Where have all the fires gone?

I slung my bottle around and deposited it on the floor of the cab with a disappointed thunk.

Yet another box alarm that turned out to be nothing. A heavy sigh escaped me as I slowly unsnapped my coat and climbed up to the hosebed. I mean, I’m still learning (and still bright-eyed and eager to actually do this job), so I have no problem drilling or trying to absorb something useful from every call we run—but it’s no wonder that people on this job start to get complacent.

How am I supposed to become adept at fighting fires if I never get any practice?

I usually make it a point to ask the more senior members I come across what our city was like when it still burned. When you could run a good working fire as frequently as every few tours, if not more often. When Trinidad was the kind of neighborhood that only lives in stories now, and the guys on the engine didn’t even want to drive through there in full daylight.

We just don’t burn like we used to, say the old salts—they opine that nobody does anymore.

New York City? Nah, not really.

Detroit? Okay, maybe. West Baltimore, perhaps.

They scratch their chins and stare off into the distance, fondly remembering when being a firefighter was about fighting fires. “All these medical locals be damned!” they declare. “We’re not the Big Red Ambulance! Times were better back when…”

I will, unfortunately, never know those times. I can only listen to the stories, and dream of being a firefighter in the generations before me. I knew that this job wouldn’t be like Dennis Smith’s Report From Engine Company 82, or Tom Downey’s The Last Men Out: Life on the Edge at Rescue 2.

But I still dream, and often the words from those dog-eared pages leap into my head at night. They rush right back out, however, as we run our first medical local within minutes of my arrival at work.

Stethoscopes and saline bags get more of a daily workout than helmets and halligan bars.

Any fire this city does have, however, doesn’t seem to be coming my way. Even shortly after I graduated from the Academy, I kept missing a room-and-contents here, a rear porch off there. I suppose it’s just my brain attaching significance to unrelated, unfortunately-coincidental events, but it’s disappointing nonetheless (I know that there’s an eponymous Law that describes this perfectly, but I can’t seem to remember it.)

July 8th, 2009: When I was still mentoring at E15, I was relieved one morning just two hours before the guys went to this.

July 30th, 2009: My mentor kept me at 15 for a few extra weeks; this, in turn, caused me to miss this multiple alarm (had I been on my current shift at E26, I would have been on that fire).

Last tour, I climbed into the back of 26 in the morning to relieve the lineman, and it smelled just… wonderful. The day before, they had been second due to this.


I’m sick of writing about medical calls. Sure, they make for good copy—moments in the back of the ambulance can be touching, funny, heart-wrenching, or absurd. But I long for the day when I can sit down at this screen and crack my knuckles excitedly, knowing not where I shall begin. Trembling with excitement, I’ll lower a shaky coffee cup and put fingers to keys.

“My First Fire!”

No, no, no… too Play-Skool-esque. It must be… cool. Unique, and… and… I don’t know. [furiously hammers the Delete key]

I’ll wrack my brain for hours, typing and re-typing until it has just that right feel to it—and yet I probably still won’t like it. It’s been built-up and over-hyped for so long.

Damn it all, I spend the majority of 192 hours per month in the back of a fire engine… and yet I have no serious digital ink to lay down about firefighting. Expressions of my recent hot-headed frustrations were met with a soothing word from a more experienced, fire-savvy friend:

“Relax, playboy. It will come.”

But when?


  • Joshua says:

    Soon, I understand your frustration – things don’t burn as often but they burn hotter when they do I am told from some older jakes. Keep plugging away at those medical runs, they are the price for getting some salt on that helmet eventually. Love the blog, post more often please!

  • JV says:

    I feel your frustration, especially since I work in a suburban dept where the fires are less numerous and always seem to land on the other shift. Some guys have the luck to catch every fire, and some miss them all. The best advice I can give is to accept that they will come when they come, and there is nothing you can do about it. On the plus side, you will be less likely to die of cancer before you can retire.

  • Doc1490 says:

    I certainly sympathize with you, but from an entirely different perspective. Just as you long for a good fire and bemoan the medical calls you and yours run, I cannot wait for the anaphylactic reaction or acute CHF exacerbation. When the tones drop for another AFA, I sigh and think “When will that rollover MVA or imminent delivery call come again?”

    I think that this, more than anything, demonstrates why our professions (EMS and fire service) have been forced into an awkward marriage that desperately needs a divorce. We both are good at are own areas of expertiece, but I think that our attitudes truly demonstrate why we shouldn’t be mixing our professions.

  • Fire Critic says:

    It will happen. Then again. Then again.

    We have a young guy on the job 3 years I think and he has yet to catch one. Not very likely in our City, but it happens.

  • Chewy says:

    Your mentor sucks for keeping you that extra time causing you to miss the second alarm…. (but what about the garage fire off 14th St in the alley? It was better than nothing!)

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