How to visit another firehouse without being a jerk
Visiting other firehouses can be fun and informative, but don't be "that guy"
When firefighters travel it is not uncommon to stop into the local firehouse for a quick hello and perhaps buy a T-shirt. However, there are rules to doing so and if not followed you can not only ruin your visit, but the mood of the firefighters on shift. Not cool, dude. Not cool.
If you decide you are too cool for the rules and have your way of doing things do me a favor, don't even ring the bell. Keep walking down to the PD Station. I'm sure they'd love to hear all about you. Speaking of ringing the bell, let's jump in with rule #1.
1. Ring the bell
Your station visit will take place between 9 and 11 or 1 and 5. Period. No exceptions. Do not approach the house during morning muster, lunch or after business hours. Should you encounter a company standing out front, you may introduce yourself, but don't expect to go inside. When you approach, ring the bell. Even if the apparatus doors are up, this is their home. Ring the bell.
2. Introduce yourself briefly
I don't need a long run down of your jurisdiction, rank, title, riding position, recent calls ... we get enough rambling, half-understandable stories when the 4-year-olds come on their tours. A quick hello, your name and department with a smart hand shake will set a good tone for the visit. When I travel I simply say, “Hello, Justin Schorr, San Francisco Fire.” I don't bore them with my credentials or favorite color. If they ask, answer, but this is enough for your purposes today.
3. Ask for a 'Quick Tour of the Company'
This tells the firefighter who answered the door that you are looking for a brief walk around the fire engine, not an hour long inspection of the crew quarters and kitchen. You are there to see their rig, see their way and offer a professional “thank you” for protecting you while you're away from home. Don't waste their time with questions and comments that take away from their way of doing things. Ah, that reminds me.
4. No one cares what 'truck' you have
When in their house ask about their way of doing things, but don't get specific. “Do your engines run extrication gear?” is OK. “Our trucks carry water rescue gear, you guys should really look into that,” is not OK. GPM, tank size and attack line lengths can be discussed only if your host brings up the topics. Let them ask the questions they want and note what they ask. It isn't just for small talk, they are genuinely curious. Unless, of course, you aren't following my rules and they begin to show you the detail from the sidewalk out front as the app doors close.
5. You ring the bell, you're buying something
If you are going to get a free tour, you get to buy something. Ask if they have shirts or patches for sale. Most larger department companies carry an in-house stock of shirts, hats and patches emblazoned with their own logo. The funds earned from these items often stay in-house for staple cooking items, chairs, TVs or other non-safety items. Consider a shirt and a patch. The next time your Facebook feed explodes with someone begging for patches for a worthwhile cause, send them that one.
6. Photos are OK, but Video gets odd
Taking a few snapshots of the rig or your family with the rig may be OK, but be sure to ask. If you've been a good little visitor to this point, they may even let your wife or children wear their helmet for the photo. If they don't offer, don't ask. The only time I'd say video is OK is if they get a run and you're a buff who collects videos of fire engines pulling out of firehouses. If that is the case, refer to rule 7.
7. Know where to go when the bells ring: Out
If a call comes in during your visit, get out of the way and fast. The last thing they need to worry about is making sure you're out of the house while they take a run. However, make sure they see that you have exited the firehouse, perhaps by standing nearby outside and waving goodbye. This way you can say thank you and “don't worry, we're outside” in the same gesture. Don't wait around for them to come back. Go about your day and make a note to try to circle back that direction later or on another day. Should you come back later, don't ask about the call they went on. Pretend you're starting all over again. Besides, if they got a run earlier you probably didn't have a chance to buy that shirt and patch.
visit, but don't be 'that guy'
Visiting other firehouses can be fun and informative. The more you play Johnny Citizen, however, the more informative your tour may become. Imagine you had a choice between leading a citizen or an out of town firefighter on a tour of the engine. It is far easier to give the overview of operations and capabilities rather than a more detailed answer-driven interrogation of how we do things.
I still visit houses from time to time, but only those I really want to. I rang the bell at FDNY 10 House and simply wanted to say thank you. I bought a shirt and donated it to a quilt project. I've poked my head into a number of other houses, each time with a ring of the bell, a shake of the hand and a purchase to say thanks.
The worst thing you can do is come wandering in off the street during lunch, ask for a tour and then spend the next hour interrogating me about the way we run our ready stand pipe lead. I'm sure your 1500 GPM 1000 gallon water tanker (it's a tender by the way, tankers are planes) that supports the trucks (they're engines, trucks have ladders) while you and your pals get in there and get it done is great and all, but I don't care.
Don't be that guy.
This article, originally published February 2014, has been updated.
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