Cantankerous Wisdom: the Seven Cardinal Sins

By Bill Adams

The other day I was reading about the seven cardinal sins. They’re an assemblage of traits good people of faith should not embrace. They include excessive pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. That pretty much describes the Raisin Squad at morning coffee. (The most dangerous place in the firehouse kitchen is between a white hair and a box of donuts. It can get ugly.) Cardinal means fundamental or basic. It has nothing to do with religion. The only time religion is discussed in the firehouse is when an old timer occasionally thanks the good Lord he got up on the right side of the grass. We’re always discussing “happenings” in the fire service that are downright aggravating. Harry says they’re sinful. 

I tried to steer the conversations toward apparatus design, but they kept going back to the first-due engine. Bear in mind that these geezers are talking about “stuff” they’ve seen in person and on television, heard on their scanners, read in the papers and magazines, and observed on the Internet (for the few who’ve mastered computers). I tried playing devil’s advocate, defending the first-due engine crews. It didn’t work. And, we couldn’t limit ourselves to just seven. Some include the following, with the Squad’s comments in italics: 

  • TAKING THE WRONG RIG: Why did they roll that one first? Maybe their first due is out of service. No it ain’t; I heard it respond later. Maybe it wouldn’t start. I doubt it. I think someone’s making up the rules as they go. They got a running order; they ought to follow it. 
  • NOT WAITING FOR A CREW: Did you hear that? They left with only two guys on the rig. Well, maybe they’re running light on manpower. Nope; the other rigs hit the road pretty quick. They probably got a bunch of young guys that only want to drive. What the hell are they going to do when three trucks show up with just drivers? 
  • GOING THE WRONG WAY: That’s BS. It screws everything up. I realize the chief expects apparatus to arrive in a set sequence from specific directions, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. There’s no excuse. What about a road closure or an accident blocking the street? That’s different—I’m talking about when the driver decides to go his own way or the wrong way. I expect the driver will hear about it later. Not if he’s one of the “good ole boys.
  • NOT LAYING IN: Boy – their chief was ticked off. Their pumper got there with a worker and was screaming for someone to lay them a line. Well, maybe they didn’t see anything on the way in. It don’t matter—it came in as a building fire and their SOP is for the first rig to lay in. They might have been low on manpower. It still don’t matter; the driver could’ve wrapped the plug and got back on the rig. 
  • PARK IN FRONT OF THE HOUSE: Did you see that fire on TV? The pumper parked right in front; they didn’t leave room for the ladder truck. Well, maybe there wasn’t anything showing when they got there. So what? Rules are rules. You always leave the front of the house clear for the ladder. What if they don’t have a ladder truck? Don’t split hairs. 
  • DON’T CALL FOR HELP: I listened to them on the radio. They were there for 20 minutes before calling for help. It was a daytime call; they were probably busy. They should have anticipated it. You weren’t there. It sounds like there weren’t too many firemen there either. I guess “size-up” doesn’t matter if you don’t have a lot of people. 
  • NICKEL AND DIMING MUTUAL AID: They ended up calling six mutual aid rigs—one at a time. That’s stupid. That is their choice. Well, it ain’t right. They should have run cards with so many companies responding on each alarm. People don’t use run cards anymore—it’s all computer-generated now. It don’t matter. They’re playing politics by calling their buddies. They’re calling who they like instead of who they need. It’s still their choice Harry,not yours. It’s Russian roulette.
  • PULL THE WRONG LINE: Did you see that picture? They pulled a gazillion lines, and the one on the bottom of the pile was a booster line. Maybe they didn’t have anything showing when they got here. Nothing showing? Look at the building—there’s nothing left to show now. 
  • DON’T VENTILATE: You see that fire on the Web? Yeah—it was pretty smoky. Why didn’t they ventilate? Beats me. It looks like they just got there. They should’ve ventilated. They were busy. They could’ve popped a window before they went inside. Look at the video again—there’s only two guys on the line going in the door. The driver could’ve grabbed a pike pole and popped a second-floor window before they went inside. Maybe the backup guy on the line was the driver. That ain’t right. Harry, you ain’t right either if you don’t take your meds in the morning. Any donuts left?

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.

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