The most important stories of all

6255977082_80989e7d2a_bTwo years ago, 2011 was my first year on the social media staff for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and, being my first time attending the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service, I said afterwards that I was glad I was so caught up in the technology that I didn’t get caught up in all the emotion of it.

Last year, I wasn’t so lucky. I was tasked with interviewing and capturing the stories of the survivors about their firefighters.

Our goal was to capture 60-90 seconds of video for sharing via the Foundation’s various social media channels. Invariably, even if I talked to a particular survivor for 10 to 15 minutes, it wasn’t until the end or when I asked if they had anything else they’d like to share, if they had anything else they wanted people to know about their loved one — that the real gemstones of insight came out. Read more of this post

Three Decades and One New Sidewalk.

I just came home from responding to my third second-alarm fire of the week in my role as Deputy Fire Coordinator in the Erie County Department of Emergency Services and have a narrow window of opportunity to write this post. I’ve got about two hours to shower, shave, eat and then report to a law enforcement detail I’m assigned to until 3am. So here goes:

Earlier today I responded to an EMS call for a person with chest pains. Being assigned as Fire/Rescue only, I don’t typically respond to a ton of house calls but I try to help out at my fair share. Today, I was glad I did.

Two of my all-time favorites at the fire station: Angelo Rizzuto and Denny Allen+ at a drill in 2010.

Upon returning to the station I went around to the administrative side of our building to check on the progress of our large parking lot paving project (large, as in square feet and dollars!). The contractors were just finishing the last section of new sidewalk around the perimeter of our assembly hall. Standing there with our President Geordie Sinclair and 53-year active member Angelo Rizzuto, I asked Geordie if I could write my initials in the corner of the concrete, just as I had done when the assembly hall and original sidewalk were built, in 1971.

I remember that event as if it were yesterday, recalling how the contractors paid a few of us neighborhood kids 25 or 50 cents a day to help them pick up materials and debris. I was 8-years old.

I thought that initialing the new sidewalk would only be appropriate, seeing as I’m still here, so many years later. It was then that Geordie reminded me that I have an important anniversary coming up this week. Read more of this post

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!

Running to the Curb — and then the Engine!

I stumbled upon these videos while searching for another fire service related piece and thought they were cute. The first shows two twin boys running to the engine and gearing up for the big one while the second video shows an older boy waiting for his turn to really ride the big rig.

While neither video is certainly “professional grade,” they are both good reminders of what made each of us come to the fire service as Run-to-the-Curb kids and hopefully serve to motivate us to keep doing what we love to do.

I’m sure there are plenty more videos just like this out there on the web. Do you have a photo or video of your future firefighter gearing up to be a Run-to-the-Curb kid? We’d love to share it here.


Gear Up:

URGENT SCHEDULE CHANGE: Firefighter Storytellers


Tonight’s Firefighter Storytellers show has been rescheduled to Thursday night 11/10/11 at 9pm.

We’ve been preempted by a live show from the National Fire Academy with the ever popular Dr. Burton & Carolyn Clark at 9pm EST.

Please listen in to their timely show on Firefighter Netcast as we mourn the loss of fire service and journalism legend Hal Bruno, Executive Director-Emeritus of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation –

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.

RttC Kids: Following in their Father’s Footsteps

These two Run-to-the-Curb kids are obviously destined to follow in their father’s footsteps as the children of Lt. John Shafer from Greencastle Indiana. John is the editor of the popular blog “Green Maltese” and is a rising star on the subject of building construction and firefighter safety. Six year old Jade refers to herself as Daddy’s “Little Fire Girl.”

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