A well-documented area of the fire service is the practical joke. In recent years this practice has come under intense scrutiny, and not just in the fire service but in all walks of life.
Hazings or initiations in colleges or work places have even resulted in deaths and lawsuits. I can honestly say I have seen and been party to many a practical joke and that none were even remotely designed to injure somebody.
Times change and with it so does our culture. When I was the new guy, things were a little different.
The big threat at that time was being taken to the plug. This involved being handcuffed to a fire hydrant for about 30 minutes with the hydrant flowing. I merely put on some dry clothes and smiled. It never occurred to me to call the Justice Department or file a lawsuit, but as I said, times change.
Mechanically engineered pranks
Firehouse pranks come in a variety of classes. Mechanically engineered pranks present a fair degree of difficulty. They require a large amount of advanced planning and even precise measurements in some cases.
A good example in this class would be the age-old collapsing-bed trick — always good for a laugh. This one involves removing slats or unbolting frames so the mattress will fall to the floor on the unsuspecting person. The key here is for the bed to collapse after the person gets in and not too early.
People hurry to bed and hope not to be on a call when this person goes to bed. There is always a giggler in the dorm — a dead give away.
Another mechanical gag is the dripping IV bag over a bed. Lots of engineering comes into play here including numerous scientific principles.
With any mechanically engineered gag, caution must be exercised to not injure the victim.
Of course there are lots of other mechanical gags: shoe polish on the phone receiver earpiece, a rubber band wrapped around the spray nozzle on the sink so the trigger is depressed when the water is turned on, flour in the bed sheets, sheets short sheeted, and holes in foam cup bottoms.
One of the best mechanical gags I ever saw involved jacking up a small pick up truck and putting the back axels on jack stands. The rear tires were just high enough so there was no contact between the ground and the tires.
When the victim attempted to drive home he could only race his motor and not move. He exited the vehicle cursing that his transmission had gone out. Up went the hood while he checked his transmission fluid. More engine racing followed by a call home to have his wife come get him.
While decorating for Christmas one year we noticed one of our guys had backed up against a row of shrubs that we were decorating. I made the fateful observation that I hoped his trailer ball doesn't hook on to the lights.
Well, that's all that took. When he left the next morning a 100-foot strand of nonworking lights we had fished out of the trash trailed behind him. He looked like he was going to a wedding. He made it all the way home with the lights in tow.
The list goes on and on. It has been said the jokes and foolishness helps us deal with all the tragedy. There could be something to that, I guess.
A fire station is no place to show weakness. I don't care how much something bothers you or downright scares you, never show it. Even if you have a medically documented phobia of something, no matter how painful it is, don't show it.
Once, during the Peyton Manning Super Bowl years in Indianapolis, I made the fateful statement after the third Peyton Manning commercial in a row, "Can we have a commercial break without Peyton Manning?"
I got signed up in the Peyton Manning fan club, even got lots of picture in my locker. Strangely enough now, after he was run out of Indianapolis and has made a comeback with Denver, I have gotten to where I like him. He still occupies every commercial break.
This is actually my favorite area of jokes and fun. This involves, in simple terms, starting a rumor. It's comparable to planting a seed and watching it grow before your very eyes.
Here's how it works. With a co-conspirator wait until the right person comes in and pretend you are in the middle of a conversation. You and your partner are complaining that, for example, the city has decided to save money and we will now fight fires wearing latex medical gloves.
Sit back and watch. You know you hit big if a bulletin comes out saying at no time will employees engage in firefighting activities wearing latex medical gloves.
Over the years I have worked with several people we referred to as pipelines. In Philadelphia, a pipeline is pumper equipped with 5-inch hose.
In this case, these people were known direct links to the administration. We used to tell these people all kinds of stuff. Soon, a captain or higher would come in and laughingly ask us if we had told this individual some ridiculous thing.
'Hey watch this' prank
This category has very little if any advanced planning. An opportunity just presents itself. Here is a prime example I witnessed recently.
The grill at the back of the station hadn't been cleaned since the Chicago fire of 1871. It had enough grease in it to run a railroad. One of the guys took the initiative to clean the grill. He took it apart, cleaned the burners, power washed the racks, shined the stainless steel exterior.
It shined like brand new.
So where did his selfless hard work that he took on to benefit all our health get him? Come dinner time somebody turned off the gas valve feeding the grill so it wouldn't light.
The entire back of the station lined up at the windows to laugh hysterically as he took apart the grill and tried to light it. Somebody of course cited the fact had he not cleaned the grill it would still work. After he disassembled the grill he was let in on the joke.
I have barely scratched the surface of this category, there are a lot more and I am sure better ones than this. Please be careful in the New Year and let me hear from you.