Tuesday, March 31, 2009

rookie psa

Now I am by no means a seasoned old-timer on the firetrucks but I have had enough kicks at the can to pass on a little bit of knowledge that is not written in any fire academy syllabus. I'm not going to offer cliche advice like 'stay cool' or 'there is no I in Team'. Rather, with great solemnity, I tell every rookie that the most important piece of information I can give is the same teaching I give to my toddler which is: go potty. Yep. Go potty.

When you need to go, do so immediately. Any chore or duty or involvement in leisure time can wait a few minutes. Put down that newspaper you're reading or take it with you to the throne room. If it's mealtime and you're the cook, the troops can wait. Just make sure you wash your hands afterwards. If you've had more than 2 cups of coffee at the start of shift, go potty, even if you feel like you don't have to. You do not want to be called to a high rise fire and be thinking of your bladder... all that flowing water from hydrants and hi-volume hoses won't help your situation. You may have some explaining to do back at the hall as to how water ended up IN your boots. And get stuck with a nickname like Puddles or Tinkles till long after you retire.

And heaven help you if you need to do something more than pee. If we're ever at a call together and you have a strange look of urgency on your face, that's when, my dear rookie, you're all on your own. And don't say I never warned you... as I think long and hard about a great nickname.

Monday, March 30, 2009

midnight runs

I haven't slept through the night in years... especially since the kids were born. But who I am kidding anyway, shift work and motherhood means chronic sleep deprivation.

I don't think I will ever get used to hearing the alarm tones at work going off in the middle of the night... First the tones go off. Then the dispatcher's voice calls out over the squawk box which trucks are needed, the nature of the incident, address, and map number. If you're at a one truck station... this is a bit easier because when the tones go off, you get running. If you're at a 2 or more truck station, you need to listen which truck is being dispatched and make sure you get on the right truck. And you need to be awake. It happens to the best of us sleeping through an alarm. If your crew mates are nice they'll kick your bunk to get you up otherwise you've missed the call which of course is a huge no-no and at best you end up buying dinner for the crew next shift. False alarms are no fun. And if you're the driver you had better make sure you're first on the truck to figure out where you're going and radio that you're on the way.

But there is something really fascinating about running a call at night. It's pretty. Flames and flashing lights are breathtaking. And exciting. And often scary. And driving back to station there is the stillness of the night when everyone else is sleeping that I enjoy. Sometimes at home when I can't sleep I hear the trucks from the nearby station race by and to me the sound of the sirens is a midnight lullaby. And my son, half asleep will say "mommy... your firetrucks..." and smile and drift back to sweet slumber. And it's in these moments that I give thanks and say it's been worth every second of lost shut eye.

(image by Craig Rubadoux/Florida Today/Associated Press)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

my sunshine tornado

My husband is working overtime this weekend and today was one of those days I wish I were the one at work. Putting out those fires is easier than the ones at home. I don't know if it's spring fever but Jacob has been a MANIAC all weekend with the atomic energy of a 32 month old. At work, even with the alarms going off there is at least some consistency and rhythm on how the day is going to progress.

With Jacob, on the other hand, I have no idea what bomb is going to go off at any given moment.... he is all boy and will not sit still.... It could be a header off the couch, a million 'just one more times' at the park, jumping, climbing, throwing, too hot, too cold, too little, I want more. Refusing to get in the bath, and then finally getting in and then refusing to get out. Eating all the toothpaste thinking it's the same as brushing. Lost toys and sandwiches cut the wrong way are a crisis. I should just write the word NO in permanent ink across my forehead to save myself from saying it a million times a day but the problem is he can't read yet. Tantrums are always lovely... and oh so loud.... I could stick him on top of the firetruck and he could be the siren for how loud he wails. His lungs could part the Red Sea. Thankfully he doesn't throw tantrums in public.... he just saves them for me at home while I am trying to deal with a massive infant Maiya poo explosion. Speaking of bodily functions... public pee emergencies are a treat. Jacob is out of diapers but when he says he needs to pee he means NOW... which sends me sprinting with babes in tow to a hopefully clean public restroom. If there are none around, we end up using a pee tree.

For all the grey hairs that are sprouting atop my head, I know it's all normal toddler behaviour and this too shall pass.... and I will long for the days when he comes bounding towards me with that reckless energy of a sunshine tornado to give me a hug and say "I love you".

And he's FINALLY asleep now and ohmygosh is he ever cute and angelic and that gives me resolve not to put him on a plane to Nunavut first thing in the morning. He's definitely a kid who could give a polar bear a run for its money.

Friday, March 27, 2009

this ain't coffee cream

Being a female firefighter, there are some inherent challenges to the job. Bunker gear and uniforms aren't made to fit a woman's hips so you either end up with pants that are huge at the waist or too tight across the arse. Gloves are for manhands, and airpack straps often don't tighten small enough to fit our waists. But thankfully, more and more manufacturers are making gear to fit women's bodies as more of us get on the job. Departments are realizing that cumbersome equipment is not conducive to working efficiently and safely if you're wrestling with your gear.

Our body mass generally isn't as heavy as the guys. I weigh 145 lbs. The gear we wear on average weighs 50 lbs. So that is 1/3 of my weight. You can see how the 6"4, 200 lb firedude is at a slight advantage. Luckily I've got the legs and thighs of my Mongolian ancestors. Not as pretty as Marilyn Monroe's but heck, they do the trick climbing stairs.

If you're at an older firehouse that hasn't been renovated/retrofitted, you may have to share the bathroom, shower or locker room with the guys. Not as convenient but do-able... just make sure to lock the door when in use.

Time of the month. Aunt Flo is a pita at work. Period. (ok ok... pun intended)

There's always at least one sexist a-hole in the department. But you get that in any field of work so that's not a too big a concern. Thankfully 99% of the guys are incredible people to work with. I trust them with my life.

But the biggest challenge I faced really had nothing to do with the job itself. When I went back to work after my mat leave with Jacob, I was still nursing. I couldn't get the kid off the boob. So back at the firehall, I had to pump between calls and pray that my milk wouldn't let down on scene. And remind the guys that the milk in the fridge ain't coffee cream because firefighters will eat anything that ain't tied down.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

neat freak

After having kids,one of the things that I have really had to adjust to is letting go of a neat home. I HATE clutter. I hate knickknacks and useless decorations and gadgets..... I like to keep household items to a bare minimum. Clutter drives me CRAZY and puts me in a bad mood. Ask my husband. I am constantly invading his space by trying to freecycle all his stuff. Most gifts I receive I end up giving away because if I won't use it I won't keep it... no point in storing it and letting it sit for years. If I am in a really bad mood the first thing I will do is find things do get rid of... dumping stuff always makes me feel better. But alas, with kids, one just can't get rid of their toys and expect them to idly sit and entertain themselves. Nor can you expect them to tidy up to your standards.

So this is what our home looks like today:

And this is a relatively neat day... it's usually worse. We have a playroom but somehow everything migrates here.... I omitted the picture of my kitchen sink because I don't want the health department knocking at my door. That's why I love the firehall so much. Although most stations are kinda institutional looking, they are neat and tidy and clean. Garbage gets taken out on a daily basis, floors are mopped once or even twice a day. Windows are Windexed, counter tops polished, the tarmac and walkways shovelled, lawns mowed, dishes washed and put away, equipment rustproofed, hoses rolled... Yesterday's newspaper promptly gets put in the recycling bin. Even the trucks are clean and shiny. When it's time to tidy, everyone swoops in because you don't want to be the one caught sitting down. The fastest way for a rookie to earn respect is to do all the cleaning and the scrubbing without hesitation or complaint.

Molly Maid... eat your heart out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

just because

Here are a couple of pics of the kids... just because they are so darn cute. And my baby girl rolled over for the first time today! I am just trying to cherish every second....... Jacob is no longer a baby anymore....and Maiya, just a few months ago was a mewling newborn.... where does the stinking time go?

monkey on my back

I doubt I would train as hard as I do if I wasn't a firefighter. But the pressure to stay physically strong is like a monkey on my back.....sadly, according to the stats, menopause is only like a decade or so away for me and I want a long career. So daily runs and hitting the weights is a must for me when I'd rather veg out.

But with the responsibilities of motherhood it is becoming increasingly harder to find the time.

So I do what I can, jog with the stroller, attend the odd mom and baby yoga class, have someone watch the kids when I go to the gym.... But I was lucky enough to discover this when I had Jacob:

Neat eh? I'm wearing an amautik with Jacob riding in it. This particular amautik was made by a woman in Baker Lake, Nunavut. You can see Jacob sitting in the pouch area of the coat... it's very comfortable and I get quite the workout when running errands around town. Beats pushing a stroller through the snow. And a better and much cuter monkey on my back I must say. ;)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

getting physical

Most everyone, upon finding out that I am a firefighter give me this look of shock or disbelief. Sometimes I even wonder how I got here myself. I'm 5 foot 7, 145 lbs. Asian. And female. Not the first image that comes to mind when you think of a fireman.

A lot of what goes on at work is mental and of course most of it is physical. THIS is the test that most southern Ontario fire departments require the candidates to pass as part of the recruiting process. For those of you like me who still prefer and use the imperial system, the test simulates wearing a 20lb air pack, 30 lbs worth of gear, 6 lb boots and an 85 lb bundle of firehose. The department I work for also has an additional swim test (swimtrunks only cuz if you can swim with all that gear on I suggest passing on the firefighting career and become a navy seal) since we have rivers and border Lake Ontario.

I still remember the day I did that test... and running till I thought I was going to throw up. And wanting this job more than anything in the world. And I remember the day I got the call. And all of it not quite sinking in until I sat in class with the 24 other hired recruits. There are moments I still can't believe I got the job.

Whatever you do, don't pinch me.

I'm having the time of my life.

Monday, March 23, 2009

sleeping around

Big confession:

I am not a virgin. Obviously.....since I have 2 kids and don't have the religious background for immaculate conception. What fun would that be anyway?

Nor was I a virgin before I got married... thank goodness because I didn't get married till I was 33 years old. And by then I never would have been bridal material because I would have grown the hairy palms of an ape.

As mundane as marriage can be sometimes I would never consider cheating on my husband. Despite his dirty socks and his packrat tendencies.... I just love him too much to even entertain the thought.

However, when I go to work at the firehall... I sleep with several men a night.

Now hold your horses. Get your mind out of the gutter. We're stand-up, straight-up blue collar folk at the firehouse.

Let me explain.

The fire department has been traditionally all-male, up until the past 20 years give or take. So firehouse sleeping quarters were a common dormitory. And still are in our department. The Captain gets his/her own room. The crew shares the dorm in the back. During a 24 hour shift we try to get some shut-eye at night when we can. It's policy that we wear our station t-shirt and boxer shorts. I sleep in my clothes on the nights that I am the engine operator not out of being prim but because I don't want to fumble around getting dressed in the dark when the alarm goes off... especially since we are timed on how quickly we respond to the call.

Some of my single (and married!) girlfriends were quite envious when they found out about the sleeping arrangements. But hey, come spend the night... knock yourselves out.... as handsome and charming as these guys are... the belching, snoring and farting after a 5-alarm chilli dinner is enough to take the bloom off the rose. And has left me many a night curled up in a chair in the kitchen with a sleeping bag.


I figured I should put faces to names... my gorgeous husband and son (don't you just love their smiles?) with just-born Maiya (we had her at home). And our chunky Maiya at 8 weeks.

And below....


here's moi:

Now before the wisecracks and comments begin, let me just say I am being neither vain nor narcissistic... rather, I am being wistful.... I looked like this with the magic of make-up and lighting and digital photoshop. This was done some 7 years ago for a charity firefighting calendar... obviously pre-babies because no way do I look like that now. Sadly, whatever boobs I once had are now pointed south. This is what I really look like... my soccermom hair, sans make-up, teeth maybe brushed. And don't you just love the bags under my eyes? Oh so tired but oh so happy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

what's in a name?

It took us 2 seconds flat to name our son. We had Jacob picked out when I was pregnant because it sounded cool. It took us the day after our daughter was born to name her Maiya because the orginal name we picked was a bit tough for my mother to pronounce. We're not into naming our kids after dead (or alive) relatives. Nor do we look for any deep meaning. And no middle names. The only stipulation we had was that there be no obvious weird name ryhmes like Charlotte the harlot or Rick the ... you know what I mean.....

The firehall on the other hand has no such niceties when it comes to nicknaming.... All I can say is that if you get the privilege/curse of a firehouse nickname it had better be a good one because like it or not you'll be stuck with it the rest of your career and beyond. Some names are already legendary...

There's Schmoopie, Keebler, McClueIn, Captain Underpants, the Codfather, the Squid, the Mental Oriental, Special Ed, Camel Toe, Chemo, Elvis, Haggis, Full Nelson, Half Nelson, Sweet Pete, Two by Four, Ten and Two, Chair Mold, Hippo, Zed Man, Chan Man, Tran Man, LFB, Lurch, Alligator Arms, Curby, Jiggy, Jake Brake, Frogger, Lance Romance, Scotty too Hotty, Pigpen, Ten to Ken, .........

Number one rule: you can't give yourself a nickname. That's just uncool. One guy named himslef "the Axe". Whatever. Nicknames evolve within firehouse culture according to action or personality or simply because it fits your name. Chainsaw got his name because at a call he ripped apart a front door with said equipment when all he had to do was turn the knob. It was kinda unlocked.

I haven't "earned" or been given a nickname yet... unless they're calling me something behind my back which could very well be a possiblity. But nothing could be as bad as my maiden name which was a 4 letter slang word for a female body part. For those of you who don't know it you'll just have to lose some sleep figuring it out. Thank goodness I married and took on my husband's nice old English last name that is untouchable and oh-so-proper enough to have tea with the Queen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

firehouse grub

I would rather scrub out the toilet than figure out what to make for dinner.

Trying to make dinner for a meat and potatoes husband and a 2 1/2 yr old who wants pancakes for dinner can be trying. Especially when I am happy just eating something healthy and fast like kale and brown rice and tofu. Or grabbing a handful of baby carrots and hummous. It's not that I don't like food.... I love good healthy food but I am just not inspired to make it. And it's not so much the cooking that bugs me.. it's the clean-up afterward... it's like adding insult to injury.

That's why meals at the firehouse are so much fun. You bond over breaking bread and there's lots of help washing dishes. There's a saying at work which is "it doesn't have to be good (but it always is)... it just has to be lots". And lots of food it is. There is always at least one guy who does a few great dishes. Calzones from scratch, 20 1b roast beef dinners, crepe suzettes, turkey with all the trimmings at Christmas. cedar-plank salmon, pasta-primavera, fruit smoothies...... but one of my favourite all-time meals is the fireman brunch which we usually have on a Saturday or Sunday shift. It consists of:
eggs of course (3 per)
hot italian sausage
hash browns
oj (I'd love to say we squeeze it fresh but we don't.... we have a food budget... normally 5 dollars per meal)

What is this sludge you ask....? read on....

Now we just eyeball the recipe for sludge depending on how large our crew is that day. We're a 2 truck hall so that means at least 7 people. Sludge is a fantastic mixture of deep browned beans, ground beef, red and green peppers, onions, and spices as hot as you can stand...... looks like sludge... tastes divine.... keeps you going for hours. It is made up mostly of the musical fruit after all. Not recommended when you want to impress your date. Luckily at my firehall I have my very own bathroom.

going for it

I tend to do things that both excite and terrify me.

So I became a firefighter in 2001 (I was hired right after 9/11) and a mom in 2006. And because I wasn't sleepdeprived enough between the shiftwork and the feedings, I had another baby in 2008.

The other thing that really frightens me is computers. I am a technophobe. 6 year olds know more than I do. I am hopelessly analog although I like to call it old school. I prefer my discman to an ipod. I like handwritten notes instead of text-messaging. This blog is my foray into the computer world.

So yeah... I'm a bit freaked out by this. I am usually intensely protective of my family and like to keep my work at work. But it's about time I get with the times.... I'm going for it.......

So obviously I've been a firefighter and a mom for a few years now so a lot of these postings will be in rephecy or simply as thoughts come into my milk-brain mind. With my 2 1/2 yr. old prince running around with the atomic energy that little boys have and my 4 month old princess hanging off my boob whilst nursing, I crave adult conversation, even if it's just merely to write here.... besides... much more fun than washing diapers or folding the never-ending laundry-pile or figuring out what to cook for dinner......besides..... sitting nicely at a computer is a lot safer than navigating through all the toys strewn over the floor right?