1-11-2004 "Are you going to start picking on Leighton too?"

I don't want you to get a belly-ache.--Gage Andrew, wondering why his Pop-Pop wanted a second round of toast

First we got Tom Coughlin, now we've got Tim Lewis, the Steelers defensive coordinator. 2004 is looking up in a lot of ways for this knucklehead. Go Jints!

I received quite a bit of feedback in response to that fireman's e-mail that I posted and the great majority of it was not very appreciative. It's like this. I've always posted the thoughts of city employees here as long as they were somewhat cogent and wouldn't expose the identity of the sender to their vindictive bully of a boss. They now have a fair and honest boss, but they've still got something to say about the city, it's future, and how some impending decisions may affect their lives and their jobs. I don't think that by providing them an outlet to vent we're somehow stirring up needless trouble, or sticking to our supposedly well-documented negative mindset. If we as a city can no longer afford what we've previously committed to and now may be forced to ask some city employees to get by with less, what's wrong with those same employees asking that every cost-cutting option be explored first?

If someone sends me an e-mail claiming that a certain council member cheated on their SATs, has a rare and disgusting foot disease, and specializes in midget porn, that e-mail is destined for the electronic landfill. But if they wonder aloud about the course the city might be taking, I'm going to cut, copy and paste their contribution to the on-going debate about this city's immediate future. Thanks to the magic of instant messaging, I was asked this question last night: "What's next you jerk? Are you going to start picking on Leighton too?" First of all, which elected city official has been picked on at all on these electronic pages since 2004 finally arrived? Try none. Zero. A city employee dared to suggest that city council consider their perks while struggling with the question of how to restore some financial stability in this city. So what? Am I going to start picking on Tom Leighton? It took me less than a nanosecond to type my response to that query. I don't believe that he's going to give me very much to pick on him about. I don't. I really don't.

Even stating that opinion could cause me some grief with some of the city employees that I have come to know and respect, while our new mayor is being honest about what we can, and can't afford in this city anymore. Remember that line from "Full Metal Jacket?" "It's a huge sh*t sandwich and we're all gonna have to take a bite." The residents of this city have had their fill of the sh*t sandwiches for quite some time now. So have the mostly shell-shocked employees of this city. It's sad to say and it pains me to know it, but it seems that the folks employed by the city might be facing sh*t sandwiches for dessert. It sucks and it's certainly not fair, but years and years of mis-management have led us to this point. If the employees of this city have something intelligent to say about their uncertain future, I'll continue to see to it that their thoughts appear here. For the most part, they have no other outlet available to them without risking the ire of folks that could delete their livlihoods with the stroke of a pen. Politics scares the hell out of some of them for good reasons. This gravely ill city of ours is eventually going to recuperate, but the needed medicines might prove to be painful for some. I wish that wasn't the case.

The one other reason I posted that e-mail was because it provided an interesting insight as to what some city employees face while doing their jobs and I was thrilled to have done so.

It was 107 degrees below zero yesterday, so it figures that somebody would be taking a blow torch to a frozen water line that sat right next to a natural gas line. Heyna??? I heard this structure fire quickly developing over the scanner, and while I knew it was a very serious fire, there was no way I was venturing outside with the temperatures being what they were. No way!

WIFEY! Where's my gloves?

Yup! I found my way to the scene of the fire and it seemed to be under control when I arrived. No flames were showing, only a lot of smoke. The firefighters rotated in and out of the building to the sound of chirping low-air warnings from their tanks, but it seemed as if I missed whatever happened here. I sat on top of a wall directly across the street from the fire and lit a smoke. I also started taking pictures, which meant that both of my gloves were now lying on the slate next to me. As it turned out, that was a big mistake. My fingers very quickly went borderline frostbite and I struggled to regain some feeling in them for the remainder of my stay on Madison Street.

As fires go, this one seemed to be a snoozer. I swapped a few words with a few of those fighting the fire and watched them struggle to keep their footing as the entire scene was becoming an impromptu ice skating event. Towels were passed out, the water and sports drinks arrived, and I was already thinking about which CD could effectively deliver me to my private "Field of Dreams" as soon as I got home and slapped those headphones on.


Then, just as I was about to admit that the cold air had finally gotten the better of me, flames erupted in the upstairs. A moment before, all that could be seen in that front room was a flashlight beam or two. All of a sudden, the whole damned room was filled with flames. Then, without warning, something in that room exploded and what little that remained of the storm windows rained down on the sidewalk below. Our paramedic babe, who was standing in a grouping of firefighters right in front of me let loose with "What the hell was that?" All of a sudden, the gear that had come off was going back on. One of our younger firefighters quickly advised myself and some other onlookers to move further away from the dwelling. I freakin' heard that!

Once repositioned, that gnawing pain in my fingers was really getting the best of me. I shoved my hands far up under my two coats while wondering if the cop sitting in his cruiser would allow me to join him for five minutes and save my fingers from a certain amputation. I figured there's probably some policy in place that would forbid a police sit-along, so I turned my gaze back to the fire and waited for my fingers to recover. Then, as I was regretting my decision to invite frostbite, a young firefighter struggled with a filled air tank that was deposited on the tree lawn by some of his brothers and his one sister. I'm not sure what he was doing, but whatever it was that he was doing turned out to be time consuming and he was doing it with his bare hands. At times, it was hard to see what he was doing through the fog that his heavy exhaling was producing. These people might appear to be overpaid when residents aren't taking torches to their property, but when gas lines start exploding during a near sub-zero cold front, I think things kind of balance out.

Cold steel

Like I said, the darkened front room upstairs suddenly became a hot spot and if that wasn't enough fun, flames started licking their way towards the roof.


There suddenly appeared a glow where none had existed before way up on top of that roof. The house next door was now being hosed down.

Here we go!

And then the flames erupted through the roof. So much for a boring structure fire. Despite how much I've learned about how our fire department operates, this just goes to show how little I know about fighting fires. I continued to watch them struggle to navigate across the ice. I wondered why the leaky hoses were spraying water into the air rather than into the building. I saw the fatigue in some of their faces when they were rotated out of the building and I also saw those same guys gearing up for their next foray into that stubborn fire.

It dawned on me that I would be able to walk away from this scene with ten operable fingers, but my near frozen toes and ears were conspiring against me if I did not act. I had had enough on this night and I strolled on up the icy sidewalks headed for the warmth of the adobe. When I first arrived on scene and started to freeze, I thought to myself, if they can hack it, I can hack it. As it turned out, I couldn't hack it only because I didn't have to.

Through the roof

This is what it means to serve the public. This is what it's all about and this is why the public should hold them in very high esteem. They're not landscapers and they're not construction workers. They don't have the luxury of picking and choosing when they should respond to a job. It's never too rainy and it's never too cold for them to perform. We call and they respond, no matter what horrendous conditions they might find themselves exposed to. They go when no one else wants to. They're firefighters.

They're our firefighters.