I have been very busy. So in a recent Firehouse Zen post on our Facebook page, I asked what subjects you all might like to read about on FHZ. One popular request was from alert reader Pete, asking “How hot does a barrel fire have to get to make your helmet look really crusty?”
Well, Pete, in answer to your question, I’m not quite sure, having never done that myself before, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who could answer that question for us. But the subject begs another question like “How crusty does someone have to look to you before you feel like they know what they are talking about?” I have found, for example, in the individual with a dozen patches on his or her coat, an inverse relationship between the “advertising” and how much I trust their “experience” on the scene. When I was young, I had the patches. Fortunately, I had some real jakes pull me aside and explain just how squirrely that looked.
If you are a young firefighter (or an old one looking for some real guidance) truly looking for a mentor, instead of looking for who has the nastiest looking gear or the most patches, maybe you should just talk with some of the informal leaders of the group and find out who THEY really respect. Watch their faces when Chief So-and-So speaks: if even these guys are listening and soaking in what is said, then you can trust that they believe that person is a leader. If they look like they’re not paying any attention, chances are the individual may have a title, and may even have the education, but maybe not the street cred to back it up. That kind of observation is much better at judging who’s “been there” than looking at the amount of garbage melted on their lid.
Note the helmet in the picture. While some of you may understand that the helmet is upside down (to better protect the ratchet system), some of you more insightful ones might wonder why I have an upside-down helmet as my featured photo/logo. Well, it's because the useful part of the helmet isn't the shell, the truly useful part is the space in which you put your head. So while some of our brothers are obsessing over the proper level of carbon on the hard part up there, what would be a better thing to concentrate on is what is filling the hole, when it comes to deciding who is the best person to look up to.
While taking really good care of your protective ensemble is important, there’s nothing wrong with a little smokiness to show you have been there. But the truth of the matter is that even though someone may LOOK the part, it’s what is under all that crust that really counts. So skip the barrel burnishing and earn your look the old fashioned way; safely but aggressively, taking reasonable risk to save lives, taking a little risk to save property, and none at all for the already lost. Get in there and get it, but don’t be stupid in the process.