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Of Old Buffaloes and Bowery B'Hoys
April 10, 2006 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Firefighters.
posted by digaman (50 comments total)

 
I have nothing against firefighters.
Oh wait, this is a 9/11 thread?
I still have nothing against firefighters.
posted by Balisong at 7:21 PM on April 10, 2006


That's good. You may owe your life to them someday.
posted by digaman at 7:25 PM on April 10, 2006


"The character of Old Mose was based on the exploits of a real-life New York firefighter, an Irish-American printer named Moses Humphreys, who was famous not only for his bravery but for the quick work his fists made of competing fire companies."

This struck me as very funny. :)
posted by Malor at 7:26 PM on April 10, 2006


To paraphrase Robin Williams in Club Paradise ('cause I can't for the life of me find the actual quote): Building catches fire, most people run out. We run in. Basically, it's a crazy person's job.
posted by Cyrano at 7:27 PM on April 10, 2006


Except guns.
My dad got "visited" by some firefighters one time about a machine parts cleaning system that he had in his machine shop, using a flamable solvent, with no smoking signs posted prominently, and told him that he needed yellow and black striped tape on the floor around the area, and they all wore badges and HAD GUNS on their sides.
That's the only thing I have against firefighters.
posted by Balisong at 7:29 PM on April 10, 2006


I have nothing against guns, or firefighters seperately.
posted by Balisong at 7:31 PM on April 10, 2006


Did they pull these guns? Make mention of them? Imply in any way that guns somehow factored into the fire-safety issue? Your anecdote is kind of weird without these details.
posted by cortex at 7:41 PM on April 10, 2006


Nope, they just wore them openly (implied that they meant buisiness).
posted by Balisong at 7:42 PM on April 10, 2006


Uh. Don't cops do that too?
posted by cortex at 7:44 PM on April 10, 2006


(or that they were all going to the shooting range after the stop after telling my dad that he had to comply to safety standards, but they didn't state that.)
posted by Balisong at 7:45 PM on April 10, 2006


Are firefighters cops? are EMT's? Are doctors?
posted by Balisong at 7:45 PM on April 10, 2006


If my dad would have put a pistol on his belt while the firefighters were talking to him, would that have caused a ruckas?
posted by Balisong at 7:47 PM on April 10, 2006


Firefighters and cops are two sides of the same douchebag coin. EMTs on the otherhand are cool people.
posted by thecollegefear at 7:48 PM on April 10, 2006


Are firefighters cops? are EMT's? Are doctors?

No. No. and No.

That is to say that they do not have special powers of arrest, at least not in most jurisdictions. Inspectors may, particularly those that visit industrial sites. That's done by the ministries of the environment in Canada, and the hazard inspectors/investigators are most definitely police. There's a big debate if they should carry or not. Currently, in Canada, they do not (though the wildlife enforcement people do).
posted by bonehead at 7:52 PM on April 10, 2006


Are firefighters cops? are EMT's? Are doctors?

The guys (and probably some girls) who work for TABC (the Texas Alcoholic Beverages commission,) the very same folks who come by and make you throw out a full bottle of Grand Mariner because they think they see something that might be a gnat in it, wear guns openly. I never really thought much of it when I was a bartender.

Of course, it is Texas...

Firefighters and cops are two sides of the same douchebag coin.

Care to elaborate? I don't think anyone is going to claim that either are a perfect class of people. But that doesn't negate the risks they'd be willing to take if your dorm started burning.
posted by Cyrano at 7:54 PM on April 10, 2006



Firefighters and cops are two sides of the same douchebag coin.


Huh?
posted by drezdn at 7:55 PM on April 10, 2006


I don't have any "thing" against Forrest service personell carrying pistols. It's for personal protection. Fire fighters on a service call to a machine shop with no prior infractions with guns on their sides is kinda scarry.
posted by Balisong at 7:56 PM on April 10, 2006


"But now, in the wake of the recent real estate frenzy, more local officials are raising disturbing questions and looking for ways to address a growing problem:
Will their communities be able to field enough firefighters to save their homes from burning down"

posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:57 PM on April 10, 2006


If my dad would have put a pistol on his belt while the firefighters were talking to him, would that have caused a ruckas?

In my neck of the woods, the firefighters (and/or fire inspectors, which is more likely what they were), would back off and he would later get a visit from his local cops. He would be very lucky if he didn't get charged with something. Cops, as a rule, are fairly protective of firefighters and paramedics, in my experience. Of course, I do live in Canada.
posted by bonehead at 8:00 PM on April 10, 2006


What am I defending? i think everyone should be able to carry guns. From the Drywall guy you contract to refinish your basement to the guy taking your order at McDonalds.
If I was freaked out, I'm sorry.
Please go on with your 4 year old fire fighter story.
posted by Balisong at 8:01 PM on April 10, 2006


Sounds like they were fire marshals.
posted by Captaintripps at 8:15 PM on April 10, 2006


The Deification of firefighters post 9/11:

The deification of firefighters was the result of guilt. Most white-collar people never think of blue-collar workers at all or dismiss them as insignificant. When yuppies realized that firefighters would brave flames to save their sorry, self-centered lives they suddenly became ridiculously reverential. There is no convert like a new convert.

-- Name withheld, New York

posted by jayder at 8:16 PM on April 10, 2006


As mentioned in the article, Super Pumper.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled axe grinding.
posted by keswick at 8:26 PM on April 10, 2006


In high school, I had a best friend named Mark. He was one of the sweetest, most honest, gentle, and straight-up people in that suburban New Jersey pit of greasers and dorks. He was very skinny, with a beard and a very soft but firm voice, and he used to remind of Jesus. He probably saved my life in ways I could never explain.

Twenty-five years after we graduated, I found out that Mark was the captain of a firehouse in Phoenix. Somehow I wasn't surprised.
posted by digaman at 8:29 PM on April 10, 2006


Firefighters let home burn because fees weren't paid.

figherfighters let 5 bedroom house burn because the owner was a firefighter from a non-unionized firehouse.

etc.
posted by delmoi at 8:29 PM on April 10, 2006


This really got to me:

When he finally got into Manhattan, he drove to his old firehouse in Harlem, boarded a commandeered city bus, and made the journey to hell. As he reported for duty at Ground Zero, a much younger firefighter took one look at him and said, “Well, I guess they’re calling in all the old buffaloes.” Retired Chief Reginald Julius smiled at the semi-affectionate nickname for firefighters of a certain age. “Let me do my work,” he replied.
posted by digaman at 8:31 PM on April 10, 2006


Just for the record. I like firefighters.
When my wife (before we met) had a suicide attempt, the firefighters were the first on the scene, and were very nice and caring.
Long Live The Fire Fighter!

As an aside, in Roman times, when firefighting was a totally independent buisiness;
Your house caught fire.
Someone came by with a troup of slaves with buckets of water.
He offered you 20,000 dinars for your house. (you refuse)
He then waited 15 minutes and offered 15,000 dinars for your house. (you refuse)
He waited another 15 minutes and offered you 250 dinars for your house. (You finally give in).
He instructs his slaves to put out the fire.
He then offers you the house back at 50,000 dinars. (etc.)
posted by Balisong at 8:37 PM on April 10, 2006


When I watched the film 'Gangs of New York' a few years ago, I learned something that I hadn't known previously -- that the warring gangs made up separate volunteer firefighting units -- each powerful political and orginizational forces in mid-19th. Century New York.
posted by ericb at 8:45 PM on April 10, 2006


*organizational*
posted by ericb at 8:59 PM on April 10, 2006


Firefighters let home burn because fees weren't paid.

Ah, one of the great things about the internets. Over one million people doing a job, but throw out a few links showing a handful of them are pricks (shocker!) and it's like you're somehow making a hithertoo unknown point.
posted by Cyrano at 9:00 PM on April 10, 2006


Let me re-iterate!
Firefighters are a good thing and cool!!
Firefighter upper-management and administration, not that cool.

I tried to get on the local fire department once. 7 openings, and over 250 applicants.
I washed out on the physical training.
But the written test was the most perplexing.
Most of the questions were along the lines of "a fellow firefighter makes a joke using racial epithets, is this appropiate?" Of course not.
I guess there is a problem with that.
posted by Balisong at 9:09 PM on April 10, 2006


I have to recommend: Population: 485 for some very readable
insight into volunteer fire departments.
And about those fire departments that let those houses
burn because they had not paid their fee: it's a pretty
common phenomenom "back east". A lot of VFDs
are organized as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, though, and hence
can't get away that with kind of crap.
And firefighters unions definitely have it in for nonunionized
and volunteer departments. A couple of years ago California
passed what I have called the "Rural Firefigher Eradication
Act", which brings volunteer organizations under regulation
of OSHA. The bad news is it wiped out 2/3s of the VFDs in
California. The good news is that the ones that are left are
good ones.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:17 PM on April 10, 2006


Most of the questions were along the lines of "a fellow firefighter makes a joke using racial epithets, is this appropiate?" Of course not.
I guess there is a problem with that.

To be honest, in my part of the country, I said no, and don't know if that was counted against me.
posted by Balisong at 9:23 PM on April 10, 2006


"Firefighters and cops are two sides of the same douchebag coin."

You couldn't appreciate this statement unless you actually LIVED in New York City.

Police Officers and Firefighters are some of the most rotten and arrogant people I have ever met... and the fact that their job implies a certain level of risk doesn't mean they should be so BROADLY praised as heros.

I was 2 blocks away from the WTC on 9/11 and I have a right to my own opinion. And my opinion is that fighters and cops in NYC are assholes, plain and simple.
posted by thecollegefear at 9:24 PM on April 10, 2006


"Firefighters and cops are two sides of the same douchebag coin."

actually, some cities have merged the two departments so that cops and firefighters are working for the same organization ... they are then working for the "public safety department"

this has been somewhat controversial
posted by pyramid termite at 9:32 PM on April 10, 2006


A mirror of an interesting NY Post article I found. I thought it was fairly relevant because this FPP article is one of the very few I've seen that make mention of the EMS workers that lost their lives on 9/11.
posted by drstein at 9:42 PM on April 10, 2006


Do you suppose it was asbestos (used in WTC) or just the crazy dust of everything else (portland cement, burning platics, paper, powdered glass, etc) It sounds horrible.
(I work around powdered concrete/cement and breathe it daily, luckily Phillip/Morris makes filtered cigarettes)
posted by Balisong at 9:50 PM on April 10, 2006


Great articles, digaman, thanks for posting. The historical overview of this article was great, and I also liked the follow-on article about the often characteristic rudeness and irreverence - too true. Clay-footed heroes.

Police Officers and Firefighters are some of the most rotten and arrogant people I have ever met.

Wow, maybe you haven't worked in corporate America, then? The same could be said for many mid to senior level managers of large companies. The difference being that most ffs and cops occasionally have redeeming moments of courage and selflessness.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:01 PM on April 10, 2006


That is fascinating and tragic, drstein. Thanks for the link.
posted by digaman at 10:03 PM on April 10, 2006


I don't buy the diversity paragraphs in the article (or other such articles I've read). There are, of course, the historical guild reasons for the lack of diversity in the FDNY and other major metropolitan fire departments.

There's also the family angle, that also historic angle where the Irish and Italians could only get jobs doing that. It becomes family tradition. It seems to me that's a major reason (especially here in New York) why most firefighters are from those white ethnicities.

There's just not the same application rate or family push amongst other demographics.

Most of it comes down to getting the job done. Is the job being done? If it is, what matter who is putting out the fires? What advantage does a more ethnically-reflective fire department bring and is it worth whatever cost in effort and money it may be?
posted by Captaintripps at 10:10 PM on April 10, 2006


In ancient Rome, the slave and fee-based Familia Publica were eventually replaced by salaried firefighter/police brigades, the Vigiles ("Watchmen"):
Only citizens of Rome could join the Roman Army, those free at birth. But, as the first Vigiles were recruited from freed men they were never considered true Roman soldiers and the Vigiles carried no banners. However, because recruitment was slow, the inducement of full citizenship was offered to freed men after six years service. Consequently, service in the Corps of Vigiles was seen as an honourable means of obtaining full Roman citizenship.
Their badge of authority was the fasces, and their responsibilities included patrolling public markets, buildings, and streets.
posted by cenoxo at 10:16 PM on April 10, 2006


digaman - no problem. There was another FDNY Paramedic that died recently too - Deborah Reeve.

I've never met any of these folks as I'm on the other coast, but it's still very sad. :(
posted by drstein at 10:26 PM on April 10, 2006


Every firefighter I've encountered has been really cool. But just like any group, there are some assholes among them too. Some firefighters are pyromaniacs and arsonists. I've read about quite a few who've started fires, in some cases because it created work for them. I suppose firefighters and arsonists are two sides of the same coin; some sublimate their interest in fires and become firefighters, and others give in to the dark side and become arsonists.
posted by Devils Slide at 12:39 AM on April 11, 2006


The Deification of firefighters post 9/11:

Granted 9/11 took it to another level, but there's always been a love affair with firefighters in the USA that you just don't see in Europe.

For a while, I thought it was just limited to New York City, which I can sort of see. If everyone lives in apartment buildings, then the ever-present risk of fire is a really serious threat. I can see how you'd come to cherish those people who make you safe from the most horrible death imaginable.

But that doesn't explain the whole fireman/sexual fantasy thing that seems such a dominant meme in the USA. I mean, why firemen and not say, construction workers?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:06 AM on April 11, 2006


I mean, why firemen and not say, construction workers?

Actually the article goes some way towards contextualizing this for me. Good post, thanks.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:16 AM on April 11, 2006


Most of it comes down to getting the job done. Is the job being done? If it is, what matter who is putting out the fires? What advantage does a more ethnically-reflective fire department bring and is it worth whatever cost in effort and money it may be?

I'm guessing here that you would also be white, Captaintripps?

But perhaps I can list a couple of possible advantages for you:

- Fire Departments aren't 'guilds' in the sense of a craft guild. They're generally publicly funded utilities. The discrimination against non-white employees often ran throughout the whole sector and sometimes amounted to repaying political supporters.
- The ongoing white bias of such organizations perpetuates a pattern of historical discrimination that reinforces the notion that America is a racially biased and unjust society.
- Public services should reflect the communities that they serve. The fact that they don't may well be one reason why firefighters meet with hostility and attacks when responding to calls in poorer neighbourhoods.
- All of these factors mitigate against the community getting the best men for the job. That's one of the biggest downsides of these historical traditions. The people you get are those who are prepared to apply because they know they'll be comfortable hanging out with family and friends, while others are discouraged because of the likelihood that work becomes a daily gauntlet of racist hostility. Consequently, the community doesn't get the best service their money can buy, it gets the service that this privileged closed shop is prepared to provide it with.

I've recently been watching the HBO series, 'The Wire', which gives an excellent insight into the way that these historical trends skew public service provision in an ethnically diverse city, and some of the possible consequences of that bias. I'd recommend it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:37 AM on April 11, 2006


I second the rec on The Wire. That is by *far* the best series I have ever seen, anywhere, in my entire life. And I am damn picky and hard to please. I am a sucker for compelling characters who actually *develop* and shows that do not insult my intelligence. Seasons 1 and 2 are out on DVD. Those of you with netflix might wanna try it out and see if you like it.

I tried to get my mom to watch it with me, but the frequent use of the F-bomb turned her off of it.
posted by beth at 5:17 AM on April 11, 2006


Cyrano: "I'm a fireman. Building's on fire. People rush out. I rush in. Bascially a maniac's job." - Kevin Kline (Nick) in The January Man. Club Paradise? Robin Williams? What were you thinking, man?
posted by The Bellman at 8:10 AM on April 11, 2006


Apparently firefighters used to send out runners to plop barrels over the fire hydrants and sit on them until their fire department came to prevent another department from claiming the fire.
Bill the Butcher was a fire fighter and Bowery Boy. A dispute over fire fighting turf (lucrative for looting) was responsible for the mother of all rumbles .
posted by Smedleyman at 9:08 AM on April 11, 2006


petermcdermott: allow me to gently disagree about fire depts not being guilds, especially since they're funded as public utilities.

As a kid and young adult, I knew lots of firefighters, and they were generally nice folks. Many worked the angle where you have a full time job during the day, and go to your fire-fighting job nights. Two full-time salaries, which is nice work if you can get it. Early retirement.

In the late Eighties, the city administration (Edmonton) cut back across all departments. At the time, the fire dept had a full class of 45(?) recruits who were about to graduate and wouldn't be hired, so they asked the Firefighters Union to take a pay cut of 4% for two years so that they could hire half of the graduates. On the grounds that it would be good for the community. The union voted ~90% (as I recall) against this idea.

This still strikes me as being the behaviour of a guild, not a public service union.
posted by sneebler at 9:53 AM on April 11, 2006


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