Hot stuff, hard work and helping out
I was outside in the cold the other day when I was looking around and noticed I was standing in the middle of a street in downtown Punxsy with a firefighter's boot in my hand, asking for motorists to stop their vehicles and put money into it.
Rewind to how this all began, and how I became involved with area firefighters.
For those of you who aren't aware, I was given an invitation about seven years ago to help the Punxsutawney Fire Department by being their photographer.
There were several members who asked me if I'd be interested, an invitation I at first declined.
Giving it a second thought, I realized that this would be an opportunity to photograph emergency scenes up close as a reporter for The Spirit and to help the fire department at the same time.
So, I said OK, with many reservations.
I did realize an immediate benefit — that I would have an excellent parking space for the Groundhog Festival every summer.
I decided to think back to my childhood, when all of my heroes were on the radio, since I'm a radio guy.
Then, I remembered that I used to get pretty excited about the Parma Fire Department of Parma, Ohio, where I grew up, and seeing their trucks go whizzing by on their way to a fire or some other emergency.
So, OK, maybe I always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up, but I missed the call because I never grew up.
After I was sworn in, I joined the station where my oldest son, Joe, was already a firefighter: Station 20 Central Fire Department.
However, it could have been the other two — Station 40 Lindsey Fire Company or Station 30 Elk Run Volunteer Fire Company.
Several firefighters at Lindsey were upset that I didn't join their station (they must have been kidding).
I never heard it said by anyone at Elk Run that they were upset that I didn't join there.
Eventually, I was given fire gear to wear at fire and accident scenes, and then, I was ready to begin with the idea of attending the many hours of training.
In the meantime, the fire department purchased a camera for me to use and a fire pager that goes everywhere for when we get a call, no matter where I'm at, which delights my wife to no end.
Then, finally, one day it happened: a fire up on Cherry Street, the first time I put on the turnout gear and attempted to walk up the hill from North Findley Street huffing and puffing, my feet hurting and feeling like I was wearing body armor.
So, I learned my first lesson in the fire department: that the equipment weighs a ton, and I wasn't even wearing an air pack!
Later on, after the fire, there's much work to be done. The truck needs to have all the used hose taken off and replaced with clean hose while someone works under the floor of the cab to reconnect the clean hose, which can take up to an hour or longer.
Then the trucks need washed so they'll be nice and shiny for the next emergency.
And this is fun? Actually, it's not; it's a lot of work.
I learned that right off the bat, that there's no fun part.
Firefighters joke around a lot, but all of that is out the window when they're working at the scene of an accident or a fire.
My wife has gotten used to listening to the fire pager on the Jefferson County fire emergency frequency 24/7.
This may be the hardest part of all: you're asleep in a nice, cozy, warm bed in the middle of the night when you hear a call on the pager for which you may not return from for the rest of the night.
One example was the Punxsy Hotel fire two years ago, when the call of smoke showing at about 2:45 a.m. came across. That call lasted until about 3 p.m. the next day.
During the work day, there are many employers who allow firefighters to respond to an emergency while they are supposed to be working. An emergency call comes in, and some gracious supervisors and business
owners allow that employee off work to go to an emergency scene during the day when many members are working out of town.
Do I worry about my firefighting son when he's inside of a burning building while I stand outside taking pictures for The Spirit and the fire department?
Sometimes I do, but usually I'm so busy I kind of forget where he's at during the craziness of a fire or accident scene.
You're probably wondering what I have learned in these past six years.
Actually, quite a bit. I've learned that firefighting is one of the most dangerous jobs ever, especially when you come face to face with a fire like the inferno that I witnessed when I arrived at the scene of the fire that occurred on Pine Street and Cranberry Alley several weeks ago.
I've also learned that taking all of your five-inch hose (the great big yellow hose that connects to the hydrant), which may be a long way away, is not a good thing.
One time, we were assisting another fire department at a fire and we needed to hook up to a hydrant, which may have been a half a mile from the fire scene — or seemed like it was.
When the fire was out, then came the fun when we started to roll it up and load it back on the truck.
With that job complete, I was happier than my dogs to see a fire hydrant.
After we were done and I caught my breath with that, there was more five-inch hose to be put on our rescue engine, sheesh!! It never ends.
I didn't recall any of this when I was kid chasing fire trucks back in my Parma days.
One day at the fire hall, when an older firefighter said he thought he was a "has-been," I laughed and said that I joined as a has-been.
I definitely have a new respect for those men and women who fight fires.
Taking pictures has allowed me to witness the destruction that a fire or accident can do to someone's home, business or vehicle.
Someone asked me how long I would stay in this fire photographer gig? Probably until they tell me otherwise; besides, I finally got some bunker pants that fit me, so I think I'll be around as long as those last.
By the way, I still think firefighters are hot stuff.
Oh, I've gotta go, I think I just heard the fire whistle.
Larry McGuire is a reporter for The Spirit when he's not assisting at fire scenes.