Tuesday, December 25, 2012


17 1/2 years ago I became a fireman. I can't say that it was initially a "calling" because in the area I lived in, volunteer firefighters were the only type of firefights we had and to be one just seemed like the coolest thing that a person could do. I wanted to be cool, and thus my initial interest into the fire service. However, what I soon learned after becoming a fireman was that the fire service was not just a cool thing to be a part of, but was now my new family with over 100,000 "brothers and sisters" nationwide who would always be there for me and my real family at a moments notice. These people would not only have my back covered in the heat of a fire, but in every other aspect of life when asked to lend a hand. The friendships made in the fire service transcend all other friendships that one can make in life. Unfortunately, it also comes with its share of heartbreak and loss.
  I lost my health to the fire service. Though not able to be 100% proven, my illness most likely arose or from my work in fire/rescue, and although I can say it with a fairly good degree of certainty, I have absolutely no bitterness and would not change a thing. The fire department gave me a home when I needed one, a family when I  could not call upon my own, and gave my wife and I another thing to have in common when she joined the fire service 7 years ago. I had numerous ears to listen anytime I needed to talk, and had a great crew that could always make you laugh no matter what was happening around you. 
  Unfortunately, because of my MS diagnosis and the symptoms that affect me currently, I had to retire from the service after almost 17 years of service. I always thought that I would fight fire and be a paramedic until I died in a fire, but apparently life had different plans for me. These plans would make the road ahead of me a difficult one, but also just as rewarding. Of course, it does allow me to spend more time with my real family, but it does kill me every time I hear a siren or see an engine going to a fire and my entire being wishes that I could be on that truck with them going to it. 
  Now in retirement I have learned a few things relating to my fire career. I learned that no matter how long you have done a job, once you retire you forget some of the basic things from that job. For instance, I have a burn barrel at my house. In this barrel I usually burn tree branches and random brush from around my property. Usually I add a small amount of gasoline as the accelerant to get the fire going and then let the brush keep it going until it all ends up as ashes. 
   Well, one day a month or so ago, I decide that I should light the barrel since it was filled to capacity and needed to be burned so that I could add more debris to it. On this day however, it had been sprinkling so everything in the barrel was a little bit damp. Figuring that the accelerant that I would be using (89 octane) would still ignite no matter how damp everything inside the barrel was, I began pouring a little bit onto the debris in the barrel. At is point I notice that I have no more matches. Perhaps I could use my cigarette to hit the flash point and reach ignition. So I take a few drags from my Marlboro making sure that the "cherry" is nice and hot and toss it into the barrel. Absolutely nothing happens. I wait a few moments seeing if the vapors will ignite, but nothing. Since I have no matches, I find a piece of paper and ignite a corner of it. Once I get a small flame I throw it into the barrel. Immediately the flame dies down and a smoldering little piece of paper is all that I see. Again giving the smoldering paper a little time to hit the ignition point, nothing happens and the paper goes out completely. Getting a little frustrated, I decide that I shall just use my lighter. It makes fire, fire ignites gasoline, gasoline soaks debris, and debris burns to ashes which is my ultimate goal here. So I flick my Bic a couple of times before getting flame. With that achieved, I bring my lighter closer to the barrel and the debris that I wish to render ashen. 
   At this point a normal fireman would remember that the vapors of gasoline have a very low flash point and usually the combustion is rather large and powerful when in such close proximity. My retirement brain seems to have filed this under "no longer pertinent information" as I move closer to the barrel. Within a second of my hand touching the barrel, the gasoline vapors ignite and a rather large fireball shoot out of the barrel. The force of this fireball blows me back about 4 feet from where I was initially standing and at the same time I begin to hear the sound of hair popping and smell it burning. As I lay on the cold ground, I start patting the left side of my face trying to extinguish any remaining flames that seemed to have attached themselves to my beard and head. It now feels as though I no longer have my beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, nose hairs, mustache, goatee, or the long grey hairs that were attached to the side of my head. At this point I also noticed the look of absolute horror on my wife's face from where she was watching on the front porch turn into absolute hysterical laughter. I on the other hand feel like Michael Jackson filming a Pepsi commercial. 
  Once I pick myself up off of the ground, and take a look at the roaring fire in my burn barrel, I walk myself over to the porch and ask my wife to assess the damage. At this time I am still unable to understand what she is saying because she is unable to catch her breath and remain standing with how hard she is laughing at me. On the good side I am now able to see her laughing with both eyes since the flashpoint that blinded my left eye initially has subsided. Unfortunately, the smell of burning hair and partially singed flesh is still rather over powering. As is the laughter coming from the mouth of my loving wife. The burning in my left hand, arm and left side of my face is also becoming more noticeable by me as well now. At this point I too begin laughing realizing the stupidity of what I just did and that fact that 2 years ago when I was still a fireman I never would have done something do stupid. Most importantly though, I seek out a mirror to see how funny I look now.
  No left eyelash. Half a left eyebrow. No more grey hairs on the left side of my head, and shortened hair everywhere else on the left side of my head which is good since I was long overdue for a hair cut anyway, and this was much cheaper than Hair Cuttery. Left side of my mustache is noticeably shorter as is my goatee. Beard on the left side is pretty much gone, which is good since the wife has been hounding me to shave it off anyway. I have a "sunburn" pretty much across the left side of my face resembling Two Face from the Batman comics. Overall though, a pretty humorous experience.
   So, in short, when you retire from your given profession, plan on losing all knowledge that you gained in your career and doing stupid things that you normally would know not to do. But, when you do something stupid, make sure that you have someone around to watch because apparently it will be the funniest thing they will have ever seen in their life and they promise to never let you live it down. Personally, I think I will have to do it again soon as the right side is now in need of some attention. Yet again, this is just life....or something like it.

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