Cantankerous Wisdom: Raisin Squads & Past Chiefs

By Bill Adams

To the chagrin of some younger members, the Raisin Squads are allowed back in fire stations for morning coffee. We don’t have to wear face diapers—uh, I mean face masks—and we don’t need to have our temperatures taken. Our ranks have been thinned out over the past year and a half or however long it’s been since we’ve been banned due to the pandemic. Thinning ranks brings up another story.

Past Chiefs

We have an organization called the 3rd Battalion Past Chiefs (PC). It was started in 1986 by a couple former chiefs from the county’s 3rd Battalion, which comprises nine volunteer fire departments. They usually limit “the” chief to a two- or three-year term; some allow “retreads” after a break in service. I don’t recall any real old department chiefs—you know, the type that has continuously worn five-horns since the steering wheel was moved over to the left-hand side. We have quarterly dinner meetings where we tell each other lies and stories while sitting at our tables or standing at the adult beverage work station. Getting back to the story, the PC recently held its first meeting since this pandemic stuff started; we’re down to 90 members, having lost a half dozen in the last year.

A PC meeting is camaraderie at its best; they can be hilarious when a lot of the real old timers show up. Walking into such a PC meeting is like responding to that recurring automatic alarm at the local retirement home and there’s a bunch of white hairs milling around the lobby looking for a safe place to sit down. At a PC meeting, the safest place to sit for the old timers is a toss-up between being close to the buffet line or near the restroom.

PC or Raisin Squad Member?

At morning coffee, one guy not old enough to collect social security wanted to know the difference between a raisin and a past chief: not all PCs are raisins, and all raisins are not PCs. Raisin squad members are usually the “has beens”—the past-our-prime players who miss being active or who try to remain relevant. Most of us are no longer active firefighters and those that still claim to be obviously haven’t checked the date on their driver’s license.

Many PCs are raisins, but being so is not a prerequisite. There are some PCs—mostly those with dark hair, all their teeth, and young enough to manhandle a length of 5-inch LDH—who are still active firefighters; I call them black coats. Some have “gone through the line” again and are wearing five-horns for a second time—they’re called retreads. Consequently, the PC meeting attendees are a cross between the retreads, active blackcoats that used to be “the” chief, and older past chiefs like myself who only have our memories—fuzzy as they may be.

Overhearing conversations between active PCs and old timers, whether they’re past chiefs or just raisins, can be a laugh a minute—especially when the older guys forget their hearing aids: 

*When young PCs talk about friction loss some raisins think they’re jabbering about hearing loss.

*One PC said there’s been fewer false alarms and one geezer argued saying false teeth are still common.

*Two active PCs were talking about a declining daytime response, and a geezer overhearing it said his recliner works good day or night.

*Retreads say limited manpower can cause stress on the fireground. Raisins think stress is finding a restroom before their tanks overflow.

*Active PCs talk about apparatus and purchasing, while the older ones talk about aches and pains.

*Raisins usually take an obligatory nap on the afternoon of a PC meeting because many of us seldom stay out late.

*Years ago, fire stations smelled like smoke. Walk into one today when the Raisin Squad is having morning coffee and it smells like Ben Gay, bad breath, and someone used a lot of aftershave instead of taking a shower.

*One older PC said he hopes whatever is served at the dinner meeting is easy to chew. He said he’s heard of no-slip treadplate but hasn’t seen no-slip dentures yet.

*Actives talk about the dangers of fire in a high rise. Raisins think the only danger in a high rise is when the stairs’ steps are so high that handrails are required to help climb them.

*One raisin overheard two PCs talking about being first-in on a mutual assistance run to a neighboring district. The raisin said that has to feel as good as being first in line for the free buffet at the senior community center.

*Three PCs were having a discussion about trickle chargers and battery conditioners, and the oldest one said he didn’t realize hearing aid batteries could be conditioned—he just replaces his when he can’t hear any more.

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