Standard Training) is a requirement in order to be a Fire Investigator on our department. I had applied for and gotten that position. 

Although 5 years as a fire investigator gave me a huge amount of experience in law enforcement, I have NEVER been a patrol officer. And that is where you really become a cop. I have maintained my POST in order to have an extra layer of protection for myself, my family, and my coworkers.

Not too long ago I was talking with a group of cop friends during the yearly police in-service. We were discussing the 16th and how there wasn’t any mention of me in the federal reports….or any reports that we knew of. Although I am grateful I wasn’t mentioned, I know I was there. So do about 100+ law enforcement officers I came in direct contact with that day.

During our lunch break from class, I found myself having an overwhelming need to write stuff down about that day. I hadn’t at all up until that point. I had even been asked by our state fire academy and the local Homeland Security office to write a synopsis of what all we did that day. I didn’t write down a single word. I just simply couldn’t. But that day, after talking with friends, I found myself writing…..

Not writing what we did, but writing about how ANGRY I was. I was pissed off over just about anything and everything. I had gone from a “realist” to a “pessimist”. And despite all I had seen and done in my career, I had remained a realist until that day. Afterwards I was nothing but short tempered, paranoid, and negative.

After a long time and some counseling through our Employee Assistance Program, here is what I determined to be a huge factor in why this anger I had was so overwhelming….

With all my experience of law enforcement meshed with fire service, I began to ask for some sort of cross-training between our fire and police departments YEARS before this event. Even if it was just simple “awareness” training for our firefighters on what to watch for on medical calls. Something. Anything. Because I had this overwhelming feeling that something shitty would happen.

You want to know what I got from our training chief at that time? “This is Chattanooga. Nothing is going it happen here.” I also got told by another chief “We can’t be letting them use our trucks in those situations (situations like Columbine High School). What if they get bullet holes in them? We would have to pay to get them fixed.” We spend our careers training for shit we hope never happens. How is was this any different??

Well, at that point I said “Forget you”.  Not literally. Just in my head. Because at that time I still had a filter.  I contacted the person who was over the SWAT team at the time. I let them come to one of my firehalls and look at all the rescue equipment we had. I let them ride up in the platform (bucket on the end of an aerial firetruck). I let them see how we crank the trucks…just in case they needed to use one. Just opening up a line of communication with the guys who would be there for my people. 

I’m not stupid. And they aren’t either. We all know that using our equipment to do something miniscule is out of the question. But I told them if they’ve got a downed officer in the middle of a shit storm or victims bailing out second-story windows and I’m there, take one of my trucks. Or hell I’d drive it for them.

Of course adminstrations changed and little was done with my proposal. Following adminstrations did not give  a shit either. Again…. “That sort of thing won’t happen here”.  Well here we are several years later with a local kid going radical and killing 5 of our military personnel. Terrorism right in the middle of our fucking yard.

NOW they want to get together and have some training with each other. And apparently have a committee working on it. So I guess that is a positive. But it should have been started ages ago. 

    The entire time I stood in that road I was protected. Protected by men and women that lay their lives down every time they go to work. Multiple local and regional departments, state troopers, ATF, FBI, DEA, Sheriff’s Department….all surrounding me. Patient, calm, and very respectfully. 

    As a Battalion Chief I live, eat, breathe Incident Command. Form a plan. Provide resources. Keep accountability. And that is all I did on July 16th.
    I remember thinking that at some point one or more of those cops would ask what in the hell a fire chief was doing telling them where to go….why in the hell they had to give me their name…why in the hell they had to report back to me when they left the hot zone… 

    But never once did that happen. They were nothing but respectful.

    I knew over half the faces. Some where people I consider friends. Some I have a huge amount of respect for. ALL of them I was proud of. What hit me most about that day was not the killings. It was watching those men and women run forward to save others. 

    All I can really think of to describe what I witnessed is “Awe”. I love my local law enforcement. I wish everyone would take time to really, truly get to know them. Cops are humans like the rest of us.

     That day I witnessed them go above and beyond to save countless lives. Far and above anything I had witnessed before. And it makes me angry that there are people out there that refuse to treat them with the respect that they deserve. 

    We live in an incredible country. We have freedoms and opportunities that majority of the world never know. We have people all around us that sign up to be there on our worst day.

    Yet we take complete and total advantage…and then ask for more. And we want to buck and defy a system in place that is trained to respond to situations like this. A terrorist attack. By a local. In our city. 

    I was not looking forward to being on duty today because it is the second anniversary. I said “it is a shitty day to be on duty”. But a friend of mine said 

    “It’s not a shitty day. It’s a day to remember what they sacrificed. To bring to light the things that need to change.”

    Words that struck me to the core. “To bring to light the things that need to change”. We all need to remember what these men and their families and friends sacrificed. And what those who are still living sacrifice every day. 

    Remember, respect, and make changes. 

    “Uhhhhh….this train has derailed….”

    This was an interesting day.

    I was sitting in my office when I heard one of my Squads (rescue units) get dispatched on a “vehicle that has been hit by train.” That was it. All the info they had. So they only sent ONE truck.

    Something didn’t sit well with me. Probably from years of experience with “WTF? This isn’t what they said!”  So I told the dispatcher to send an extrication response, which includes an engine company and 2 rescue squads. You can always cancel your resources! 

    As I got in my truck and began responding, I heard my always calm Captain arrive on the scene and say that a roll-back truck had been hit by a train. They were having to access what was left of the cab that had landed down in a small ravine. He would give a further report asap.

    Well, 5 seconds later I heard “Um….dispatch…this train has derailed”. Calm as always with a hint of “Oh shit”. (Always know your people. Hahahaha!!)

    I arrived on the scene to find a cluster of train. Two engineers literally popped up out of no where with some minor injuries. Scared the hell out of me! They told us that at least 12 cars had derailed along with the two locomotives. Their locomotive and gone airborne and done an complete 180. 

    Meanwhile my squad crew had accessed the truck driver. He was alive and only slightly injured. He was even able to self-extricate. Honestly, his truck cab literally looked a Pokemon ball. Can you imagine seeing that thing flying through the air? Bahahahaha!

    As soon as it was determined that everyone was alive and there were no hazardous railcars to deal with, we sat back and let the railroad company do their thing.  You see, I’m not a train expert. So I just got my guys out of the way and told the guy who I thought was in charge of  the 100+ railroad employees who came out of nowhere, that if he needed anything to let me know. I’d be standing around watching the show.

    There hadn’t been a train derailment in all my time in the fire service until that day. Talk about “fly by the seat of your pants”. But even “fly by the seat of your pants” has a method. A method I have developed for myself. It is as follows:

    • Slow down.
    •  Take a deep breath…or 10.
    • Get your pen and paper…if you even have a pen.
    • Use “full-court” vision… something I learned playing basketball.
    •  Triage the issues.
    •  Focus on safety.
    •  Focus on accountability. 
    • Use your resources, get them started asap, and cancel accordingly.
    • Don’t get in the way of the experts…you don’t know everything.
    • Work as a team but remember you are the boss…just don’t say that out loud to a bunch of men unless absolutely necessary. Hahaha! 

    Sometimes the list isn’t in that order. Sometimes I have to go back to “slow down and deep breath”…often. And sometimes I’ve had to say  “I’m in command, not you”…or as one guy I used to work with called it “flex my chest muscles”. (Yes, he actually called it that. Lol!) 

    These type of incidents are fun. Until you start to think about all the horrible shit that could have happened instead. Like the Ethanol Oxide tank car errupting. The truck driver or engineers needing heavy extrication or recovery. The train hitting the propane tanks that were directly down the hill below them. The train having derailed in a residential area. 

    So many hideous possibilities. 

    My main thoughts that day and still to this day are “What the fuck was the truck driver thinking?” and “Holy shit what a ride those engineers took!”. Can you imagine being those guys??  Knowing you were off the track, yet running smoothly and in the process of stopping…Only to see a track change coming???