Food for Thought at the Firehouse Kitchen
I always think outsiders would be amazed to see what goes on in the firehouse kitchen, as members try to outdo each other with personal attacks on each other. But these attacks are never spewed with hate or venom in my experience, just good-natured ribbing that keeps everyone honest.
During my early years on the job, I would not even think of ribbing my officer or the chiefs. But today, with a smile, some of the guys will forward funny dialogue in my direction. Although I could take this as a sign of disrespect, it is nothing even close to that. Not always, but sometimes, I kind of set these guys up to give it to me good, and boy do they do so.
Guess what? It is OK because in the firehouse we can have all the fun we want, but on the fireground it must be business and only business. Once that line is clearly defined there are few if any problems concerning fire or emergency operations. And brothers and sisters, do not think for one moment I do not shovel it back in their direction — I can be kind of funny myself at times. Usually when I think about a particular ribbing they gave me, it brings a little smile to my face and I get another chuckle out of a pretty funny line used on me.
The main point is that although we are laughing and fooling around, a lot of good, informative information can come out of these periods. If the group of brothers and sisters had a unique incident or a tragedy that occurred during the shift -- or tour, as we call it in NYC – it's often discussed at the kitchen table. Not only can you learn from some of this information, it is also a type of counseling in a way.
For much of the time, firefighters do not like to talk to strangers or professionals concerning their feelings, but will open up and talk freely with the other firefighters. I have found this to help tremendously in a personal way. This especially applied after 9/11, where your only focus was the task at hand, however enormous and daunting it was. I would sit sometimes with the other brothers and just talk; I didn't even need an answer, I was just getting things off my chest.
I am sure there were many of us in this position who were also helped by this informal session of therapy. So if and when you need to say something, throw it out on the kitchen table. There will be at least one brother or sister, possibly a senior firefighter or officer, who may just have an answer or a statement of support for you. In addition, officers should be aware that some of the statements made are signs that members need help. It all goes to show the value of this kitchen time.
The kitchen at the change of tours and the roll call can also allow officers and members to exchange a good amount of information concerning firefighting and emergencies, It provides a captive audience and the opportunity to discuss the possibilities of the upcoming tour as well as the events that transpired on the previous one. You usually receive your assignment during this period and your size-up of the tour should start at that moment.
Something as simple as the weather and a discussion can create possible scenarios you may encounter that day or night. I know for me a windy day conjures up many horrors that may occur if I respond to a fire: extension of fire to exposures especially attached wood frame structures has me thinking of multiple alarms; a high-rise fire could potentially become an extreme wind-driven fire that always brings problems to the fireground.
Forecasts of snow and ice will inhibit the rapid placement of hand lines to confine or extinguish the fire, and frozen or out–of-service hydrants will cause delays that could be potentially disastrous to the brothers and sisters, not to mention the unfortunate people whose house is on fire. For the left coast folks, I can only imagine what the chiefs are thinking about concerning winds and forest fires. There are numerous possibilities on issues to be discussed during these periods. Officers and firefighters should use this time and be pro-active by discussing a hot topic, a recent response or job and the possible problems that could arise during the tour.
Most importantly, be ready to ride if you are riding. If you relieve someone, ensure you are in your proper uniform, your gear is on the apparatus or at the assigned riding position and you have notified the officer so that he/she can amend the riding list. Do not board the apparatus if you are not expected to be on it, as how will the officer be accountable for you? These are just some of the things to think about during these times.
One final thing. For all you classic rock fans, a very important debate arose the other morning in the kitchen here. Which band had more musical talent: The Who or Led Zeppelin? Personally I stated Led Zeppelin but one of the senior firefighters sided with The Who. The members were kind of concerned because this senior firefighter keeps them nice and happy with his gourmet meals. But while I said that may well be the case, I pointed out that I do the payroll and that they all needed money to pay for those gourmet meals. Lots of silence and oh so golden!