Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dinner With The Fire Critic and Cpt. Wines

Those of you who read my blog have read about The Fire Critic (Rhett Fleitz) and Iron Firemen (Willie Wines). I have been friends with these guys for quite a while now, and I would never miss an opportunity to catch up. This week, I traveled up to their neck of the woods in Virginia for a concert. I found out Rhett was on shift at Station 3, and he invited me to stop by for dinner. Anyone that is ever offered a firehouse cooked meal better not refuse. You can read about how The Fire Critic takes care of visitors in his recent post HERE.

As soon as we arrived at Station 3, they were returning off of a run. We were welcomed by all of the guys, and they made us feel right at home. After a quick station tour, Cpt. Wines showed up. He was coming in to work for Rhett the rest of the shift, so he showed up early enough to eat with us. The food was amazing! Since the fire guys had been busy, they had the Medic unit throw the ham in the oven, the mashed potatoes on the stove, and had the green beans cooking up as well. It was a great meal, and most importantly, in great company!

Brotherhood is what is it about. I know most people who aren't in the fire service may not understand, but it never ceases to amaze me how other "brothers" in the fire service take care of one another. How many professions can say that they will go above and beyond for others who work in the same profession? Do you think if I was an accountant, I could drop by the office of another accountant in a city miles away and be treated like that? I think not! Lt. Fleitz and Cpt. Wines talk the talk AND they walk the walk. I appreciate everything they have done for the fire service in general. They help keep the brotherhood alive. I even received one of their brand new t-shirts they had made up by Crosstitched. You can sport one for only $15. Click here to order one. I dropped off a few of our Local's shirts and our station challenge coins we recently started having made by NM Coin. (You can read my product review by clicking HERE)
I am going to be in Texas this week with Eastman Chemical at their plant in Longview doing some fire training. I am really looking forward to this opportunity to meet other guys, share experiences, and hopefully learn a thing or two. I will post an update after I return later this week.

Next time you have another firefighter call you up from out of town or just simply stop by for a tour, be sure that you take the time to give them A+ treatment. Be sure that you treat them the way you would expect to be treated. They are guests, and a little courtesy goes a long way.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Product Review: NM-Coin

This is my first product review, and I have decided to feature NM-Coin for to their dedication to the fire service by providing a number of great products at a great price. I was first told about the NM-Coin by the infamous Fire Critic. Thousands of Fire and EMS personnel across the country follow The Fire Critic and Iron Firemen on a daily basis. Their never-ending contribution to the fire service is shown by the dedication they show in sharing the latest news, the most popular events, and the best of various products that are sold. You can guarantee that if they back a product, it is worth checking out. The Fire Critic and the Iron Firemen had their coins, patches, and even badges made by NM-Coin. Pictured below and available by clicking HERE.

Check out The Fire Critic on Facebook HERE.
Check out the Wooden Ladders and Iron Firemen blog on Facebook HERE.

Unaware of what a "challenge coin" was, I first saw them when a neighboring IAFF Local had purchased them. Since I work with a lot of these guys at my part-time gig, I noticed that they would always keep their coins handy and wait for just the right moment to "challenge" their co-worker. I couldn't help but to be curious about why on earth such item would cause them to toss the coin over the shower curtain just to "challenge" one another. After checking in to it a little more, I came to realize that the concept was started in the military. After years of being in the military, the concept had finally progressed to the fire service. In the military, individuals or different units would have their own coins which would either be traded or given to an individual. The "challenge" part of the coin is that you are supposed to keep your coin on you at all times. If a coin is presented and a "challenge" is made, then all the other individuals have a short amount of time to produce their coin. If you are unable to produce your coin, then you must buy a round for the challenger or sometimes even forfeit your coin. When I entered the fire service, we often traded t-shirts with other departments while on vacation or out of town. Today, it has turned in to a more common practice to trade coins.

After dealing with several companies, I took The Fire Critic's recommendation, as I have before, and contacted Mike at NM-Coin. We discussed ideas and prices over the phone, and I then passed along the information to my Department. The first coin that we purchased from NM-Coin was a Chief's Award that was to be presented to the line personnel for a "life-saving event." In the past, several different items had been presented for awards, but the Department wanted to update the procedures with recognizing such event. Within 3-4 weeks of ordering, we had 100 of the nicest coins sitting in a box on the Chief's desk. I knew that this would be a business relationship we would continue building over time. All of the coins arrive packaged in a nice PVC plastic sleeve that protects the coin. There are also many options available like the coin pictured above in the plastic capsules.

The next order of business was to start designing a coin for each station. I talked to Mike about wanting to design a coin for each of our 8 fire stations, and even offering them in a set. We decided to go with a nice shiny silver front on all of the 8 coins, and the back will feature a different design depending on the station design. The Station 2 design shown below is the "antiqued" silver backing with the 3D design. I think the coins have turned out great so far, and I look forward to continuing to using NM-Coin in the future.



Maybe you're telling yourself that you aren't interested in challenge coins? That doesn't even scratch the surface to all of the products that they have available. The list seems to be never-ending of all of the products they offer for fire, police and EMS service agencies. They also offer badges, name plates, lapel pins, decals, apparatus models, etc. Check out the flyer below for a better idea of what their products look like. I would recommend NM-Coin to ANY and EVERY person looking to purchase any of the items they offer.

Give Mike a shout at or 800-COIN-123.

Don't forget to tell him that Andrew or The Fire Critic/Iron Firemen sent you!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Charlotte 9/11 Stair Climb

"Firefighter Karl Joseph, Engine 207"...Ding!
"Firefighter Richard Kelly Jr., Ladder 11"...Ding!
"Lieutenant Steven Bates, Engine 235"...Ding!
The bell sounded just after the reading of the name and assignment of the FDNY member around each of the climber's necks. We were the 14th team to start climbing. As we slowly moved closer to the bell, we continued to hear names and the echoing of the bell sounding afterwards. I took my place next to the bell and read off the names of the FDNY members around my neck. Today, the new names I carried were Firefighter Salvatore Calabro, Lieutenant Michael Quilty, and Captain Vincent Brunton. (Read the Intro to this post HERE) (One of the names I carried was for The Fire Critic and another for The Iron Firemen. Also around my neck were ID tags of all of those who I have climbed for in the past. Just after ringing the bell, I glanced up at the building that we were about to take on.

The Duke Energy Center is 50 stories high and the climb consisted of us climbing 110 floors in memory of those killed on 09/11/01. Team integrity is a crucial part of this climb. The recent climbs I have done have been much smaller buildings than this one. The Richmond building was 22 stories high (You can read my account of the climb HERE), and the Nashville building was 28 stories (You can read my post about it HERE). All seven of our team members were different ages, different weights, and at different levels of cardiovascular shape. The walls of the stairs were blank, but names and pictures flashed through my mind as we climbed. We immediately exchanged words of encouragement as we climbed step after step. It was physically demanding as I remembered the last, and some of our team members were experiencing the climb for the first time. Everyone stayed together throughout the first 50 floors. As we started getting closer to the top of the building, I heard a familiar echoing in the stairwell. It was the radio traffic from 9/11 that I have listened to multiple times before. It was an emotional touch that the Charlotte Firefighters had added to this year's climb.

Sweat dripped off of my brow, my calves ached with pain, and my shoulders were exhausted. Nothing was going to stop us from starting up the second time. As rang the bell again to begin our second ascent, we were met by the members of FDNY Engine 217 standing in the entrance of the stairwell. I quickly reached in to my turnout coat and removed one of our challenge coins. I shook the hand of Battalion Chief Frank Poulin and thanked him for being there. He then glanced down at the coin that I had handed him during the handshake. (The coins were produced by NM Coin LLC. Check them out for custom challenge coins, lapel pins, decals, apparatus replicas, etc.)

My boot lifted off the ground and I placed it back on the first step as we continued our climb. (My boots were provided to me by the National Firefighter's Endowment during a monthly Officer's Club giveaway.) I felt the physical exhaustion in my body the second trip up the stairs more than the first. As we were climbing, we came across a sign that kept us focused. The sign, pictured here, tells about the crews that had made it to the 78 floor prior to the South Tower collapsing. We pushed on, knowing we were past half way complete. We made contact with each step until we reached the top once again.

The final ten floors we climbed without resting. The stairwell was more crowded than earlier, but the words of encouragement never stopped. You could hear "Good job Brother" or "Almost there Brother" throughout the stairwell as brothers of the fire service continued to keep each other focused. As we reached the 10th floor, we were handed more fluids to re-hydrant our bodies with. We remained in our sweat drenched turnouts and walked outside onto a sky lobby where our group photo was taken. After a short elevator ride to the ground level, we were greeted by our families and friends who had gathered to support us during our climb. Many of us took a few more photos before slowly removing our gear. It was official...another 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb was in the books!

The brothers from FDNY E-217 were still around talking to firefighters from throughout the nation that had gathered to participate. We slowly worked our way over towards the other three guys and presented them with an NM Coin LLC challenge coin as well. During our conversation with the guys, we listened more then we spoke. The guys told us about their knowledge of each of the names around our neck. They referenced the location of the firehouses, the shifts, and the fallen. On 9/11/01, FDNY Engine 217 lost four brothers:

Firefighter Steven Coakley, 36 years old
Firefighter Philip Hayes- Retired, 67 years old
Firefighter Neil Leavy, 34 years old
Lieutenant Kenneth Phelan, 41 years old

It was a great event, and I recommend that if you haven't participated in a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb for you to go to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation's website HERE and sign-up for one. The majority of the climbs are usually held around the 9/11 anniversary, but they are also held at numerous conventions and conferences throughout the year. Train, Prepare, and Remember. You may think you can't complete it, but that isn't a reason not to try. You need to make a difference in your life and experience a climb.

Thanks for RIDE BACKWARDS for their amazing workout apparel that I wore during the 5K and climb. Thanks to NM-Coin LLC for producing amazing challenge coins for us to hand out to brothers and sisters that also climbed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Charlotte 5K and Stair Climb: Intro

The air was cold, the wind was whipping, and around 70 runners gathered on Church Street in Uptown Charlotte at the foot of the Duke Energy Center. The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run was about to start and FDNY Battalion Chief Frank Poulin spoke in to a megaphone thanking each of the participates for showing their support. A piece of steel from the World Trade Center sat on a trailer next to the start line. The siren blast started the race, and everyone headed down the streets of Charlotte lead by a ladder truck from CFD and a CMPD cruiser. We all started running behind the three members of FDNY Engine 217 who were the grand marshals of the run. For me, it wasn't about my time, my pace, or the distance. It was about the experience. I had originally only planned on climbing in the Charlotte Firefighters 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb which started around 9am, but after seeing that the Stephen Siller 5K was at 7am...I knew I had to do it as well. Those of you who do not know who Stephen Siller is, below is an excerpt from the Stephen Siller Foundation:
"On September 11th, firefighter Stephen Siller had just gotten off the late shift at Squad 1, Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was on his way to play golf with his brothers on that bright clear day when his scanner told of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers. When he heard the news, he called his wife Sally to tell her he would be late because he had to help those in need. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear, then took his final heroic steps to the World Trade Center. When Stephen drove his truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, it was already closed to traffic . With sixty pounds of gear strapped to his back, he ran through the Tunnel, hoping to meet up with his own company, Squad 1."
With this only being my second 5K race, I took a different approach to it. This time I did not run with music, headphones, or my cell phone. It was a time for me to reflect back on what he must have thought that day as he ran to the World Trade Center. My bib number for the race was 219, the ID number of Earl Morphew, my friend, mentor, and brother who passed away a few years ago. I chose this number in memory of him because I knew he was running right there beside of me. (You can read about how he inspired me in a post HERE) A fellow firefighter from Tennessee ran beside me the entire race. We kept up a steady pace the entire race, but had decided not to attempt the run in full turnout gear like some of the others that were racing. As we crossed the finish line, the time clock was just ticking past 26 minutes. As I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by another member of FDNY congratulating me. My parents and girlfriend also were there to show their never ending support.

Team 14 of the Charlotte Firefighters 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb consisted of Jason Bledsoe (Team Captain), KFD; Jared Lindholm, KFD; James Roseman, WPVFD; Austin Simpson, SCVFD; Candace Roark, SCVFD; Lance Bellamy, SCVFD; and myself. Each of the climbs I have participated in have had their unique challenges and experiences. All similar in nature, the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb experience is different in each city. The opening ceremony consisted of Charlotte Fire Department's Pipes and Drums band serenading all in attendance with the sounds of their bag pipe music. The organizers of the event spoke about the sponsors of the event. This climb was eventually opened up to the public, even though I believe only a few civilians climbed. They also had incorporated the number of police officers and EMS workers who were murdered on 9/11/01 by having each of those represented by a climber.

Due to previous commitments and busy schedules, The Fire Critic Rhett Fleitz and Iron Firemen Willie Wines were unable to attend. I had the pleasure of climbing in FDIC with these brothers and fellow bloggers, and there is never a dull moment when they are in town. Since they were unable to attend, they asked me to carry an ID tag for them. Our team was issued a bag of tags and t-shirts, and I was handed the photo ID tag for Firefighter Salvatore Calabro, FDNY Ladder 101. As I studied the tag, I knew nothing about Brother Calabro, yet I had seen his photo before. I have seen all the 343 faces before many of times, and most recently during my climb in Nashville. (You can read about my Nashville climb by clicking HERE.) I hurried down to the registration tent and selected a name for both of my brothers. Not knowing which one to select, I decided to select a member of FDNY based on rank. The Fire Critic is a Lieutenant in his department, so I searched through and came across Lieutenant Michael Quilty, Ladder 11. I did the same thing for the Iron Fireman as he is a Captain in his department. After a few minutes of searching, I came across Captain Vincent Brunton of Ladder 105. I returned to my team as we made our final checks of our gear, and prepared to head to the staging area.
During the Nashville Climb, I presented the firefighters that I traveled with from the "Model City" with a challenge coin and helmet sticker from the 9/11 Patch Project. I once again wanted to present Bledsoe and Lindholm with a small token to remember the experience with. This time, I contacted Wall Shields Co. (Click the link to view their custom wall shields, firehouse run boards, kitchen tables, etc.) about created a custom designed wall shield with the Charlotte climb integrated into the design. Within just a few days, I received a concept drawing of the wall shield. It was very unique and I knew it would be a hit. I pulled them aside just before we climbed and presented the wall shields to them. They were amazed at the laser engraved maple wall shields. They stand approx. 7 inches tall, and I personalized them with a message on the back.

We then prepared to climb...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Remembering the Fallen

Last week, I made a phone call to our newly appointed Chaplain to let him know about the Bells Across America program by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. That one phone call is all it took for my brother Barry Carr to run with this. Around 10am this morning, Barry came in the station and we began going over the agenda for the day. We were going to have a bag piper play, but at the last minute he had to cancel....but Barry wasn't worried. He was prepared to make the best out of what we had. We had shared the event on Facebook, sent information to the local TV station, and it was printed in the local paper.

We had no idea how many people would show up. We didn't really care. The reason we were doing this ceremony wasn't for any TV camera or any photograph. The reason we were doing this was to remember the fallen. Even if we would have been the only ones in the station, the event would have continued. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Around 2:30pm today, the media arrived and set up in the apparatus bay. Due to weather, we decided to have the event inside with Engine 1 as the backdrop. It couldn't have turned out any better. Retirees, firefighters families, and members of local churches attended the event.

The ceremony was opened with a prayer from Chaplain Carr. He then led into the quote from Chief Edward F. Croker of FDNY. A portion of the quote is as follows:

“I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the fireman has to do believe that his is a noble calling. Our proudest moment is to save lives. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even of supreme sacrifice.

Chaplain Carr explained the eight points of the Maltese Cross and the meaning of each. The history of the bell ceremony in regards to the fire service was described about how the bell was used to signify the beginning and end of a firefighters tour.  Engineer Bossert, Firefighter Bledsoe, Firefighter Delph, and Firefighter Lindholm read off the list of the 85 fallen firefighters names who were honored this weekend at the National Fire Academy.

I could not help but to think about each and every survivor from every one of those firefighters who had given the ultimate sacrifice. The bell was then struck 3 rings for 3 times. The strike of the bell sends chills down my back each time that I hear it...and unfortunately the last two times I have heard it have been at funerals for two of my very close friends. The event was called to a close by Chaplain Carr saying the Firefighter's Prayer.

Words can not explain the pride and honor we showed today as we all participated in the ceremony. I believe those in attendance were pleased with the way that we remembered those who have passed on. I hope this is something we can make an annual event here in the Model City. Below are a few more pictures from the event.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

NFFF Memorial Weekend

This weekend, October 6th and 7th,  is the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend. There are many events planned for this weekend in Maryland at the National Fire Academy, but there are many ways to participate for all of those who are unable to make the trip.

Locally, we will be hosting a ceremony at KFD Station 1 at 130 Island Street, Kingsport, TN 37664. This ceremony will be in coordination of the Bells Across America program by the NFFF. This is the second year since they launched the program and last year they had over 100 departments participate. The ceremonies usually consist of the ringing of the bell, a moment of silence, prayer, or another type of way to remember those firefighters who passed away last year. If you attend our ceremony in Kingsport, it will begin around 3PM and dress either Class-A uniform or semi-formal. We have a Facebook event created here.

Rhett Fleitz,, and Willie Wines,, are travelling up the assist with the services. They will be helping with the social media side of things, and if you haven't followed their sites, you are missing out. I consider both of them very good friends, and I look up to both of them in many ways. They are a constant reminder of how Brotherhood is still alive. Click the links above and check out their sites.

I have not been able to travel to the NFA yet, but I plan on trying to attend within the next couple of years. For now, I will be following along with the live webcast of the services throughout the weekend. 83 firefighters will be honored at the Memorial Weekend. They died in the Line of Duty last year, and the least we can do is watch the services and participate in a few of the programs the NFFF has for us this year.

Listed below are the times that the programs will be streaming live on

Candlelight Service Broadcast: Saturday, October 6, 2012 6:00 - 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time (Streaming Begins at 6:00 p.m.; Service Begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time)

Memorial Service Broadcast: Sunday, October 7, 2012 9:30 am - 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time
(Streaming Begins at 9:30 a.m.; Service Begins at 10 a.m. Eastern Time)

A complete run down of all of the links can be found at
Thanks for following along,