"Old School" Captains …

I guess it depends on your own definition of what “old school” is but, for me; I’m talking about the good ones. Back when we had “Wooden Ladders and Iron Firemen”.

I was lucky to have grown up around several of them. I was even luckier to have gotten hired and worked under or around several more.

They were the Captains that Rookies feared yet respected at the same time. No non-sense types that knew their jobs and would settle for nothing less than you learning yours. These were the men that you didn’t want to piss off or let down. When called into the office, you never wanted to hear “close the door”.  If they were mad or disappointed, it meant that you had failed in some way or another.  They taught you something from even the everyday “little” things.

There was a “life lesson” or some sort of Fire Department training in every task. They worked hard and expected the same of you. There was never an option other than “the right thing” and they ALWAYS looked after their members.

I don’t understand it fully because for most of us… we didn’t know these men before the Fire Department. They weren’t our fathers or someone that we had grown up with. What was so “special” about these men that made us work so hard and strive for perfection (in their eyes anyway) ?  What drew us to them? What made us want so badly  to keep them happy?

It’s an intangible quality that I’ve work for my entire career. I’ve been a Captain for 12 years and I still haven’t gotten there … I hope to one day.

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Like I said before, I’ve been lucky enough to know several of these type Captains and this morning, I got a little “validation” (if you will) from one of them that I’ve looked up to since I was hired.

You all know my Senior Firefighter Todd “Boots” Harris. When I got on, Todd’s dad, Gary; was a Captain on my shift. He was very well respected and rightfully so. I never worked for Gary but was around him a lot. At the time, I drove our Battalion Chief ( Chief Patton).

I was one of the least senior and youngest men in our Battalion yet I thought I knew it all. Back then, my position as Chief driver; was basically a license to free lance. Right or wrong, I took FULL advantage of the opportunity.  We ran every fire on the “North Side” and most of em on the South. Whenever we’d get there, the Chief would simply tell me … “get in there and put it out”. NO radios … NO assignment … NO accountability etc … I just went to work.

I wasn’t well liked. We’d come in, I’d pack up, run in … get to (or as close as possible to) the nozzle or grab and go to work. After the knock down, a little bit of salvage / overhaul etc, then; the Chief and I would load up and head back to quarters. No hose loading, clean up etc. I was a “cowboy” on an open range …. I had  a free pass to ride.

There’s no wonder a lot of the older members (and especially Officers) didn’t think much of me. I didn’t know it, but I was going about it all wrong. I thought I could earn “respect” that way. I thought that made me a good fireman … getting to the fire and getting water on it. I didn’t realize that it was so much more to the job because I had blinders on … tunnel vision.  It wasn’t just what I was doing either.. my attitude matched the actions… again.. I thought I knew it all and DIDN’T.

Most of the Captains from those days are now retired…. Todd’s dad Gary included. Several of them, I still see quite often (Union meetings, Department functions, funerals etc). Now, I’m a Captain and I can’t help but wonder what they think of that when they see me. I know they have their doubts and I don’t blame them.

Boots and his dad (Gary) run a sports bar in the City ( The Second Alarm ) and have for the last 30 years or more.

See a related post from Rhett’s Roanoke Fire.com HERE … Todd and Gary did later  reopen a little farther up Williamson Road.

Obviously, I see Gary a lot. More so than others, I often wonder what HE thinks of me having made Captain. Again I can’t explain it but, for whatever reason; I still look for and want his “validation”.

I most likely didn’t make the best impression on him back when I was a Private and now, not only am I a Captain, I’m his sons Captain (and Boots has more seniority… he’s been on the job longer yet I’ve passed him in rank). That “hot dog” “cowboy” firefighter from back in the day is now responsible for his sons welfare on the job.

Gary and my dad are a LOT alike. Neither is a man of many words. I guess it’s also a “fireman” thing because they don’t have to say it … I know what they want to or are trying to say and we both understand that we “understand” …LOL.  Well today, Gary basicly told me that I’m a good Captain and I can’t tell you how much THAT meant to me!

We had a bad night. One like I hope to never experience again ( getting home late and worn out lead to a hot bath, tottie and bed!)

Without giving too much detail, Boots had a medical emergency at the station last night. He got out of bed and came to me for “help”. As soon as I seen him, I knew something was wrong … he looked BAD. I can’t explain that feeling. Seeing him like that. It takes a LOT to shake me but that did. I was ON THE JOB and scared. This wasn’t “John Q Citizen” … it was Boots.

Our Brothers from Medic #4 (thanks Brooks and “Milky”) rushed over and got us to the ER. As soon as we were settled and knew everything was going to be “ok”, I had to call “mom and dad” and tell them where we were and and what was going on. THAT is a difficult call to make even though Boots was doing very well. I knew what the first thing through their mind would be when they answered the phone at midnight to hear MY voice.

I thought about not calling but Battalion Chief Adkins (Teddy) made a great point. Would I rather call now, knowing that it will put them in a panic or; have Captain Harris find out the next morning (or at 4-5am) and know that we had been in the ER all night with his son  and I didn’t call??  Hummm… good point …he would have killed me. I made the call.

Gary and Todd’s mom arrived at the ER and stayed the night by his side. Everything worked out as good as possible and Todd was released this morning. He is doing fine and should be back to work next cycle. We ended up going back into service and returning to quarters.

After shift break, I gathered Todd’s clothes etc and headed over to the house. I spent a little time making sure he was comfortable, settled and that he didn’t need anything.

I rubbed his feet a little, read him the cartoons from this months Hustler and tucked him in for some much needed rest. When I left, I went straight to the bar … The Second Alarm.

You see, had everything have been normal; that’s where Todd would have been. He and his dad meet there every morning to clean and stock from the night before. Today (as with every day that Boots is on duty), Gary would have to work alone. I went to the bar to stand-in for Boots … to help Gary (he had been up in the ER all night as well).

It was there, in his own “round about way” that he thanked me and basically told me that I was doing a good job as Captain. There wasn’t a lot of spoken words back and forth but he made his point.

I was honored … HUMBLED and I want to say like almost “proud”. I didn’t need nor expect his thanks. We ( me, Georgie, Teddy, Brooks or Milky) didn’t do anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done.

What hit me the most was that Gary said “I’m glad you were there son” ( he has always called me “son”). It’s funny how a statement as simple as that, from someone whom I hold in such high esteem;  validated so much of everything I’ve been working for and towards my entire career. On one hand, It makes me feel as if I’ve grown closer to the Captain that I’ve always aspired to be. On the other hand, it posed several questions…..

How many times do I pass out a “good job” ….. “well done” … “proud of ya”? As a Captain, do I give the “validation” due to my members? Have I been?  Will it mean as much to them, coming from a Captain like ME as it meant to me coming from an “old school”  Captain such as Gary Harris ….. I HOPE SO.

Again I’ll say that Boots is at home, resting and doing very well. I will update you on his condition if needed but I don’t expect it will be. I’m back on duty tomorrow (Tuesday) and will get another post up asap…. until then, stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines