Category Archives: Stories

Love at First Fire


It was about 11pm on a Saturday night and I was taking this girl home from our first real date. Prior to that we’d bumped into each other at a local watering hole or connected through a mutual friend. But this was our first real date, I’m talking a fancy dinner at Ground Round and then window-shopping, which is what young couples did when they don’t have any money to actually go shopping and buy anything.

I wanted to impress her so I got up the nerve to ask my father to borrow his 1963 Mercury Comet. I loved that car either because it was born the same year I was, or because it was orange and rust colored. The orange was the paint and the rust was nature’s doing. It was a two-door with a bench seat in front. You don’t see many bench seats these days. That’s unfortunate.

Having almost two whole years of fire service experience under my belt, I carried my gear in the trunk of my Dad’s car, which amazingly still opened despite the gaping rust holes around the lock mechanism. That was probably my most daring feat of the evening.

As we passed through the Village of Angola on our way to her house in nearby Silver Creek, we came upon a house fire located just “over the tracks” that dissected the village’s social and geographic boundaries at the time.

I pulled the Comet into the old A&P Supermarket across the street so as to stay out of the way of arriving apparatus. I donned my gear and waited for the first engine to arrive.

I instructed my date to wait and watch the operation from a safe vantage point on a grassy area across the street from the house on fire.

I helped stretch a line to the back of the house and up the stairs to the second floor with a partner who’s name I no longer remember. We conducted a primary search and made our way through the smoke towards the front of the house.

I leaned down and opened the bottom sash of a window installed almost at floor level in the front bedroom. Crouching down, I first stuck my left and then my right leg out the window and on to the porch roof. Emerging from the window for unknown reasons, probably for a photo op or to wave to that pretty girl watching from across the street (LOL), I stood up — and immediately fell through the roof to the ground below. She was undoubtedly impressed at this point, I’m sure.

Dusting off my ego and literally pulling up my boot straps, I gathered myself and went back inside the house, this time with a far more experienced firefighter named Denny Allen. I’d been friends with Dennis for as long as I could remember, as I had grown up around the corner from the Evans Center Volunteer Fire Company, my fire company. I always admired Dennis for his ability to remain calm under some of the most chaotic conditions and I trusted him with my life.

We went back to the second floor, this time to conduct overhaul operations — to open up the walls and pull the ceiling in this now smoldering fire. As we began to poke and prod the ceiling with our pike poles, it seemed like the entire ceiling came down on top of us at once. The heavy plaster and lathe knocked us to the ground, jarring my mask loose on my “state-of-the-art” Scott 2A Air Pack, the kind with the elephant trunk hose pre-connected to the mask.

Crawling towards fresh air and the lights from the apparatus outside, I stuck my head out of the same window I had emerged from earlier in the fire fight. And, apparently I had ingested enough brown, acrid smoke to turn my stomach upside down and I proceeded to empty its contents over the side of the porch roof, all the while my date watched from across the street.

Operations at the fire scene dragged on for hours and I got her home from our first date very, very late. It was the next day. I don’t think her parents were too thrilled about that or if they really believed the story why.

That fire occurred 30 years ago today, and that girl, the former Laurie Brunner, has been my wife for 25 of those 30 years. We will celebrate our silver wedding anniversary the day after Christmas, later this year.

I’m confident that the fact that she has stuck with me since that very interesting end to our first date is a clear indication that at least one of us is crazy.

Sand HeartSpeaking of crazy, thirteen years ago we took a leap of faith together when I took “early retirement” and gave up a perfectly good paying career in with a bright future to take advantage of an opportunity I’d been offered to do what I love, to serve in the fire service.

No doubt a counter-intuitive financial move, especially with two young kids at home, I forfeited a full time job with great benefits for a part time job with no benefits working for the county. My choices were to either continue doing what I made a lot of money at, or do what I love.

For me, it was a no brainer. For her, I think it was both a test of her sanity as well as a testament to her love for me and my quest for happiness and career satisfaction. Although it still hasn’t paid off financially, I’m confident that even she would agree that it has rewarded us in many ways that we enjoy more and more each day.

I owe virtually all of who I am, what I have had the opportunity to experience, and most of all, the things I have been successful at — to her. Although she’ll readily admit that she doesn’t love the fire service the way I do, through the ups and downs that come with life in the fire service, she’s always supported me in doing what I love.

To say thank you (and remind her of a date she never remembers-LOL) I arranged for roses to be delivered to her office today with a card that read: “Happy 30th Anniversary of our first date. Thanks to you, I still believe in love at first sight. — Love, Tiger.”

She called to tell me that it made the other girls in the office jealous. I feel bad for anyone who doesn’t have what Laurie and I have together.

Our first date ended in love at first fire. A fire that has flared and flickered up and down through our relationship, maybe even smoldered at times, but one that rekindles over and over again and holds the promise of burning brighter every day.

For that I thank her. I love you Laurie.

#MyFireStory Runs-to-the-Curb @FireRescue1

FireRescue1 — a leading fire service news portal has caught on to the importance of storytelling with a Twitter based story-sharing campaign. Using the hashtag #myfirestory, @FireRescue1 entices firefighters to share their story of why they got started in our business with the chance of winning a free FireRescue1 t-shirt.

Taking great interest in their campaign that mirrors the motivation behind @RuntotheCurb, I shared my own story of how “It was in the cards” that I would become a firefighter.

@FireRescue1 retweeted my story, which I assume means that I won an awesome free t-shirt [#canneverhaveenoughfiretshirts], according to the contest rules on their web site.

That also means I’m in the running for the grand prize. I hope I win as it will offer me the opportunity to showcase the importance of storytelling in the fire service by having at and mentioned in their online newsletter.

Wish me luck!

Tremendous loss of a talented storyteller

Firefighter, Journalist Hal Bruno

Today, as we mourn the loss of fire service and journalistic leader Hal Bruno, it’s important to remember what an important part he was of our fire service, our communities and our world.

His depiction of the 1958 Our Lady of the Angels School fire that claimed 95 innocent lives is a classic example of his impact on our industry and the news world.

Rest in peace fine sir. You will be sorely missed but your contributions live on.

Salute to Veterans

UPDATED: 11/7/11
Please join me for a special Veterans Day tribute show on on Wednesday-November 9, 2011 at 9pm EST.

We’ll be joined by a few very special guests who are veterans of both the armed forces and the fire service — my favorite kind of two-hatter — including Vince Pupo Jr., a Marine, Fire Investigator and retired Fire Chief and Sheriffs Department Detective.

In addition to being a well-known fire service “character” — Vince has written and shared his experiences of his military service during the Vietnam War and now writes short stories and poems related to military life and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affecting veterans.

Tribute to Soldier/Volunteer Firefighter: SSG Matthew Kreiger

The show will be dedicated to Matt Kreiger, a fine young man from my volunteer fire company (Evans Center) who is recovering from being shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan earlier this year. We will also recognize the efforts of — a local organization dedicated to elevating the status of our veterans from desperate back to decorated.

Please help us spread the news of this very special show by downloading, printing and distributing the show flyer and/or sharing a link on your Facebook page or other social network. We hope that you can join us.

Here’s a link to last year’s Veterans Day Special with Citizen-Soldier-Firefighgter Dan Frontera.

Fire Men – Three Generations of Firefighters

EDITOR’S NOTE: Join Tiger Schmittendorf at 9pm EDT tonight (8/10/11) with his special guest: Firefighter and Author Gary Ryman on the next installment of his Firefighter Storytellers radio show on the FirefighterNetcast network. 

Gary is the author of “Fire-Men” – a newly released autobiography of three generations of firefighters in the Ryman family, a tradition that started with Gary’s father and continues today in Gary’s son Michael.

Listen in as Gary and Tiger share their adventures and their stories of life in the fire service.

Tiger will also be introducing a new and exciting relationship with Fireman’s Fund Insurance and their renowned Heritage Program which has awarded more than $28 million to fire departments for needed equipment, firefighter training and community education programs.

Tiger will be giving away copies of the video DVD titled: “Into the Fire” to selected guests who call into the show to share their story. Read more of this post

Wandering Lessons of Leadership

Lessons Learned from a Couple of Happy Wanderers and the People they Wandered Into.

I read with great interest this related tale of two foreign firefighters who recently came to “The States” to learn more about our fire service culture while hoping to raise some much needed funds for their pet projects across the pond.

Read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Fire Service” by my friend Janet Wilmoth, editorial director for Fire Chief Magazine and stop back here to finish the journey.

INSERT LONG PAUSE HERE………………………………………………….

Welcome back from your side trip. What did you take away from her story?

I was intrigued not only by the firefighters’ journey itself, but also by Janet’s comment on how she was so enthralled by their stories. There’s that word again: STORIES!

I wasn’t surprised by Janet’s reaction as she is who I credit with planting a seed and inspiring me to create this story-sharing site. It’s our stories that link us across the fire service, across the states and even across ‘a pond.”

Then, what really excited me was the lesson she shared in effective leadership as demonstrated by Chief Frank Trout of the Westmont IL Fire Department who talked about turning their organization on its head.

Read more of this post

Rekindle: Chief Norm Flanders

Editor’s Note: My apologies to Chief Flanders for the delay in publishing his story. However, it’s only fitting that we publish this feature on our nation’s celebration of Independence Day as Norm Flanders is my favorite kind of two-hatter: a veteran of our US Armed Forces — and a veteran firefighter, and for that — we thank him for his service to his community and our country.

As a young boy, I always ran out to the street to see where the fire trucks were going and always waved as they drove by. I later befriended a firefighter in the city fire department and would stop by on his shift to say hi and visit. His friendliness and willingness to take a few minutes to talk to me impressed me greatly. Unfortunately we had to move out of the city and my weekly visits to the fire station ended.

Future Firefighter Preston

I was about 15 years old when my real passion first got started…so to speak. I helped our local small town FD {not the one I am with now}, at a structure fire that rekindled.

After we moved we lived near a lake. I learned to love to fish and swim. I loved being outdoors every chance I could. Then one afternoon while about five of us friends were swimming, we heard sirens coming up the road. We hurriedly dressed, then went to check out where the fire truck was going and what the excitement was about.

The excitement was at a large farm house that burned the day before, from a lightning strike. It was again on fire. So we followed the fire truck up the road to the house. There was a small amount of smoke showing from the second floor window and the hole in the roof.

At first there were only three firefighters and us kids at the fire scene. Two firefighters were taking a portable pump to the lake to draft water. We stood around watching what was taking place.

Read more of this post

Will Wyatt: Funny Firefighter

Firefighter/Author Will Wyatt

Will Wyatt is a funny guy, but looks aren’t everything…

Seriously folks, I had a great time interviewing Will on my Firefighter Storytellers show with my partner-in-crime and new co-host: Chief Tom Merrill from the Snyder Fire District here in Erie County NY.

The show airs at May 12, 2011 – 9pm EDT on the FirefighterNetcast Radio Network.

Will is a firefighter in The Village Fire Department near Houston TX and is the author of the great read: “And a Paycheck Too!”

Before I share Will’s Run-to-the-Curb story, I’ll share a story he sent me the day after we taped his show: Read more of this post

Long Time Leader: Doc Moltrup

My Story:

PGFD Division Chief Donald "Doc" Moltrup

I first became interested in the fire service when I was three or four years old. We had a very good family friend near our home town of Beaver Falls, PA, who was the Chief of the Chippewa Township (PA) Volunteer Fire Department. We visited them often and I also looked forward to going to the fire station with him.

He also gave me all of his old issues of “Fireman” magazine, then the official magazine of the NFPA (and probably the only real fire service journal in that era). I poured through these magazines and even traced pictures of fire apparatus in advertisements in them and made up my own fictitious fire department with them.

Although my Dad was never in the fire service, he was kind of a fire buff so I went to fires with him often. I lived in State College (PA) for several of my pre-school years and a volunteer with the Alpha Fire Company in State College lived across from our house. I always saw him rushing off to fire calls and wished I could go too. Read more of this post

We call it brotherhood

Photo by Tom Suddath the DCFD band photographer

I stumbled upon this post via Facebook and was enthralled as the author shared the story of a bus ride that stretched from jubilation to sadness and every point in between Washington DC and New York, NY.

The author is a DCFD firefighter who, like most of us, enjoys other passions in his life. His are cycling, music and beer. Doesn’t make him a bad guy, does it? LOL

I won’t ruin the story for you but I just had to share this gem of a quote I found within it that reinforces my theory on the importance of storytelling in the fire service: Read more of this post