A Firefighter’s Friend

I must remind myself that this blog is supposed to be positive.  Therapeutic. Cathartic. At least that’s what my friends in mental health tell me. Think: “Half full versus half empty”…”Tomorrow will be a better day”…blah, blah, blah. To be honest, my interaction with mentors in the fire service was very limited, so the list of morons is overwhelming.  In an earlier post, I quoted Confucius (yeah, Chief Taco The Philosopher), “Let every man be your teacher.”  Meaning that no matter how stupid, inept or bereft of personal morals, one should attempt to take something positive away from your interaction with the jackass sitting across from you.

In my nearly four decades in the fire and emergency services I can count the list of mentors on two hands.  The list of morons?  Endless…and counting. Some may call me just a grumpy old bastard.  But if you were ever blessed by knowing the likes of Linda Chapin, Dan Jones, Little Richie Collins, the Two Jimmies (Coon-eyes Cragan and Boom-Boom Dunham) and many others you too would be a grumpy bastard. More about these crazies, cowards and collectors of lip spittle in later posts.  So, while I hunker down in my Western Carolina contagion camp, I like to think back on the few positives that I ran into, worked with and some who changed my life. The first one that comes to mind is Delma Morgan Anderson; or Del for those who knew him. Calculatingly Quiet. Complicated. Courageous. photo of Delma AndersonDedicated. Fiercely Loyal.  My experience with Delma was far too brief, but knowing him left me with memories and values that will last until I kick.

As a newly-minted paramedic riding a Herndon Ambulance “day car” I first met Delma. Staffing a day car was kind of like being on the practice squad for the Jacksonville Jags. Yeah, you’re in the NFL, but the Jags?!  My job was caring for low-risk patients (lovingly referred to as chuckers) between hospitals transported in the crappiest excuse for an ambulance. Delma was my partner. On the first day we worked together, he invited me into his home for dinner after a mind-numbing shift of changing Chucks™ and patching a leaky AC that constantly dribbled rancid water on patients and newbie medics alike.

Chicken and rice – southern comfort food at its finest.  We talked.  Had a few beers and began a friendship that lasted until his passing. During my time in the fire service I worked with Delma as his supervisor, peer and friend. Inviting someone who you had known for all of eight hours into your home to break bread…a class act.

One evening while working in the field, I responded to an MVA near Station 66 – eastside Orange County.  When I arrived, Delma was assisting the Herndon medic start an IV on a young woman.  Although her car was trashed; looking much like the first ride I owned; no serious injuries beyond sacrificing several thousand brain cells. Did I mention she was incredibly inebriated? A sustaining member of the Orange County ETOH Club no doubt.  Once 66 cleared, I offered to take Del back to quarters. We hopped into my 1968 baby shit yellow, 454 cubic inch Impala that would run over 125 miles per hour (I was told), but had braking “issues”. Why baby shit yellow you ask?

(Prior to FD consolidation, Jim Cragan – Orange County’s first fire chief held a meeting with all the county fire district chiefs to seek their advice on several topics, one being what color should the “new-and-improved” OCFRD units be painted.  At the time, there was a rainbow of colors: Conway with deep maroon, Pine Castle with white, Killarney with school bus yellow and Goldenrod-Dommerich with the color of real FD units – red.  After much discussion the chiefs advised Cragan that a consensus had been reached and red would be acceptable. “Great”, Cragan says, “It’s settled, all units will be chrome yellow.” WTF?! Where did that come from? So, with the democratic process in tatters, the first executive order of Old Coon-eyes, was painting OCFRD units baby-shit yellow.  Nice work Jim.) It took two more chiefs after Cragan was hauled from FDHQ in handcuffs to ripen the yellow rigs to red.

We stopped into Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and a dozen for the boys back at 66. We always bought a few powdered sugar donuts for the cops who would stop by every evening. (Rumor has it, they would rely on the powdered sugar to blow onto their shirts indicating wind direction in case they had to assist in traffic control at a hazmat scene.) During the short trip back to quarters, I noticed the Impala with the stained cloth upholstered seats (don’t ask) dragging a bit and steering to the right. Not bad for a sixteen-year-old vehicle. Nevertheless, I motored on, pulled onto the station apron to deposit Del. We got out and commiserated about the state of OCFR.  That’s when I noticed water leaking from under the car.

Upon further investigation we found Delma’s personal trauma kit jammed under the car – complete with two rounds of cardiac drugs, other pharmacopeia, a chrome-handled laryngoscope with complete sets of Mac and Miller blades… and assorted medical accoutrement. The bag was DRT. I looked at him.  He stared back at me for about five seconds. Hmmm, decision-making time. Burn him for possessing unauthorized equipment and supplies or recognize him for his initiative?  I chose to put in for personal equipment replacement – his personal trauma bag, which resembled a dead possum. We agreed that the drugs would eventually work their way back into the system…unless they could benefit a patient more than a bean-counting inventory clerk.

At the beginning of the department’s history, EMS was begrudgingly tolerated. “EMS was for nurses”, Deputy Chief Doug (Crazyman) Bressler would often tell me. Coon-eyes and Boom-Boom painted a positive picture for the commissioners, which seldom reflected reality.  Equipment and supply replenishment was painfully slow. On the first day of the department, EMS battalion chiefs went to all 27 stations to commandeer spare EMS supplies and equipment.  The cache was brought back to EMSHQ, spread out in the bay, re-grouped into 27 piles and returned… allowing OCFRD to continue providing services for another 30 days.

And my job besides participating in daily sparring matches with Doug about the future of EMS? (He once invited me to “step outside” when I had the cajons to tell him the future of the fire service was EMS.) In addition to rearranging the deck furniture on the Titanic, arguing the survival of EMS with Crazyman, supervising patient treatment and safety, was to maintain the morale of a rabidly-dedicated group of men and women.  At that time thirteen transport units were staffed by thirty-eight medics.  With a three-platoon system, you don’t have to take your shoes off to figure the constant staffing shortfall causing fatigue and disillusionment, but consistent, excellent care. This left the rank and file to make shit up on-the-fly hoping for the best outcomes.

Through dogged dedication, ingenuity and testicular fortitude by guys like Delma, the department delivered…every day.

Delma Morgan Anderson and I maintained a close relationship throughout our time at OCFRD and after retiring out early with an on-the-job-injury that was never acknowledged.  As a medic he was awesome.  As a firefighter he was fearless – no doubt due to his Viet Nam service.  As a friend…words cannot explain.

RIP, my friendsee you at the big one.