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This issue marks the 30th anniversary of FirehouseÂ® Magazine. It only seems appropriate that we go back in time and find out how the Emergency Vehicle Operations column got started and why it has withstood the test of time. You may want to stop reading or turn the page, but wait, there are life lessons to be learned. Not that I want to grandstand or be self promoting, but rather to share these important lessons.
I was born and raised in Otisville, NY, a very small town at the base of the Catskill Mountains 77 miles northwest of New York City. When I was 18 years old, my dad ordered me to join the volunteer fire company. I had just graduated from high school and my dad made it perfectly clear that if I still wanted to live at home, becoming a volunteer firefighter was not optional. My dad was a past chief of the Otisville Volunteer Fire Department, so he felt it was in my best interest to join.
At the time, I can honestly say, I did not think much of this idea; however, given my financial status, I could not afford a place of my own, so I joined. I had a terrible time in high school, graduating by the skin of my teeth. I hated high school and saw no reason to continue the pain in college.
The second condition of keeping my happy home was to get a job. The year was 1974; inflation was out of control and jobs were difficult to come by. However, I was fortunate to get a job making industrial batteries at C and D Batteries. I am not sure what hell is like, but this place seemed to me to be hell on earth. The bell dinged at 8 A.M., you were working; the bell dinged at 10 A.M., you had 15 minutes for coffee before the bell dinged again. I received acid burns, was hit by shrapnel from exploding batteries and got lead poisoning. This place was no fun. But I had the volunteer firehouse.
I started to go to company drills and get trained, going to my first class, called â€œEssentials of Firemanship.â€ Then I went to a few fires and I was hooked. I finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Unlike many of you who wanted to be firefighters from an early age, it took me the better part of 18 years to figure it out. I remember the night when a man came to the firehouse and wanted young guys to sign up for a â€œFire Protection Technologyâ€ degree program being offered by the local community college. I had never given much thought about going to college, but then never had a subject been offered that I really liked, until now.
I worked all the overtime I could at the battery factory to make enough money to pay for college. A number of firefighters from the FDNY were going to college on the G.I. Bill, having just returned from Vietnam. We called them â€œscholars for dollarsâ€; they were great guys. The students in the fire science program were older than me, with the exception of four other volunteer firefighters who were around my age. One night, during a coffee break, one of the â€œcity guys,â€ as we referred to them, asked whether we liked firefighting and would like to do it as a career. We all agreed that this is what we wanted to do and we eventually all got on the job and became New York City firefighters.
The year was 1976, the year of the first issue of FirehouseÂ® Magazine. If you have every issue of FirehouseÂ®, as I do, you know that in 1976 it started as a publication that came out every other month. As part of going to fire college and just wanting to be a good firefighter, I subscribed to all the trade magazines. I even joined the NFPA to get its journal. Of course, I subscribed to that new kid on the block, FirehouseÂ® Magazine.
As I read all the magazines, two facts became clear to me. First, a high percentage of firefighter fatalities occurred while operating emergency vehicles; and second, no one was doing anything about it. Nobody wrote about it to any great degree, nobody talked about it and there were few pictures, if any, of apparatus accidents. The only time that any information about emergency vehicle fatalities was published occurred during the summer when the NFPA would release the previous yearâ€™s line-of-duty death statistics.