Fading traditions

I’m sitting around today going over the happenings of this past week. I’m trying to pass the time and keep my mind occupied but my thought keep drifting to Chief Slayton, his family and his Department family. I think about all the history and tradition that Bobbie had seen in his career as well as all that he passed along. At the end of the movie “Lonesome Dove”, a writer tells Captain Call that people are calling  him a “a man of vision”. I think of Chief Slayton the same way as Capt. Call interpreted that statement…. Bobbie was a “man of vision” because of all he has seen.

Browsing through my favorite sites, I came across a couple articles that kind of tied in to my drifting thoughts. Fire House Poles. It seems as though the brass poles in our stations are the next dieing tradition.

Here, in my Department; we have cut back on poles. Many houses that had multiple poles have had several of them removed and the holes covered. We have built 3 new stations over the last few years and one of those (Station #3 … the “hippie hotel”) is a single story house without a pole at all.

We’ve all heard the arguments about firefighter injuries and the poles not saving time. We also hear the argument of diesel exhaust rising through the pole holes into our sleeping and living areas. Everyone is apparently under the opinion that fans and / or diesel exhaust systems do not do an adequate enough job so poles are removed and the holes closed. Some departments have gone to simply using the steps while others have tried new ideas such as “slides”.

Personally, I like the poles and use them when I’m at a house equipped with them. In my mind, they directly affect service delivery. They help lower our “turn out” time. They get us to the rig and out the door faster. That, is the only time we as firefighters really have control over. We can’t control the 911 call .. the dispatch sequence .. or the response time. Sure, our chosen route will dictate our arrival but beyond that, we can only drive so fast or make “so much” time on a run. Getting out the door quickly is the key.

I also understand that sliding the pole is not as simple as you think. I have been in the station and heard “veteran” firemen slide. Just the fact that I said “heard” them means that they didn’t do it right. A brass pole will burn the hide off ya … and quick. The trick to sliding the pole is griping it with your legs .. thighs and calves. You arm is around the pole simply to stabilize your upper body … not to grip the pole. The sound of flesh burning and squeaking down a brass pole runs shivers up my back as the sound of finger nails on a chalkboard does most others.

I always took the time with fill-ins to assure they knew how to use the pole. I didn’t just ask and take their word .. I made sure. Some of our houses had some pretty high ceilings which made for longer poles and slides. If you slid one of those incorrectly, you’d be burnt or broken. Twisted ankles etc are easy if you don’t do it right. The pole at our old (Historic) Station #1 was our longest. Pop and Bobbie worked out of that house for many years and I also had the honor of sliding those many times… Here’s a shot of the pole from the bunk room … it landed you by the driver’s side of the where the Ladder was parked.

The poles also brought a little extra work for the men in that they had to be maintained. In “firehouse life” we usually divide certain chores between days of the week. One day would be “brass day”. In our older houses, more than the poles were brass. Door knobs, thresh holds etc were also made of brass and needed polishing. It was extra work but it also instilled pride in the company. Whenever a visitor came into the station, the first thing they wanted to see was always “the pole”.

Rhett had an article over on Va Fire News on how Portsmouth, Va is phasing out the pole. See that article  HERE.

Coon (aka. Scott Boone) also sent me an article on this fading tradition which can be seen  HERE

Even the FDNY is following suit. Read this article  from The New York Times (published 2005)

I don’t know… this is what happens when I sit around and think too much. What do you think? What does your Department use? Stairs? Poles? Slides? Maybe you just build 1 story houses?  …. maybe you don’t even care .. tradition / trasmition right?

Anyway, we are scheduled to be at Chief Slayton’s viewing at 19:00 tonight. I’ll try to post and update afterwards. For you local folks (or those in town for the funeral) this is a reminder that the service (funeral) is tomorrow @2pm at First Baptist Church in Roanoke.

His Obituary in the Roanoke Times seems to have been written by his children. It is heart felt, true to the man and brought tears to my eyes. You can read it  HERE. Also please note that the family suggests that memorials be made to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation at  Firehero.org  or P.O. Box 498, Emmitsburg, MD 21727

Here’s another picture of Bobbie. He was visiting us at Station #3. He sat that day and told old stories for hours ….

Stay Safe and in house.

Captain Wines