The focus of the Kitchen Table Wisdom articles center on captains, with the names and examples of some great LAFD members. But from my own experience as a career firefighter, the bulk of my education didn’t come from captains, it came from senior firefighters.
These were the firefighters that always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. They could “act” in any position, teach like no other, drive the chief if needed and operate any piece of equipment. They were fire prevention coordinators, house dues men, permanent cooks, and they volunteered for details without hesitation. They were the leaders I grew up admiring and wanting to emulate.
On August 2, my emotions ran wild as I attended Bob Lambert’s last shift at Fire Station 17. He was an excellent firefighter who spent thirty-four years on the LAFD, with thirty of those years assigned to FS 17. Bob was also a PC for twenty-seven of those years – a feat that we’ll probably never be seen again.
I recognize the role of a firefighter has evolved into so much more than when I was appointed in 1980. These challenges, along with less fire activity, have made it increasingly difficult to train and educate our young members. Today more than ever, the value in having senior firefighters mentor our youth is as critical as ever.
So who are the senior firefighters of today? Where are they assigned? Are they even aware of their legacy? Sadly, it appears what was once a well-respected position is no longer the case. Consider this for a moment – Longevity Pay was first established in appreciation of the efforts these gifted firefighters made above and beyond their duties. That’s right, at one time the LAFD valued senior firefighters enough to bonus them.
Unfortunately, the past several years I’ve witnessed too many young firefighters disengage, or worse yet promote, rather than fully buy-in to their role as an LAFD firefighter. I’ve never seen so many young, burned-out firefighters in the prime of their careers shy away from the duties of the job they so eagerly chose as a career.
Many of these young firefighters have only vague notion of how to run-a-hire, make an NFIRS entry, or even sign on to FPOS. These members tend to have limited proficiency in driving and operating heavy apparatus, and possess nothing more than an elementary understanding of company SOG’s or fireground strategy and tactics.
Don’t misunderstand me, we’ve hired some terrific people over the years. My deep concern however is that we’re not setting a proper example for them. The senior firefighters who at one time guided you and I are now few and far between. Not only that, but the appreciation the department had for those who chose to remain career firefighters seems to have been devalued.
The following are a few of the outstanding senior firefighters I remember from my days as a young lad: Greg Ikeda, John White, John Leon, Phil Ganguish, George Deasee, Lane Kemper, Murray Ames, Bill Thost, Denny Silgen, Dickie Gilmore and Gorilla Hayes. Of course there were many others, but like you, my memory is not what it once was.
These were the guy’s that truly made coming to work enjoyable. They were the ones I wanted to be like as I valued their every word when it came to learning how to be an LA City Firefighter. They invested countless hours of their own time to train and develop many others and me. They routinely pointed me in the right direction and even kicked me in the behind when my attention appeared to drift away.
These were the firefighters who showed me the subtleties and “tricks of the trade” when it came to being a firefighter, protecting the citizens and respecting each other. Remember, many of the most gifted members to ever wear an LAFD badge held the rank of firefighter. I owe my career to them; I owe my life to them.
FF/PM Steve Meiche
FS 49, “C” Platoon
Next month’s KTW article: Senior Firefighter’s Jim Nicholson, Andy Vidovich and Steve Meiche will discuss (1) operational conflict on the fireground, and (2) the responsibilities of a locker room leader.