The Turn Of The Century: Then And Now

Let me begin this little story with a tip of the helmet to my good friend from Boston, retired Fire Commissioner Leo Stapleton. It is his gift for combining the real with the fictional that has made him the great author that he is. The genesis for this...


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Let me begin this little story with a tip of the helmet to my good friend from Boston, retired Fire Commissioner Leo Stapleton. It is his gift for combining the real with the fictional that has made him the great author that he is. The genesis for this work came during a conference in Atlantic City in November of last year. It's a great man who can stimulate others to think. Thanks, Leo.

The time was 2100 hours. The date was Dec. 31, 1999. The place - a fire station in a large city. As Johnny stepped into the watch room to relieve Mike on the housewatch, he passed a quick remark about what a quiet night it was for a New Year's Eve. They agreed that it was too cold to go anywhere, and that the previous day's snowstorm had worked its winter magic on the city. Many folks would pass the evening at home, snug and warm in front of their televisions.

Johnny thought it was a shame that he didn't have enough seniority to get the night off. Although he loved his job very much, he also loved his wife and their newborn son, Johnny Jr. Heck, little Johnny was just three weeks old. Boy, did Johnny love that little guy. However, it was also good to be in the fire station with the gang from Engine Company 7, Truck Company 3 and Battalion 1.

Johnny had the 2100-0200 hours housewatch that evening. As he leaned back in the worn watch desk chair listening to the newly installed gas-fired heater humming through the open basement door, he spied the August 1999 issue of Firehouse Magazine. Flipping through its pages he discovered what several different writers felt would be coming in the new century.

As he flipped through the pages of the magazine, he noted that it was nice to see that people were concerned with the future of fire safety education, fire prevention and code enforcement. Class A foam was portrayed as a mainstay in the firefighting arsenal of the future. A foam line could do so much more than a standard 13/4-inch hoseline. And what would the self-contained breathing apparatus of the future look like? How would we be fighting fire in 10 years?

As Johnny set the magazine back on the housewatch desk, he noted a dusty old ledger book off to the left side of the housewatch desk. He picked it up, blew the dust off of it and opened to the date page in front of the book. It was an old department house watch journal from 1899 to 1900. Apparently, someone had been rummaging among the old housewatch journals in the firehouse attic and had located the edition that covered the last turn of a century.

The first thing that stuck Johnny was the beautiful scrolling handwriting that graced the yellowing pages of the 100-year-old tome. They sure must have spent a great deal of time learning to master their penmanship back then. The notations in the journal were also quite interesting:

8:00 A.M. Roll Call. On duty - one captain, one lieutenant, one engineer, one assistant engineer and six firemen. 8:15 A.M. - Checked steam connections to pumper. 8:15 A.M. - Checked hose wagon. 8:30 A.M. - Horses fed and watered. 9:00 A.M. - Fireman Jones out of station for breakfast trick. 10:00 A.M. - Department veterinarian in quarters to check "Old Sweety Pie" for shin problems. 10:30 A.M. - Veterinarian left quarters, no cause for concern with "Old Sweety Pie." 11:30 A.M. - Department coal wagon in quarters to deliver one ton of coal.

And on it went during the day. It soon became apparent that the firemen lived in the station 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The only time they got to leave the firehouse was for meal "tricks" with their families.

Johnny became particularly interested in one journal entry. It read:

9:35 P.M. - Fireman Knight returned to quarters. FM Knight out of quarters for four hours for birth of baby, on orders of B/C Carter. Wife and child doing well. The baby boy was named Gerald Jr.

The next journal notation also got Johnny thinking:

10:00 P.M. - Fireman Knight on housewatch duty. Checked furnace, removed cinders and added more coal.

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