Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A New Chapter Begins

To this point, this blog has been kind of a historical account of how I became passionate about firefighting. For the past month or two I have seriously been considering making some changes in my life. Big ones!

Seeing as I turnd 40 this year, some people may think this is just a mid-life crisis I am having. I don't think it is. I don't really care what other people think it is, either.

When the bug hit me like a ton of bricks earlier this year, I realized it had never really gone away. I had just locked it up for so long I had forgotten it was there. Once it broke out I realized, I can't bear the thought of ever locking it up again. This passion I have for becoming a firefighter is not going to go away. If it could have, it would have. I believe that God put his passion and desire in my heart for a reason. And it is entirely up to me to do something about it.

One thing I learned by accident this summer is that Tacoma has Firebuff Battalion. They are a volunteer organization that responds to fire department calls to offer canteen/rehab services to firefighters and rescue personnel. THey are part of a larger organization called the International Fire Buff Associates. When I learned about this I decided I had to get more information and that I would like to get involved somehow. Through the Tacoma Fire Department website I made a contact who provided me with a contact to reach this group. I contacted Cat Urbon, the current President of the Tacoma Pierce County Fire Buff Battalion. Cat was really nice to me and gave me all the information I needed through e-mails. I was all set to attend my first meeting in August. Unfortunately, my grammy passed away rather unexpectedly and I had to miss the meeting because I was out of town as a result. Cat was very understanding, as I expected she would be. My only concern was that now I had a whole month to stew over meeting everyone for the first time at the next meeting. You see, although none of my family and friends believe me, I really am shy. I find large groups to be very intimidating, especially if I know very few of the people there. When Cat realized I was anxious about this she arranged for us to meet and have lunch: Cat, her husband Bob, a friend and fellow Battalion member, Deb, and myself. This broke the ice and made things a little easier for me. I had a very enjoyable time with them, chatting about what this is all about and what it entails, how it is funded, how the firefighters truly appreciate it, etc. This just seemed like the next best thing to my original dream to me, so I am gung ho to get involved. Bob was gentle about telling me that first I had to attend three monthly meetings and submit to a background check, and then the members of the Battalion would vote me in or not. I felt a bit deflated, not because I was worried about being put to a vote, but because I want to start NOW! Patience! Patience is a virtue. Okay, whatever! Well, the wait for my first meeting is almost over, and I have so far survived! This saturday it will happen!

Continuing with the rest of the story:

During the last two months I have also considered getting out of child care and becoming a 911 operator. I really wanted to look into becoming a fire department dispatcher, but at least in our neck of the woods, that position is entirely filled by seasoned fire fighters! Oops. I can't qualify for that one. Okay, the next best thing would be 911 operator. Of course that is run through law enforcement, not the fire department. Still, I think I would do well at it. My friends and acquaintances agreed and encouraged me to go for it. Except my friend Addie who laughed and said to me, "You can't do that! You'd LAUGH at them!" (referring to stupid calls) Well, I probably would (INWARDLY) but never in the moment!

As I determined that to be my goal, I started thinking more about it. I knew in my heart it was kind of like receiving an honorable mention when you've done your very best work and had hoped for the amazing super duper top prize. I'd probably be great at it. I might really ejoy knowing that I made a difference. But it wasn't going to satisfy that need in me to be hands on, in the field, helping people and making a difference.

Recently I had "met" (and I use that term loosely)several fire fighters on-line through various avenues. A fan fiction writing site and Firefighter Nation were two of them. Firefighter Nation is a social network site intended for use by firefighters and rescue personnel. A lengthy application must be filled out to join. I was allowed to join, probably because my brother is already a firefighter but as a non firefighter my membership is subject to review and removal. I can live with that. The last thing I want ist be thought of as a pain in the a** by the very people I admire most. I also have served a firefighter's family in my job as a child care site manager for several years now. His daughter is so cute. She even had her hair cut to be like mine! These firefighters that I have chatted with have been incredibly encouraging and nice. One recommended I pursue an EMT certification. The thought had already crossed my mind. It was kind of like confirmation to me over the next week or so as I heard it a few more times from different sources.


I have officially decided to climb the ladder to live my dream. This is my mission. I intend to pursue that EMT certification. My blog will now have a dual purpose. I will continue to use it to tell stories of my passion, or just to yack about anything I feel like. I will title those posts "flashpointz -(fill in the blank)". The other purpose will be to document my climb up that ladder to reach my dreams. I will title those blogs "Report from Ladder Company 40 -(fill in the blank)" I chose this because a) this is a going to be an uphill climb. b) I am starting this adventure at 40 years old and c) the name is a take off on a great book written by a firefighter, Dennis Smith, titled "Report from Engine Company 82."
(If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it!)

My hope is that I will have many supporters subscribe to this blog to see my story. They will be able to see my struggles and my successes, my ramblings and my rantings. I hope that they will use this information to help me help myself live my dream. I need encouragement. LOTS of it. I need people who will hold me accountable. If I am supposed to drop 50 pounds, (and I am!) then I want someone to know what I am doing to reach that goal. To cheer me on or to gently admonish me when I screw up. Don't let me off easily my friends. I need you now more than ever. That is YOUR mission, should you choose to accept it.

I started my climb today. Today is day one. It is too late to document it tonight but tomorrow I will post for day one and day two. Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Beginning to Live the Dream Part 2b

Saturday, July 25, 2009. The day some of my dreams started coming true.

Jamie and I had so much fun on our quest to pick up what turned out to be Engine
10 (at least for part of it's Tacoma Fire Department career). It is really hard to say what the best part of the day was. I nearly kissed the fire engine when we first saw her! Aside from her pale color, she is a beauty! SOME of the best moments of the day were:

the looks of awe and adoration we received from children, many adults
(we literally could watch them turn their heads and stare at us as
their mouths dropped open when we drove past -I am NOT making that
up!) and even some firemen who were busy collecting for MDA in a "fill
the boot" campaign.

When we first dumped my Explorer after arrivng in Tacoma, I discovered that my son and his 16 year old girlfriend were ready to be picked up from a party they had been at. My husband had been just leaving to go pick them up. I had the evil idea to pick them up in the fire engine. They could ride in the jump seats. I knew my son would either be mortified (EVIL GRIN) or thrilled (GLEEFUL GRIN). It was a win-win for me! I was happy to discover that he was thrilled.

After picking the kids up we went to Station 2. It seems that Jamie was under the impression that there were some retired rigs stored in the basement there and he wanted to see if any of the 1970 ALF sisters might be there. When we pulled in to the rear driveway, the chief had just pulled in as well. We received a friendly reception from him and carried on a pleasant conversation, reminiscing about our childhood memories from station 8 and the firemen we knew then. He was able to tell us where some of them are now and that was pretty cool. Unfortunately station two did not house the retired rigs anymore and we were not able to see anything there.

From there we headed off to visit the fire station we grew up four houses away from, good 'ol station 8. We knew that it had been sold (sadly) to a private party who now lives in it and runs some sort of chocolate factory in it. Still we had to park in front of the former station for pictures. Jamie couldn't park it on the apron because the owner had a vehicle parked there and we didn't have permission anyway. He just pulled up in front of the station on the street and stopped for a picture. The fire engine completely blocked the view of the private car in the driveway. The picture shows me in the passenger seat!

For nostalgia's sake, we had to make a "run" down 43rd street to "M" street as we had seen and heard Engine 8 do so many times as children. To make it more authentic we needed the sound of the siren. The real siren would have been illegal to use and was missing anyway, so to appease our fantasy I vocally blasted the siren as loudly as I could. Not a bad imitation if I do say so myself!

We decided the next stop would be to see our mom. As of yet I had not driven the fire engine and my brother asked me on the way from station 8 to mom's house where I would feel most comfortable doing so. I have driven 72 passenger big yellow school buses so this was not something that would be hard for me to do, but I hadn't driven any thing that large for a number of years. My awesome brother knew I would be nervous at first so he wanted to make sure I was in a place that I would be comfortable with before I drove it. I told him a large parking lot would have been great, like the one at my church which we had driven by when we went to get the kids. He acknowledged that it would have been a great place but of course it was too late for that now. We still ahd plans for the evening that neither of us could weasle out of. We turned onto the street my mom lives on and he abruptly stopped. "Chinese Firedrill" he told me. I didn't have to be ordered twice!

I jumped into the driver's seat, he jumped into the passenger seat and I drove her the few blocks to my mom's. I remembered a certain feeling I got when Mike Stoker sat behind the wheel of Engine 51 on Emergency! and gripped that giant steering wheel. I had that same feeling again as I gripped the wheel of this nostalgic fire engine that now belongs to my brother. I savored the moment with my hands spread far apart gripping either side of that wheel. YESSSS!!! I LOVE it!!! We had called ahead and said we were coming a few minutes earlier so my step dad, Nate was standing outside in front of the house when I drove up. I thoroughly enjoyed the look on Nate's face and the surprise in his voice when I pulled up
in front of mom's. I opened the door and his eyes got wide as he recognized me and he said, "YOU'RE DRIVING IT???" He said over and over during the ensuing short visit, "I can't believe YOU'RE driving it!" Apparently it wasn't until that day that Nate realized or learned that Jamie is a firefighter largely due to my original passion for it.

After mom's house, it was time to make our evening engagements, but we still hadn't made it by Station 10 so she could feel like she was truly home. Jamie drove me home and I left for my party while he zipped off to mass. After mass he picked me back up from my party. I had made an appearance and I had warned them that I had an important errand to run in the fire engine and therefore would be running out on the party and returning again later. Being the wonderful group of people that they are, they all let me just babble and babble about my adventures. They even pretended to like it! When Jamie picked me back up in the fire engine, we of course showed it off to all who wanted to see it before heading off to station 10. I was thrilled that so many of them seemed to genuinely want to check it out and was even happier that I was able to knowledgeably answer some of their questions about the fire engine without having to refer them to my fireman brother!

When we arrived at Station 10 we parked across the street from it and walked across and knocked on the door. When Firefighters Karen and Brent greeted us we explained what we were doing there. we received a very warm welcome from both of them and they insisted that we park her ON the apron for the photos. Jamie was concerned about us being in the way if their engine was to be called out and they just said, well, yours runs! If we get a call, MOVE it! LOL The icing on the cake was that, before we left Station 10, Firefighter Karen ran back into the station and came out with a small gift which she presented to my brother as she thanked him for bringing the fire engine by. (Yes, THEY thanked US and they were the ones who did US the favor!) These two firefighters were not around when Jamie's fire engine was in service in Tacoma!

It was an absolute thrill driving through Tacoma that day, seeing our
reflection in windows on building fronts. Jamie and I would seemingly
take turns pointing wildly and saying "That's US!!"

Quite honestly I can only describe it as having the excitement
that a 7 year old little boy would have on his first tour of a
fire station, only it lasted all weekend, and still continues to thrill
the hell out of me! And the very, very, VERY best part is that MY
BROTHER is living HIS dream, and that I had a large influence on him in chasing that dream, and he continues sharing it with me so that I
can live MY dream too.

Words truly don't do justice to what a special day this was and what a
special time I got to share with the brother that I love more than I
can possible say. Not only is he my hero for the way he lives his
life -honestly, fairly, compassionately, etc., for the way he loves his family and
especially his wife, for serving the greater good with his two career
choices, for understanding and accepting me completely for who I am (and giving me affirmation) even when most people think I am certifiable, but also for what a loving and caring brother he is and how humble and modest he is about all of it.

I cannot belive how much I have already lived in this lifetime! I am
SO lucky.

This happened in the end of July. I spent four days with my brother in Washougal at his fire station/home in mid August. I also spent another five days towards the end of August. During this time, my wonderful brother got me authorized to ride along during my entire visit. Of course in the nine days I was authorized (combined)
my brother did not get ONE call!!! I think the residents of East County Fire and Rescue owe me some kind of insurance premiums or something!! The night of the day I went home my brother had three calls in a row! All were non-event calls as he called them, but I would have had the opportunity to ride with lights and sirens had I been there! One major hilight of my visits was going to drill with my brother. It was not an exciting drill night. It was the scheduled "meeting" type where all they did was talk about stuff. It was kind of interesting but not exciting. However, the firefighters I met were awesome. Jamie introduced me to a female firefighter who's day job is as a major airline pilot! VERY COOL. One firefighter in particular made me feel very welcome. I think his name was Chris. The chief was awesome! He made sure to add my name in when he listed rig assignments on the board. I have picture proof documentation of the list on the white board where the chief officially assigned me to Squad 96! (and he even spelled Myers right!!)

During my Washougal visits I got to drive my brother's personal fire engine for the better part of an hour! That was SO fun. He even took photos of me from the passenger seat while I drove, and a small video. I also got to try on SCBA gear and feel and see first hand how it works. And he showed me how the pump operates on his squad. And I got to see how to fill the water tank and he let me do it.

I slept in a fire station, I cooked in a fire station, I cleaned a fire station. I lived in the fire station!!! I changed baby diapers in a fire station!! I sent out a page to the entire department! Oh the list of cool little things I did just went on and on. I even went on a date with an awesome fireman. Ssshhh! Don't tell my husband! (LOL) For those of you who might be worried about that, don't be. We had a chaperone. My brother was a perfect gentleman and our chaperone is the most awesome and amazing woman I know and a wonderful sister-in-law!

There! Now you have the prequel to the story that this blog will be telling from now on. I will explain in the next post! Thanks for reading.

Beginning to Live the Dream Part 2a

When Jamie decided to buy the former TFD fire engine, I of course volunteered to help with logistics. The fire engine was located on Whidbey Island. We made a plan for him to ride the train from the Portland area to Tacoma on a friday night. I was to pick him up at the train station and he and I would go pick up the baby bright and early Saturday morning. Both of us had plans for the late afternoon/evening that we could not gracefully bow out of, even for something as monumental as this!

When Jamie arrived on Friday evening I was there to greet him at the train station. Anticipation was making me jittery. I was SO excited a) to be seeing my brother, whom I don't spend nearly enough time with, and b) knowing that this was the beginning of a great adventure! As soon as I spotted him I called out, "There he is! How is my favorite fireman?" I wanted the whole world to know how excited I was to see him and how proud I am of him for what he does. We embraced in a giant bear hug and then without further adieu headed for my car.

We arrived at my house a very short time later, having made plans to go out to dinner. My husband declined going because he didn't want to miss his favorite routine of settling in for the weekend, watching wrestling and enjoying an ice cold beer. (Definitely NOT my thing, but hey, he likes wrestling and I like all things firefighting!) No problem.

We had already decided where we were going: the infamous Engine House 9! This is an OLD fire station converted into a bar and grill. It is filled with firefighting paraphernalia and is somewhere I have wanted to check out since I was 13! Jamie has wanted to for just as long so after 27 years of "wanting to see it" we finally did!

Our fine city was suffering an almost unbearably hot spell that August and I am guessing that is the reason that the place was fairly quiet. We were told it was usually a pretty busy and "hopping" place, especially on friday nights but there were only 3-5 small groups of people there when we arrived near 8pm.

The first thing we wanted to do, of course, was explore. The staff there were very obliging and encouraged us to look around and take our time. They allowed us to go upstairs to a section that was currently closed. Upstairs we took pictures of me haninging onto the pole, as if I was about to slide down. Too bad the stove pipe from the level below was only a foot or two away from it! We took a few other pictures then headed down to order some chow.

We chose a seat outside in front of the place and we both ordered the mushroom swiss burger and substituted onion rings for fries. Neither was all that surprised that we found the same things to be appealing. We enjoyed a delicious, ample meal at a reasonable price and lots of good time chatting and catching up and gushing about our excitement over the new fire engine. Our waitress actually sat at our table with us and encouraged us to tell her all about the adventure we were about to embark on. She at least pretended (convincingly) that she was interested and asked us to be sure and bring the engine by sometime. We were having such a wonderful time that the time passed very quickly. It was much too late when I dropped Jamie off at his in-laws house for the night. The plan was to pick him up bright and early in the morning and head out to Whidbey Island. On the ride home, it suddenly hit me! I felt heartbroken for a moment, but tried to get over it. You see, I had suddenly realized that I was going to help Jamie pick up this very special fire engine. YAY! But... when we picked her up, I would have to drive my own truck home! I wasn't going to ride home in the fire engine!! We discussed this fact for a bit and tried to figure out who we could convince to go with us to drive mine home, but it wasn't to be. SIGH, Sniff, sniff! It was much too late when I dropped Jamie off at his in-laws house for the night. The plan was to pick him up bright and early in the morning and head out to Whidbey Island.

When I got home I was so wound up that I could barely sleep! I could hardly contain myself, I was so excited. I felt like a little kid! Finally I managed to sleep somehow and I woke up completely amped up for the day. On my way to pick up Jamie I stopped for Starbucks goodies for both of us.

We had a good time on the ride to the ferry and enjoyed chatting with each other about what ever it was we chatted about. While waiting for the ferry we walked the dock, took pictures, etc. When we finally boarded the ferry we took pictures of me by a "fire station" on the ferry and sent it via telephone to my best friend. When we arrived at Whidbey Island a short time later, we had to meet the seller in town. We located him and followed him the short distance to his property.

As soon as we saw the first glimpse of the engine, I took a picture from the passenger seat of my moving Ford Explorer. Both of us cannot stop thinking about how nuts this is that Jamie is buying a fire engine and that I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. We are nuts! We are nuts! We are nuts!

We drove back quite a way towards it before coming to a stop. Jamie tried to be non-chalont as he sauntered up to her, but I nearly kissed that beautiful old girl! (Nearly!!)

Jamie and I climbed in and on it, walked all the way around it, looked in the compartments and commented on some of the missing features (we were not expecting it to be complete, of course!). We did all this as Jamie explained to the seller the significance of this particular fire engine to us.

Here is how Jamie described it in his blog:

I've been holding a slight hope that it was my 'home' rig, Engine 8, but we quickly spot the '10' on the back. That's cool, it is still one of the eight sisters, and 10 is a busy house adjacent to 8's first-due that shares nearly all its fires with 8, as 8 often did with 10. She was missing her Q siren and all of her original warning lights, only a slightly modernized roof warning beacon remained. She was missing several of her intake and discharge caps as well as her Stang water cannon. A couple of rolls of hose were all she had for equipment, hosebed and ladder rack bare bones empty. But that can all be fixed later.... this is one of the eight sisters.

Jamie was ready to buy it, but the seller refused his money until we took her for a spin.

When Jamie started that engine, with the two of us sitting in the cab, a sense of excitment and familiarity came over both of us so strongly that we both had to comment on it. (Excitement is WAY to bland of a word but I don't know what else to use!) Immediately I reached for the cord to the air horn. BOY did it sound sick!! Oh well. I honked it again.

Again, Jamie's point of view from his blog:

Then, he started her up.

Oh.... that SOUND! I remember it well, and a lot of memories came right back. Hearing that old familiar Detroit Diesel roar to life was.... well... amazing. Inside I am all... 'Yessss!'

I also was all... "Yessssssss!!!"

Then Jamie put it in gear and stepped on the gas! Oh that wonderful sound! So nostalgic and romantic! We took her for a spin to appease the seller, came back and handed over the big bucks. It was completely painless for me because I wasn't the one shelling out, but I gladly would have if I could have!!

After politely chatting for a lot longer than either of us had wanted to, we started the journey back. Our first stop was at a hardware store. It was necessary to purchase some plain white contact paper to cover the markings she still bore from the last agency she worked for, Grant County Fire District #13. We covered the markings on the door and the unit ID markings in various places. I used a permanent marker to clearly mark the engine as NOT IN SERVICE. Jamie was conscientious of the fact that if we happened to pass an accident or other emergency situation, the general public would not be amused to see a fire engine roll by and KEEP GOING! They would not notice the fact that it was devoid of hoses, missing parts, etc. He also covered the now-invalid Washington State "Aid Car License" in the windshield and the warning light on the roof.

Here is Jamie's take on it from his blog:

"You see, I had no interest whatsoever in being waved down by someone in distress. I anticipated having no equipment, and although it turned out to have a little bit of hose aboard, a pneumatic actuator was not functioning and she would not go into pump gear, nor was a nozzle to be had. I admit I did bring my turnout gear and a very nice first-aid/trauma jump kit, but I hoped to not need it. I deliberately avoided wearing anything that would made me look even remotely like a firefighter on or off duty."

Several men, mostly older, stopped to admire my brother's new toy. They were aware it was a toy and not a service rig, but they were envious, you could tell from the look in their eyes and the conversations that were carried on while we got her ready to travel. Jamie was cool and invited the men to look, touch, feel and climb on, if the liked.

Again, Jamie's point of view:

I think we talked to five people in the parking lot of this small hardware store on Whidbey island who stopped to look at her, realizing it was a privately-owned toy. Mostly older guys. Yeah, they had boats and stuff... but you could tell they suddenly (if only temporarily) had Fire Engine Envy. This continued all day.

We also had to fuel up the sadly yellow/green but formerly BRT (fireman speak for Big Red Truck!). It seems one of it's former Fire Department owners was well intentioned but misguided and painted over her beautiful red body with that embarrassing yellow/green stuff! Poor baby!

At the ferry terminal, we both thought, after he had already paid for the fire engine and lined up, that I would not make this same run. We were both sweating that one privately from our own vehicles but finally I was able to go to. Jamie forgot to pay my ferry fee because he was so excited but I didn't mind. Lucky for us both that I had my Visa card on me!!

Once on the ferry, he got out to look for me, as we were not in the same line in our vehicles. I got out and headed straight for the fire engine, even though I knew he was looking for me. I marvelled at what other passengers must have thought. The guy in front of me watched me get out, walk past his car and another and approach the fire engine. Then, as if I owned it, I opened the passenger door and climbed in. I wish I knew what he must have been thinking!! He had no way of knowing that I belonged there, sort of. When Jamie and I connected (cell phones are wonderful inventions) he knew I was having a little bit of a hard time. As he wrote:

"Sister had the roughest time... she wanted to be in the fire engine, not following. Darn all the luck, I swear she would have sold that Ford Explorer to the first person that offered $100 just so she could ride back in the engine, but no one came forward in time."

How RIGHT you are, Bro!

I will again print Jamie's words to describe wht happened next:

"The ride back to Tacoma was uneventful, except for the part where I spoke inside the cab while approaching the Tacoma Dome on I-5 as if old Engine 10 could hear me.

"Welcome home, baby. Welcome home".
*Note, we knew from visible marking under a thin layer of silver paint that this rig had at one time served as Engine 10 while in Tacoma.

As soon as we got it back in town we dumped my car and had lots of adventures in the fire engine.

I have to get ready for work and this is already a long post that I am not finished with, so... I will post "Beginning to Live the Dream Part 2b" later.