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Ever have trouble pulling out for a run forgetting you left a coffee cup on the bumper?

Yeah, me too. 

In fact, I had this happen several times due to the fact that I couldn’t impress upon a rookie on my crew to make a walk around the engine before it moves. 

After losing a particularly valuable piece of equipment left on the tailboard after a call, I knew I had to figure out a better way to get my point about attention to detail across to this hapless lad.

Bear with me here.

I grew up in the 70’s. 

You know, the generation that brought us both Led Zeppelin AND the Captain and Tennille.  

Aerosmith AND “Convoy” by C.W. McCall. 

Mac Davis (“Baby Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me”) and Foreigner (btw, Foreigner 4 is the all-time best break-up album ever). 

Terry Jacks, Elton John, Neil Sedaka,… I think I just puked a little bit in my mouth.

I was there when disco came, and I was there at Comiskey Park in July of ’79 when we brought death and destruction to disco- and the double header scheduled for that night.

The 70’s have been described as one of the most musically diverse decades ever.  I’ve also heard it described as one of the most “musically-dead” eras in recent memory.  But through all the Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, and Electric Light Orchestra songs, I always had a secret dream to become a rock star.

Who hasn’t?  Oh the life of a rock star.  Sex, drugs, rock and roll, sex, travel, sex, partying… rock stardom had all the perks.

Speaking of perks, who can forget the most famous concert riders brought to us courtesy of Van Halen?  I have obtained a copy of the rider requesting that, among a myriad of other items, M&M candies be supplied in the crew room at the concert venue. 

The rider specifically stated: “WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES”

Well, I guess this is one of the perks of being a rock star!  You can basically demand anything you want backstage, all the while being freakishly weird about said demands. 

Now I can vouch for the fact that brown M&M’s do not taste any differently from yellow ones or blue ones (although there does seem to be a subtle difference to those sought-after green M&M’s…).

So, you may ask what this has to do with firefighting.

To which I will return the volley with a question of my own:  Did you ever hear the real reason behind the specific request of "no brown M&M's?

David Lee Roth explains:

"Van Halen was the first band to take productions into tertiary, third-level markets.  We’d pull up with eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max.  And there were many, many technical errors- whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or, the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function.  So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes…”  This kind of thing.  And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl… well, line-check the entire production.  Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error.  They didn’t read the contract.  Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.  Somewhere it would threaten to just destroy the whole show.  Something like, literally, life-threatening.

The folks in Pueblo, Colorado, at the university, took the written contract rather kinda casual.  They had one of those new rubberized bouncy basketball floorings in their arena.  They hadn’t read the contract, and weren’t sure, really, about the weight of this production; this thing weighed like the business end of a 747.

I came backstage.  I found some brown M&M’s, I went into full Shakespearean “What is this before me?” … you know, with the skull in one hand..and promptly trashed the dressing room.  Dumped the buffet, kicked a h*** in the door, twelve thousand dollars’ worth of fun.

The staging sank through their floor.  They didn’t bother to look at the weight requirement or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the arena floor.  The whole thing had to be replaced.  It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&M’s and did eighty-five thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the backstage area.

Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor."

David Lee Roth put into place an automatic check, an indicator of sorts, as to the attention to detail he needed.  Hey, that's exactly what I needed!

I took his lead and put my own indicator into play, in order to get the crew into the habit of doing a quick 360 around our expensive ALS engine full of valuable, life-saving equipment.  As one of our past chiefs so carefully explained to us on more than one occasion, the most valuable assets in the department are the....wait for it....apparatus and equipment contained on the apparatus.  We wondered just where personnel ranked, but never wanted to ask.

So, to protect these most valuable assets, upon a small styrofoam coffee cup I wrote the message: “When you find me, deliver me to your Lieutenant.”  Then, I left it somewhere on the apparatus that it would readily be found by the engineer (“drivers” or "operators" in some areas, “Lieutenants” in Roanoke) as he performed the quick 360 before moving the apparatus.

Attention to detail.

If we moved before I got the cup, I’d just smile and wait if he would spot it at some point later.  To his credit, he picked up on it pretty quickly.  We even got to the point we saved a ten thousand dollar TIC from certain damage if not total loss.

So the fire service could do well from the example given us by a rock star.  Pay attention to the details and we’ll all do just fine.

Now back to XM channel 7 and Al Stewart’s “Time Passages”….  More puke in my throat.


Stay stoked!


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