I really was grateful to Chief Tommy at that moment. But at the moment he jerked me off the truck and called Chief Roger I wasn’t and neither were the boys at 8’s.
Following my departure I have heard that Chief Tommy began to take the subtle flack that firefighters are so good at delivering and it is subtle. Most of the time no one comes right up and gets in your face. It’s a shunning.
Pissed firefighters are a little like cockroaches in that you can’t find them to start with or when you do find them they scurry away quickly. So when you walk into a kitchen in the morning to get a cup and hang out with the crew you will find yourself all alone in just a matter of seconds.
One by one they move off or in groups of two or three. Nothing overt, no one announces “Hey I’m not drinking coffee with this ass, let’s go.” No, they just drift away and there you sit.
I heard from a friend that worked a shift with my ex (she is a lieutenant) that it got so bad for her one day when he worked with her, that he felt sorry for her and sat down and talked to her for awhile and he knew all the details of our divorce battle. He’s a nice man.
So how does this pertain to Chief Tommy? Well he might be a chief, but in the firehouse the chief officer is still just a man one of the guys. They must be respected for their rank and responded to professionally but you don’t as a firefighter have to keep them company during down time.
If you are being shunned you know it and it is a very uncomfortable 24 hours or 48 or 72 hours however long the punishment lasts. A chief is mobile and can just get in their fire SUV and go somewhere else, but this was a big event, maybe the first time a guy had been yanked out of a station and disappeared. So wherever Chief Tommy went he got it.
At first I thought right on, serves him right. You may wonder why he was getting treated badly for what he had done, well this all happened during a time of migration for the fire department. Migration from old school to the world of political correctness and law suits.
In days past if I guy showed up hung over it was no big deal. Let him get something to eat have a nap and by lunch he was right as rain. Or if a guy showed up in real bad shape like I had, you just sent him home and put him off sick.
The results of my blood alcohol test that day showed I was at a .02 that isn’t even considered under the influence, you won’t even get a ticket for driving with that level of alcohol. So why not send me home?
Okay let’s say that is what Chief Tommy had decided to do, send me home. On the way home I am involved in a wreck, no big deal I wasn’t under the influence. But the accident is my fault and the cops test me, .02 I’m cool.
But this becomes evidence in a court action and guess what else becomes evidence? Yeah I had just been sent home from the fire station. So the city and Chief Tommy and the whole department gets sued and it becomes a national news story and careers and lives get destroyed, because that is what alcoholics do, we screw up.
So it was on me to try and let people know what Chief Tommy did was a good thing. Not in the sense of avoiding possible legal action down the road. No in that what he did saved my life and they needed to know that, they needed to understand how far out of control I had gotten.
I stopped by 8’s and had a cup with the boys. I couldn’t just say hey get off the chief’s back; I had to weave it into the conversation, I had to take it back on me. It was my actions that day that put this thing in motion, not his.
I told how drunk I had gotten the night before and how I had debated just calling off sick myself. I wanted to be a cautionary tale. My father had always said you can still serve as a good example by being a bad example and that I had done in style.
The result of all this was I had to go to a meeting with THE Chief, the Big. The man that had tried to get me help all those years ago at 1’s, the guy that had given me a last chance contract six years earlier following my suicide attempt. A guy a really liked and still do.
The book Alcoholics Anonymous puts it this way about what we do when drinking.
"The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough. He is like the farmer who came up out of his cyclone cellar to find his home ruined. To his wife, he remarked, "Don't see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain't it grand the wind stopped blowin'?" -- "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) Chapter 6, 'Into Action,' pg. 82
I really didn’t want to meet with this man, not out of fear; I knew my career hung in the balance that was accepted. I knew how much disappointment I was going to see in him, how much of a tornado I had been for him and his department. Was I going to be worth it to him to keep around? That I didn’t know.
Next time the meeting with The Big Chief.
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