[Toastmaster Competent Communicator Project #5, Your Body Speaks. Objectives: Use body language, gestures, stance and so on. Unfortunately, this blog is not video.]
Mr. Toastmaster, friends and guests.
All across America, the institution of Volunteer Fire Departments is dying. They are being replaced by paid professionals. Before they disappear from the landscape, and from my memory, I want to share a few stories.
On my very first house fire, I was assigned to take a hose out to the back yard and to fight the fire from there. What I didn't know was that another crew in the front yard was setting up a powerful water cannon. When they turned that baby on the stream of water was so powerful, that it blew a hole in the front wall of the house, crossed the interior, blew another hole in the back wall, and hit the chimney.
Out back, holding my hose I looked up to see the chimney falling directly towards me. There was no time to get out of the way. CRASH. The chimney landed right beside me. Oh My God.
One day I was hanging out at the firehouse with a bunch of fellow firefighters. We were standing in a circle in the parking lot, spitting on the tarmac and talking about manly things. Hunting. Tractors. Pickup trucks. Then, along came Maggie. Maggie was our only female member. Maggie elbowed her way into the circle. Conversation stopped. The pregnant pause got longer and longer. Maggie looked to her left. She looked to her right. Then with both hands she reached down to her crotch and adjusted her package.
Well, let me tell you. It took more than 5 minutes for the laughter to die out. Thereafter, Maggie was just one of the guys.
On a different occasion, I was searching a house after the fire was out, but while it was still full of smoke. I found three dead puppies in the bedroom. I picked them up and cradled them in my arms, the way one carries an infant. When I emerged from the house, I looked up. Across the street were the children that owned the puppies. The expressions on their faces broke my heart.
Every little boy dreams of driving a fire truck. Well, for big boys age 60 find it just as much fun as they dreamed of at age 6. The truck is big, and red. You sit way up in the air. You have red lights and siren. The horn was so loud it could knock that bull in the field off of his feet. I drove right up the middle of the road straddling the yellow lines. It was magic to see the oncoming traffic just melt away as I approached.
I got promoted to captain. I went to an Incident Command course. The instructor challenged me. “Dick. An airliner just crashed in your district. It was a jumbo jet, with hundreds of people. You are the only officer available for miles around. You are in command. What do you do?” I just wanted to fold myself into the fetal position and disappear.
On my last house fire, I arrived at the scene late. The chief said, “Go in there and see if those guys need help. So in I went. The smoke was so dense that even if you hold your hand one inch in front of your face, you can't see it. The only way to navigate was to get down on my hands and knees, and to feel the fire hose with my hands. I followed the hose across floors and over furniture, until I came to the place where the flames were. One of the guys there handed me something heavy. “Get this out of here,” he said. So I dragged that heavy thing back, on my hands and knees following the hose. When I got outside, I looked down to see what it was. It was a 5 gallon plastic jug of gasoline, partially melted.
On a training exercise, I was told to go to the third floor to rescue someone wearing all my gear and air tanks. The someone was a 200 pound dummy called Buster. I was supposed to throw Buster over my shoulder in the Fireman's Carry and carry him down the stairs. No way. I wasn't strong enough to to that. So I grabbed Buster by the heels and dragged him down the stairs. Thump, thump, thumpity thump thump. But in my training records, that counted as a successful rescue.
Remember Maggie? One night we were about to leave the firehouse. Maggie held the door open to let people out. The people in front of me were Maggies family. As they went out the door, each gave Maggie a kiss. One. Two. Three. Four. Then me. I grabbed Maggie and gave her a really good kiss. Then I kept walking. I got 20 feet away before I heard Maggie's voice in back of me say, “HEY!”
[This speech resulted in the most negative reviews of any so far. It had little intro, zero conclusion, and it packed 8 stories in where there should have been only 3. I realized that I (and Libby) had committed the sin of telling stories that we like to tell, and ignored the audience. Speaker-oriented versus audience-oriented. I'll remind myself to remember that in the future.]