April 12, 2007


Caption: Admit it, you want to ride it.

The guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope is a fond look back at El Cabrero's short and inglorious adventures in the local volunteer fire department. Many other topics will be covered.

If this is your first visit, please scroll down to earlier entries.

After completing various kinds of training came actual practice in the real world. I’ll never forget the first time I responded to a call that was announced over our pagers as a possible structure fire, a fortunately fairly rare animal.

The call came in the middle of the night and I was half asleep, very nervous, and very green. It was intimidating to think that some people’s lives and most beloved possessions were at risk and I could screw it up.

I remember trying to pull on the pants of my turnout gear, a process somewhat hindered by the presence of my suspenders (and, yes, they are red and they do in fact hold up our pants) between my legs. I made a quick note to self that this was not a good idea and managed not to repeat it.

The call turned out to be a downed power line instead of a house fire. This was a welcome letdown, although power line calls are about as popular with firefighters as mosquitoes or ticks.

Although I live so far out in the country that the engines usually rolled by the time I found my shoes, I was able to run a fair number of calls over the next few years, experiencing a range of situations such as, floods, brush fires, floods, auto accidents, medical calls, dangerous conditions, floods, and the occasional structure fire.

Did I mention floods? We get lots of floods.

Although I am most emphatically not God’s gift to firefighting, I learned that mechanical idiocy is not necessarily a hindrance. To paraphrase John Milton, they also serve who only have all thumbs. I found that in any emergency, there is usually stuff to carry, traffic to stop, or hoses to roll while the mechanically apt take care of other business.

Probably the most dangerous duty I did was working at some of our bingo fundraisers. People where I live take bingo pretty seriously, plus the air was smokier than most forest fires. The scariest, aside from a savage nocturnal box turtle attack on a mountain during a brush fire (which gave me my 1000 yard stare), was writing and trying to manage federal grants.

The best call of all was providing fire protection for female demolition derby drivers at our county fair. It was an honor and a privilege to be of service to the finest flower of Appalachian womanhood, although the women in question could probably have walked through fire unscathed and punched their way out of any car wreck.

At the time, I kept saying, "Take me now, Jesus! It don't get no better than this!"

BAD FIREFIGHTING. I was taking fire service classes during the Bush administration's disastrous buildup to the unnecessary war in Iraq. I remember thinking at the time that this response to the post 9/11 world was like pouring gasoline on a structure fire filled with flammable toxic and hazardous materials.

Here's what the Red Cross has to say about the situation there today. Sample:

GENEVA, Switzerland (AP) -- The situation for civilians in Iraq is "ever-worsening," even though security in some places has improved as a result of stepped-up efforts by U.S.-led multinational forces, the international Red Cross said Wednesday.

It is difficult to determine the numbers of people killed in shootings, bombings and military operations, but the overall picture of what is happening the country has been steadily deteriorating, with numbers of refugees swelling, medical staff fleeing and other problems growing, a key official said.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department yesterday extended the tours of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NEW FIG TREE NOTES. The latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree is available. This one contains reflections on illness, cancer, mortality, healing, faith and all that kind of thing.

PUBLIC INVESTMENTS. Here's a good item by Max B. Sawicky in TomPaine.com about why public investments in research and infrastructure matter in helping the economy grow, a fact that seems to be lost on the Bush administration.

MEET AND CONSULT. WV Gov. Joe Manchin announced yesterday a new pilot plan to give state employees in three agencies more of a voice on the job. According to Phil Kabler in the Charleston Gazette,

Meet and consult committees will be set up in the Department of Administration’s Purchasing and General Services divisions, the Division of Highways, and the Regional Jail Authority.

Committee members will make recommendations on personnel issues and other policies to their department’s cabinet secretary, who in turn will send evaluations of the recommendations on to the governor’s office.

This is a positive step for WV's public employees.


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