The New Yorker “Urban Legend”

The New Yorker

“URBAN LEGEND”

garrity life lite fireman

     The New Yorker style helmet with a Garrity light held on by a rubber strap; that was all I wanted as a young junior firefighter. I cut out the Garrity light advertisement from Firehouse Magazine, and requested both the New Yorker and Garrity light for my next birthday. I wanted that helmet, the light, and everything that I viewed came with that advertisement. That image was as COOL to me, as the Malboro Man was to many.  I so badly wanted to get out of my Metro and into a “Leather New Yorker” style helmet. I didn’t get a New Yorker the following birthday, but I did get a flashlight to mount on my helmet. I then ordered a full box of Garrity lights direct from Garrity; a full box of 50 lights. I then had my Dad get me a large black inner tube to cut up as helmet straps, and  I started pushing helmet lights as a junior firefighter.

Shortly after this, an upstate New York firefighter had relocated, and joined the next FD over from mine. I first met him on a call, and he was in full gear with a box light held on by a rope sling. I thought, he’s from New York, wears a leather helmet, and has a hand lantern held on with a rope sling, he must be an URBAN Firefighter.  I immediately requested a new hand light from my Dad.  He picked me up a nice rechargeable hand light, and I built a rope sling. I now had a Garrity helmet light, a hands free lantern, and had acquired a plastic version of the New Yorker. I was on my way to being just like an FDNY FIREFIGHTER. I believed in wearing full bunker gear on all calls, carrying a box light, and always having a tool in my hand. I was all about this and I had yet to see my 18th birthday. I just knew that New York firefighters wore their gear, had hands free lights, and always seemed to have a tool in their hand. I wanted to be an FDNY FIREFIGHTER.

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Suburban Tools of the 80s and 90s

This was in the late 80s and early 90s. I started reading Firehouse and Fire Engineering Magazine cover to cover, always reading the URBAN authors first. I officially got issued my first set of gear on May 21, 1988. It consisted of pull up boots, a long coat, and a TURTLE SHELL style helmet. I was so excited on this day, and really had no clue how lucky I was to be subjected to the Fire Service. I started reading the back page of Fire Engineering called  “Random Thoughts”, and this became the highest priority on my monthly reading list. How LUCKY I was for Tom Brennan to have started this monthly column only months before I started legally wearing gear and legally operating on the fireground. Each month I read and

re-read Random Thoughts. I would read about carrying a rope, and then immediately drive up to ACE Hardware and purchase a personal rope.  I would read about carrying wire cutters, a personal radio,  having a good search light, a personal alert sounding device, and many other excellent tips before 1990. Tom Brennan, an URBAN Firefighter was teaching me, a young junior firefighter from a small SUBURBAN/RURAL community.

I would then share what I had learned with others in the firehouse. It was at a very young age that reality set in, and I learned another valuable lesson.  Not all firefighters share the same passion, enthusiasm, and love for the job as others.  I also learned that many grown men have serious insecurities about this job and themselves. They would say, “This isn’t NEW YORK,  and we are NOT the BIG CITY”. I just couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to read and learn from somebody that had been to so many FIRES.  This would get me a little frustrated, but I continued to read Random Thoughts and implement everything I could.

I started reading Chief  Vincent Dunn’s articles and books, and then the book Firefighting  Principles and Practices by William E. Clark made it into my hands. Chief Clark was appointed to the FDNY in 1937 and served for 20 years. He then moved on to Prince Georges County Fire Services to assist in the regionalization of fire protection. Chief Clark did not stop there, he then went on to become the Bureau Chief of the Florida State Fire College.  There are so many leaders like Chief Clark, Chief Halligan, Chief Dunn, Chief Downey, Chief Norman, Lt. Andy Fredericks, and so many other FDNY Firefighters that have highly and positively impacted the American Fire Service. I sometimes wonder where we as a fire service would be without these great leaders and visionaries.

The FDNY and other Large URBAN Fire Departments have made a huge impact on the SUBURBAN Fire Service. The experience they receive from a high volume of fire activity has given them the ability to fine tune techniques and tactics. If you do some research, you will see where these authors were from back in the late 80s and early 90s.  I look back and realize that the URBAN Firefighter and the FDNY  in general has made a huge impact on my career, and I have learned so much from their instruction and experiences. I try and deploy URBAN Tactics in the SUBURBAN/COUNTY setting. Yes, I said URBAN Tactics. When forcing the back of a stripmall, I use the Forcible Entry techniques taught to me by URBAN Firefighters  Mike Lombardo and  Bob Morris. When operating the nozzle, I use the nozzle position techniques taught to me by Tim Klett and Andy Fredericks. I could go on, but hopefully you see my point.

I believe URBAN Tactics are many times necessary in the SUBURBAN/COUNTY setting.

The fire does not care what your staffing is or is not. Stretching a line, forcing a door, venting a roof, searching a house, throwing ladders, and every other tactic or skill performed on the fire ground does not always require URBAN staffing. It seems that recently, many want to discard what the URBAN FIREFIGHTER has to offer us as SUBURBAN/COUNTY Firefighters. I couldn’t imagine operating at a JOB without the knowledge and training given to me by highly EXPERIENCED URBAN FIREFIGHTERS. I believe that ALL firefighters have something to offer, but we cannot discount an individual’s experiences on the fire ground. Tests, experiments, and training are great, but nothing replaces true combat experiences in the field under stressful circumstances. The URBAN Firefighter has been conducting ongoing tests through trial and error for decades….on the FIREGROUND.

So, before you dismiss the URBAN Firefighter and what they have to offer as LEGEND, remember what they have done for us in the SURBURBAN/COUNTY Fire Service. Where would we be without what they have given us as a COLLECTIVE FIRE SERVICE over the last 40 plus years.  I would like to thank all the URBAN FIREFIGHTERS who have personally impacted my career and taught me so much. I deploy your URBAN tactics on the SUBURBAN fireground regularly. Without URBAN professionals like Mike Hayes, Tim Klett, Bob Pressler, Jim McCormack, Ray McCormack, Mike Ciampo, Andy Fredericks, Mike Lombardo, Bill Gustin, Bob Morris, and so many more, myself and many others would probably still be deploying the SUBURBAN tactics of the 80s on today’s fireground.  A fireground that now

more than ever, requires the knowledge and precision of an URBAN LEGEND.

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County/Suburban Firefighter of Today.

Remember, much of what is  taught by the fire service LEADERS of TODAY is derived from the LEGENDS of YESTERDAY.  So why do all these “Random Thoughts” matter to the SUBURBAN firefighter today.  It doesn’t matter whether you operate on the URBAN or SUBURBAN fireground, many of these tips and tactics can be applied equally.  The helmet mounted light is always illuminating where your eyes are looking.  It is hands free, and allows you to look up while pulling ceiling, and does not require you to hold your light vertically. If you don’t need it, just turn it off, but when you do need it, is always there, shining in the right direction.  The radio sling carrying your radio makes simple sense, as it holds and protects your radio under your coat, and allows the lapel mic to be hands free.  URBAN firefighters were doing this decades ago, yet the debate still rages on today.  The lantern on the sling was a no brainer to me the first time I saw it, as it keeps your hands free to carry not one, but at least two tools.  Why show up to go to work without having the proper tools in your hands?  So many of these ideas I tried to share with others many years ago, but met serious resistance as a young, inexperienced URBAN wannabe.

Many in today’s fire service jump at the latest trends and techniques endorsed by manufacturers without so much as a second thought. Yet, try to replace the hooligan tool with its nearly useless straight adz, and a fork more fit for a door chock than forcing a door, with a Pro-Bar halligan, and the arguments commence.  “You only want that because they that’s what they use in FDNY”.  The IFSTA manual told us that when we encountered a steel door in a steel frame, we should find an alternative entry point.  It’s a good thing that as a SUBURBAN firefighter, I went to a forcible entry class taught by an URBAN firefighter, and learned that with the proper tools and techniques, entry was achievable. Another tool, the NY roof hook provides more uses on todays fireground than the traditional fiberglass pike pole that is specified as standard equipment on many of today’s apparatus. The 8 lb flat head axe will outperform the 6 lb axe day and night, and as we know is quite versatile.  Carrying a personal rope is worth more than its weight in gold.  Carrying the “can” (2.5 gallon water extinguisher) can be extremely helpful in trained hands, as SUBURBAN staffed companies work to stretch an attack line.  Converted channel locks  and a multi tip screwdriver in your pocket are  other great tools, again many ideas brought to us by our URBAN fire service brothers.  Give ANY trained and motivated firefighter a six foot NY roof hook, a pro-bar halligan, the “can”, and watch out.  So from the URBAN to the SUBURBAN fireground, always remember it is the QUALITY not the QUANTITY that matters on your FIREGROUND.

Curt Isakson

3 thoughts on “The New Yorker “Urban Legend”

  1. I could have wrote this word for word as if we had shared the exact same experiences. As a student of this craft I have spent 29 years learning from those who have had the benefit of experience. As the fire chief of my department for the past sixteen years I have been able to pass along these same ideas to everyone who has walked through our doors. Congrats to you for writing this. For bringing back memories of past articles and authors who so influenced who I am in the fire service today. Thank you.

    Philip Publicover
    Blandford Nova Scotia Canada

  2. Chief I couldn’t agree with this article more, brought back a lot of memories for me, because my career in the fire service physically started in 1986 but was exposed as a 4 year old child in 1969. In 1986 at 21 years old I began as a volunteer and received my same style gear and would stage it in my apartment as if I was going to jump out of bed and right into the gear when the pager went off. Being chastised be the older firefighters in the same manner, even my dad would sit me down and say “Boy they don’t pay you enough to go into these buildings”! I can say with confidence that our young group changed the out come of a lot of fires. Better stop here
    Chief you really sent me down memory lane I could go on forever. Maybe I’ll write an article

    Fire Chief Johnnie Tremain

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