Know Your Enemy #36

When a person writes in our profession, he or she assumes an air of infallibility and wisdom.

Really Dumb Things I Have Done

When a person writes in our profession, he or she assumes an air of infallibility and wisdom. T'aint necessarily so. I cannot speak for others, but I must confess to several really dumb actions that I hope none of you will emulate.

To Begin.

As commander of the Seagoing Mobile Unit of the Norfolk Navy Base FD in 1946 I was running a fire in a freighter which the Coast Guard had escorted into the harbor and anchored. Then it was ours.

Among other things there were many drums of calcium carbide broken open, and the wet carbide was generating acetylene gas which was burning.

Fire Lt. Fuzzy Fulgham and I exchanged looks and said, "lets go". We picked up the first burning drum, put it on a greased plank and pushed it up from the "tween decks"(a half deck immediately below the weather deck) to the weather deck where others pushed it over the side. Some of the drums exploded mildly and the Coast Guard had fun sinking them with machine gun fire.

I had not the vaguest idea of what would happen when we moved that drum.


I was home on leave from Panama in NYC visiting at 65 Engine in midtown Manhattan. After I left the house and went to the corner, the gong sounded which notified the traffic cop that the company was rolling.

I ran back to the house as the pumper was crossing the sidewalk. I jumped for the back step of the hose wagon. The chauffeur did not know I was running down the street hanging on. Fortunately there was a firefighter on the back step who helped me up or I would have been seriously injured if not killed if I had let go.


In Panama, I commanded The Navy Firefighting School whose staff was also the Seagoing Mobile Firefighting Unit. We received orders to secure (make safe) a Navy Liberty Ship converted to a sort of a tanker that was leaking like a sieve.

Navy Lt. Jim Allen (Lt. of Truck 6, FDNY, later in DC) was the District Ship Inspector and came along for the ride with the understanding that it was my operation. I was putting on SCBA to go down into the pump room when Jim, with the typical FDNY bravado of the time said, "What do you need THAT for."

Foolishly I dropped it and we went into the pump room where gasoline was dripping from the overhead into a pool below the floor grates. I had our entire stock of powder foam (20 cans) to blanket the pool. (The early liquid foam dissipated too fast to be an effective blanket). I had my crew dump a half-bucket at a time, into the hopper to economically blanket the pool with just two cans.

We could have died heroically down there but the Good Lord is said to look after drunks and idiots.


The Bureau of Standards (now NIST) was doing tests for the Veterans Administration to develop mattresses, which would not ignite from a cigarette. I was visiting. They had a mattress on a short cart, too big to fit into the hood. It was smoldering and smoking up the lab. They decided to roll the cart into the elevator and take it down to the first floor to get it outside. I helped push the cart. It might have blazed up in the elevator and killed us "dedicated Scientists".

The Bus That Wouldn't Back Up.

In the following case I was embarrassed but there was no potential for real damage. The lesson learned, be very sure of where you are going before you start off.

The Norfolk Firefighting School was called to assist on a serious fire in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which is actually located in Portsmouth, VA. (This clever stratagem fooled the enemy completely, as evidenced by the fact that the shipyard was never bombed).

I was an Officer Instructor. The CO, Commander Ed Gaughan (later Deputy Chief of the Boston FD) put me in charge of a group of firefighters "responding" in our antique bus which could not reverse. We got to the Elizabeth River Ferry. The deckhand demanded tickets. After an argument he reluctantly let us on.

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