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I am sitting alone at last. The firehouse is quiet and I can hear the pipes playing in my head. My Chief has fallen. While we ran from tone out to tone out, he slowly let go. As his boys ran the beat, he went to sleep. I miss him, you know. For some silly reason he used to call me "Watash". I think I'll write that on the back of my helmet. He believed in me.
He was our bull dog, our champion. He loved his men. We loved him. You couldn't help it. He believed in us. As the pipes play and the bell is rung, we'll sing a song for our Chief and remember him fondly as he was. But I will remember forever my last moment with him.
We had just run a Code, the boys had performed flawlessly. None older than 22, they fought for another man's life while thier own Chief lay dying in his hospital bed. They did it all, ET Tube first try, EKG and drug therapy, the works. I just stood there and passed them what they needed. You'd never know they were "just kids" as so many prefer to dubb them. I was watching them work and thought, "Not professional? Kiss my A**!" We can take these boys anywhere!

So as I stood next to the chief, I couldn't wait to tell him how well they'd performed, even then, knowing of his struggle, wanting to be with him. I took his hand. It was cold. I leaned over and said, "Watash reporting for duty, Chief." His eyes lit up, and he struggled for breath. I held his gaze, begging God to help me hold back my tears. "You shoulda seen your boys tonight, Chief" I said. "You can be so proud!" He reached up and placed his hand on my face and his eyes grew bright. He tried to talk, but we had to calm him. I told him I understood and I told him I loved him. Then I left him. I left him knowing we were on duty, toeing the line, ready to make him proud. Each University Firefighter, with grief in his/her heart, refusing to quit the tour.

I've never wanted to be a Battalion Chief or any other kind of Chief. I like my place, I like being a company officer and have never longed for the crossed bugles. But now I sit in his place. Only a week ago he sat here, saying "Well, Watash, whats for lunch?" Now I'm here...... And he is gone. Its after 2 am, and I can't sleep. Somehow I have to find the focus and willpower to begin again, to press on. I need to tackle that Battalion Chief's job, and do it for him. I know he wanted that. He believed in his people. He wanted one of us to step up and take it. So we must step up even as we plan his funeral.

We are the very embodiment of his life, his devotion to duty and his dedication to the young men and women who worked under him. We will be a living memorial to the Chief. What an honor to follow behind this man.

But just now, at 2:30 am, in a quiet firehouse, I miss him and I wish I could sit and talk with him just one more time. He was my friend you know.

The Parting Glass

"Of all the money that ere I had
I spent it in good company
And all the harm I ever done
A' las' it was to no but me
And all I've done, for want of wit,
To memory now I can't recall,

So fill to me the parting glass,
Goodnight and joy be to you all!
So fill to me the parting glass,
And drink a health what 'ere befalls,
Then gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all!

Of all the comrades the ere I had,
that are sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts that ere I had,
that wish me one more day to stay,

But since it fell into my lot,
That I should rise, and you should not,
I'll gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and Joy Be To You All!

So fill to me the parting glass,
And drink a health what 'ere befalls,
Then gently rise and softly call,
Goodnight and joy be to you all!"

--The High Kings

Good night to you, Chief. We're on duty, we're ready to roll!....."And all those kinds of things." --Watash

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Comment by Todd McKee on November 23, 2008 at 8:07pm
Brother, I will say a prayer tonight for you, your guys, and for the families. Chief is in a better place, the firehouse in the sky directing other men to do the jobs they were sent to do. Heck, you never know he could be the one guiding you from here on out. Rest, Rest, Rest, In PEACE CHIEF! Todd McKee
Comment by Ben Fleagle on November 23, 2008 at 8:04pm
Thank you all. As my UFD brothers and I walked the processional route today and made plans for the color guard I struggled a bit to keep emotions out. To think that all of this ceremony is coming together for someone so close to us is comforting, but at the same time, unreal.

I would ask all who have read this, that they say a prayer to the Father for the young men and women in our department. They are incredible people and in my previous blog I wrote about thier fortitude and endurance under difficult conditions, never imagining that such times of sorrow lay ahead of us. Some of them are having a truly difficult time with all this. Yet they are still reporting for duty, still focusing on thier work. Please pray that they will continue to do so during this difficult week ahead and that our safety record will pay off.

Thanks again. FTM-PTB-KTF-RFB-DTRT-EGH
Comment by Jeff Betz on November 23, 2008 at 5:53pm
My heartfelt condolences to you Ben, and the whole crew at UFD. I continue to be astounded at the compassion, character and integrity of our collective fire service. From Ben's heartfelt words so eloquently written, to the support of his closest friends, and the support of all the rest of us all over. All of these sentiments for a Chief who left an indelible impression on those around him, and motivates them still to this day...wow.
These are the exact times that I am so proud to be a small part of an awesome family of firefighters,
Comment by David Rhodes on November 23, 2008 at 8:57am
We are all standing on the shoulders of someone. Sounds like you have a very strong and sturdy platform. My condolences for your loss and my thanks for realizing that you have a responsibility to fill the void. It is easy to stay a company officer because it is "safe" and comfortable. Take the lessons learned from your good chief and apply your own insight and make the place even better. God Speed
Comment by Mike Cody on November 23, 2008 at 7:53am
What a great tribute. You all are in my thoughts and prayers. It sounds like you are doing what he would have wanted, carrying the torch.
God Bless.
Comment by Derick Stansbury on November 23, 2008 at 2:41am
I don't have the words Cap. It makes me feel better that you do, and that you share them.
Comment by Katy Luetke on November 22, 2008 at 3:56pm
Wow, what a beautiful post. A friend and I were going to get on Fire-E today and look up firemen from the University program in Alaska, what an impression. Sorry for you loss, My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Comment by Ben Fleagle on November 22, 2008 at 3:32pm
Thank you Chief. He would have liked to have known you, he really took heart with your "Dissent" speech. You would have liked the man. He was the kind of Battalion Chief that despite manning requirements, always found a way to get someone to act in the "Aide" position. He new how to manage things. He always made you feel capable and helped you see what you could accomplish. Thanks again.
Comment by Bobby Halton on November 22, 2008 at 3:28pm
Ben,
My deepest sympathies and thoughts, I will say a prayer for Phil tonight at the 5, May Gods warrior Michael lift him gently to his heart and let him rest now, his work well done his life well spent and friends now ready to carry on his nobel work. Your friend Bobby
Comment by Ben Fleagle on November 22, 2008 at 3:09pm
This brotherhood is truly amazing to me. Never ceases to. Thank you to all for joining me in my vigil last night. I felt strangely at peace after writing, felt as though I needed to stay awake, watch over the company through the night. Kind of whacked, I know. I didn't make it, I passed out in the desk chair, drooling. The tones went off and I woke up with one foot asleep and a wet chin, stumbling out of the room wondering what Phil would say seeing me like that.
Thanks again to you all. UFD will recover. Roarke, your quote above is truly appropriate. Thank you.

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