Adams, Cantankerous Wisdom, Features

Cantankerous Wisdom: Making Aggregate

By Bill Adams

According to the dictionary, the noun aggregate is “a material or structure formed from a loosely compacted mass of fragments or particles.” It’s like smashing stones into small pieces. Oldtimers in the fire service have been known to make aggregate of some officers’ intimate body parts. I don’t remember if I ever did that, but I think someone told me it’s a lot of fun and very rewarding. In the stories below from the volunteer side, names and officer ranks have been changed to protect the innocent—as well as the guilty.

  • The chief was an overseer of immense proportions. Today you’d call him a micromanager. He raced to be first-in on every call. One time, the engine got there first and gave the report of, “Engine 2 on location. Nothing showing from a two-story block commercial.” Immediately, the chief radioed, “Engine 2, what do you have? The reply was classic: “Don’t know chief. I haven’t got outta the cab yet.”
  • One wishy-washy lieutenant was the type who couldn’t make a decision on his own. He was riding the front seat of the first due to a reported oven fire. A chief got there first and radioed he was on location with light smoke coming from a four-unit two-story wood condominium. The lieutenant, obviously ready to load his tights, excitedly radioed the chief “What’s your pleasure chief?” Another classic reply came back: “Just follow the SOPs.”
  • On another call, a lieutenant was waiting for a driver for the ladder truck. A white hair ran in, hopped in the driver’s seat, looked at the lieutenant and asked which way he wanted him to go. He replied, “Follow the pumper.” The geezer replied, “I didn’t see him leave—which way did HE go?” The officer came unhinged. The driver grabbed his stomach and said “Uh oh—I gotta hit the head. It must’ve been the chili. You’ll have to drive.” He jumped off the truck laughing hilariously.
  • Officers were easy pickings, although if ridden too hard, they could be discouraged from continuing to hold rank. One time, an oldtimer saw one running in so he sat in the driver’s seat with both arms straight out, stiff-armed onto the steering wheel. He stared straight ahead motionless with his eyes opened as wide as they would go. The lieutenant jumped in and said, “OK. Lets go.” The geezer remained silent and motionless. The lieutenant grabbed the driver’s arm and shook it saying, “Are you OK?” After a two second delay, the driver violently shook his head side to side and exclaimed, “Dammit, it must be the new meds.” Then he looked at the lieutenant and said “Look at my eyes. Are they focused?” The geezer laughed so hard he damn near soiled himself.
  • The classic was on a road outside of town called I’ll call Sunnyvale Lane. It was configured like the number 9, coming in off the main drag and looping around to intersect itself—which negated the SOP mandating certain rigs to approach from various directions. A new chief was running the show with a pumper and ladder already on scene. The geezer riding the seat of the next due thought he’d give the newbie a heads-up, and just before the intersection he radioed to no one in particular “Engine 3 is approaching.” The chief shot right back, “What’s your location Engine 3?” The geezer looked at the driver, smiled and radioed, “I’m at the corner of Sunnyvale and Sunnyvale.” After the rectum readjustment back at the station, the geezer told the chief “You know, if this was in-town, I would’ve said I was at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.”
  • It’s not always old guys picking on young guys. In my younger days back in the 1970s, I remember participating in a couple of reverse scenarios. A buddy and I always ended up driving, and we amicably took turns. An older guy, a real miserable individual, always wanted to drive. On a run that called for a one-rig response, I pulled out onto the apron waiting for a crew. The old guy pulled in, looked at me, glared and reluctantly got on the tailboard. My buddy pulled in, and when he approached the rig, I jumped out of the cab and loudly said to him, “It’s your turn,” and I got on the backstep. The old guy wouldn’t even say hello.
  • About a year later, I was in the station when we caught a run and I saw my same target pulling in. I laid down on the seat. When he ran to the rig and opened the driver’s door, I sat straight up and said, “Wanna go for a ride?” That man did not have a sense of humor.

You really have to be careful today if you try to pull someone’s leg. It seems like the newer guys have real short fuses and no sense of humor. If it’s a garbage cal,l and no one will get hurt, I think it’s OK to “lighten up the load” a little. You really shouldn’t mess around on a real (serious) call. Not all oldtimers make aggregate. I recall a chief much older than me saying, “When the tones drop, leave your toys at home.” The old fool was probably right.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.