Friday, July 24, 2015

You CAN Go home again!

I'm back home after our vacation and some wonderful time with my two daughters, though in separate locations. After my surprise visit to the FDNY Store and bumping into a Greensboro firefighter who is the son of a firefighter I worked with at the former Guilford College Fire Department some 35 years ago, we headed back south, first stopping in Philadelphia again for a few days, where I was able to grab lunch with our partner Tom, and then it was down I-95 and I-85 to arrive in Greensboro.

While there, besides seeing and staying with our dear friend, I was able to re-connect with another good friend from our days at the Guilford College Fire Dept., Roger and his wonderful wife, Ann. When I arrived in Greensboro and joined the department, Roger was already one of the three "day" men. These guys worked a 24/48 shift and drove the first due apparatus. We also had a career Chief, Captain, Lieutenant, mechanic and secretary. The rest of us were the volunteers.

Roger took me under his wing and truly became my mentor. One of the other paid day men, Bruce, was also very helpful in guiding me and the guy who is still my best friend today and business partner, Rich. Rich, Roger and I spent a lot of time together, both on and off duty. You'll be able to read about our exploits in my forthcoming book, "What's a Boy Like You...?"
We have been lucky enough to get to Greensboro several times over the past few years and we always have a great time together.

As part of my never-ending interest in the fire service, I use several "scanner" apps on my phone to listen to various major calls around the country. Of course, one of those is my old stomping ground of Guilford County. I had noticed several months back that what were separate frequencies for the City of Greensboro and Guilford County were now merged into Metro Guilford Fire. So I asked Roger about it.

As it turns out, they sort of merged the departments, as well. However, being very fair, the station/department that had an assigned number first, got to keep it in the new system. For example, the city station that was right around the corner from where I worked was Station 9. However, in Guilford County, the Summerfield Fire Department had been county station 9 for many years before. So the city station was made Station 49.

At this point, I knew that the city had annexed all of the land that was in our former fire district to create more industry, homes, etc. Our two stations were 17 and 19. I asked Roger what happened to to those numbers. He explained that the city had initially taken over our rebuilt Station 19. Then with a huge airport expansion, they needed another station close to that area. They knocked down our station 19. Then, they built two stations. One to cover the far northern side of the airport and that part of the combined city/county area. And to honor our original station, it was assigned Station 17. The second station was built on the eastern fringe on the airport and that was renamed Station 19.

On a free afternoon, my wife and I drove up the the road I must have driven hundreds of times as a kid there. But where it used to curve one way, it now curved another. Wow! I was driving where it had been nothing but trees and farmland years ago. Then, I found Station 17 and pulled in to visit. 

It was a  beautiful station; large and airy. Besides the EMS unit, they man an engine and the master foam unit, with a huge trailer that carried the feed hose. Remarkably, they also had an apparatus that is affectionately called, "Puff." What's so remarkable? We put "Puff" into service in 1980! "Puff" is a dual-agent, rapid attack vehicle, about the size of a concrete mixer. She carries both AFFF and Purple K. Our then Chief, Bob Wilson, was an early-on expert on flammable liquids and metals and he pushed our district hard to get this rig. 

Back then, we had, what was then, the largest above-ground, finished product tank ground in our first-due area and right next to the airport. (Did you ever wonder why all of these damn tank farms are right next to major air fields?) Chief Wilson was instrument in getting several of the oil/gas companies to install sub-surface applicators. In the '70's and '80's, they were state-of-the-art. No so today. We had also experienced numerous vehicle fires that had magnesium rims. We quickly learned that no amount of water was going to put that fire out. But douse it with Purple-K and poof! Fire's out! The firefighters who were on duty told me that "Puff" had just been refurbished the previous year and is still in active service all these years later.

All in all, it was a great visit. Here I was, a rookie from back in the mid 1970's walking in to relive my first "glory days" in the fire service. But like "brothers" in the service anywhere, they welcomed me in and we chewed the fat for a while. Then they asked me if I knew "so-and-so" or someone else from my days, who also still came around to visit the ol' 17.

Then I knew that the old adage was wrong. You can go home again.

Stay Safe and let's make sure Everyone Goes Home!

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