SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark’s look at the history and future of firefighting first partied back in 1999. In addition to being lazy, he’s curious about whether readers will be as stunned into silence as they were last time.
Mark seemed a little over the top last week, and also kept mentioning coffee, so we put two and two together and took the pot away.
So, I finally tried coffee. What’s the big deal? I could be running from a pack of rabid dogs and have the same physical reaction.
The Albion Fire Department became motorized in 1929, and the AFD still owns that very same truck – we’re that cheap. In fact, the AFD also has one of the department’s century old hose carts, in case the Y2K bug disables modern trucks.
Editor’s note: It didn’t.
Other benchmarks in AFD history:
With telephones, rural property owners could call for help. They would say something descriptive, such as “fire!” and, being firefighters, the firefighters responded. Sadly, at the time they didn’t bring water with them.
Now, firefighters hate to see fire without putting water on it; that’s why most firefighters don’t have fireplaces. Families have been torn apart at cookouts, because one member will start the grill and his firefighter relative will throw all the beer on it. So the AFD bought a water tanker, so they could haul their own supply. Of water, not beer.
It was an old milk tanker, but once they got it cleaned out the cats went away.
Then there were ground cover fires, which are often called field, grass or woods fires depending on whether they burn fields, grass or woods. Since heavy fire trucks couldn’t go off the road, firefighters had to wait for the fire to spread to them. Wasn’t it nice of the fire to do that?
With four wheel drives, firefighters could go into the field, grass, or – well, the woods can be a problem. Waiting for the fires to come to us wasn’t fun. Plus, it could be a problem when some other moron walked away from a burning trash pile – um, when another ground cover fire broke out at the same time.
To me, amazing changes came to the fire service during the time I’ve been on the department. We had a few heavy steel air tanks to give us breathing air back then, but today we have five times as many of those units, and they’re half the weight. They allow us to enter toxic atmospheres and keep our lungs healthy, so we don’t have to give up smoking.
The old steel tanks were in good shape, though, because we never wore them. We didn’t wear our protective clothing much at all, back then. When I joined, I was issued: boots. That’s it. It entered my first two burning buildings wearing only boots.
Well, I wore jeans and a t-shirt too, let’s not get silly.
Eventually I bought my own helmet ($52) from a salesman who stopped by the station one day, and later I was issued a rubber coat. It didn’t help much against heat, but it made going out on rainy days easier. We also had “fireball” gloves, which had an unfortunate tendency to melt.
Today? We’re covered head to toe in materials developed for people in really dangerous professions, like astronauts and talk show hosts. The air tanks are so light, we sometimes forget to take them off. Imagine the strange looks we get, in the checkout lane at the supermarket.
For a century our big fire hose was 2 ½ inches in diameter, but now its five inch. I don’t understand the science, but one 5 inch hose can carry as much water as six 2 ½ in hoses, apparently because the water molecules don’t crowd together and get into fights.
We now have enclosed truck cabs, capable of carrying five or six firefighters. When I started, the most fun part of the job was standing on the back step, holding on to the cross bar. I know what you’re thinking: “Wasn’t that a pain?” Only when we woke up in the hospital with skull fractures.
What’s in store for the future? What about my 50th anniversary (yeah, like I’m going to last that long)? Here are my predictions, and I have no fear of being proven wrong because no one will remember them.
Editor’s Note: Maybe he shouldn’t be reminding people of what he predicted 8 years ago.
By 2020, the AFD will build a substation south of the railroad tracks. This will be necessary not because of growth, but because the railroad crossings will have deteriorated so much people will have to drive to Ohio to get from one side of town to the other.
Editor’s note: Yep – it was that bad.
By 2050, Albion will have its second ladder truck -- you might recall that the first was one of the department’s original apparatus. The purchase will become necessary when Dexter Axle expands on its current property, putting up a new, state of the art, 48 story industrial complex at the site of the present video store. No one will watch videos by then, because we’ll all be wearing those new wireless cable hats.
I may still be right on that one! Dexter axle has expanded three or four times, and sunglasses with internet connection are being tested in Japan as we speak.
In the late 2000’s, Fire Prevention Officer Phil Jacob will be honored for a century’s worth of work in the fire service. He will have become so successful in marshaling resources for fire prevention, and in teaching the kids of Albion how to prevent fires, that all four of the full time members of the Albion Fire Department will have forgotten how to fight fires. In fact, at that point their only apparatus will be a mobile intensive care unit used for medical assists.
And the old ’29 pumper. Just in case.
Our 1976 fire engine -- we called it the Green Ghost, because it was lime green (duh)and it kept dying on us.