Cantankerous Wisdom: Crucify the Driver

By Bill Adams

Every now and then, one of the Raisin Squad members tries to impress the crew at morning coffee by showing videos on his cell phone (NOT the flip-type like mine). There are many excellent Web sites that show clips of working fires. They should be used as training videos for active firefighters. Of particular interest to Squad members who remember their reading glasses are the prearrival videos showing the first rigs pulling in. There’s more action for them to view and to question. White hairs relish the opportunity to pass judgement, criticize, and nitpick. We are experts in second guessing career- as well as volunteer-staffed fire departments. All are disparaged equally. Although it isn’t right, it’s easy to do. We’re all guilty of doing it but we rarely admit so in public. 

One video showed the driver of a first arriving engine company doing a super terrific job. In my opinion, he was a first-class operator doing everything he was supposed to do and more. When passing judgement during coffee, my comments were all pro driver. Naturally, the other geezers were anti driver. That’s the way it is at coffee. When you’re for something, the rest of the mob is against it. To keep the regionally orientated happy, in some locales the driver can be called a chauffeur, apparatus operator .or engineer. Regardless of what this dude’s moniker is, the white hairs immediately started persecuting him because he wasn’t wearing his full rubber goods—also called turnout gear by most black coats and personal protective equipment (PPE) by those aspiring for higher rank. And once the white hairs turn on you, they’ll ride you like a rented mule. Their comments are in italics.

They didn’t care if this rig was coming back from a call or what that department’s protocol is for wearing rubber goods in the cab. And, Lord only knows when the fire department was called or how long of a travel distance it had. There were three firefighters on board, and they had a two-story wood frame with heavy smoke showing from top to bottom. The driver chocked the wheels as soon as he exited the cab. Before he was done it was, “Where’s his gear?” “It took him long enough to get there.” When the crew pulled a rear preconnect and made the stretch, the driver checked the bed to make sure all the line was pulled. He helped flake it out before charging it. “What’s he doing that for? He could’ve charged it sooner.” 

After charging it, he removed a couple kinks while the attack crew donned their face pieces, helmets, and gloves and started forcing entry at a first-floor door. “Not his job removing kinks—he should’ve flaked it out better the first time.” He glanced up and down the street, obviously looking for a plug, then made three back stretches from the LDH bed, pulling about 50 feet of line each time. “He shoulda laid in.” I said maybe that’s not that department’s procedure. “It still ain’t right.” Before finishing, he glanced back at the door the crew was entering. Then he grabbed a pike pole and popped out a couple second floor windows. “He’s a pump operator not an outside vent man.”

When he was heading back to the rig, you could see him saying something into his portable’s mic. He dashed back and fed the attack line hose into the entry doorway. It was obvious the crew was heading to the second floor and needed a helping hand. Then back to the rig where he removed a roof ladder and threw it level to the bottom sill of a second-floor window. “He’s trying to be a hero.” It got better. He went back to the rig and started pulling another preconnect—probably for a backup. The clip ended there. “How come he didn’t finish dragging the supply line to the plug?” “Well, who the hell did he think was gonna man that second line?” “Where’s their ladder truck?” “He shouldn’t be doing all that work without his gear on.”

Half of those old fools didn’t give a damn how much work that driver did or how fast he did it. He didn’t have his rubber goods on so whatever he did after getting out of the cab wasn’t going to be right either. That’s not right. But then again, the Raisin Squad isn’t right—especially if they forgot to take their meds before heading out for morning coffee.

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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