Thursday, December 5, 2013

Personnel Appliances

Call it a strange relationship, but I really liked my washing machine.  A few months ago, however, it started making some strange noises.  I called my landlord, who called the repairman, who listened to the noise, then put in an order to replace my washing machine.  I was thrilled, a NEW appliance for me with no money out of my pocket, “Woo-hoo!”

The new unit arrived the next day, and I immediately noticed that it didn’t have all the bells and whistles as my last one.  There was no automatic bleach or fabric softener dispenser, and the door lock made adding it at the right time a game at which I discovered I was not very good.  Then there was the annoying habit of the new machine turning my shirts inside-out.  When I tried to out-smart it by throwing my shirts IN already inside-out, the damn thing seldom corrected them.  Then there was the time it washed a paperback notebook that was my pants pocket; bits of paper lint everywhere, and a spiral wire in the bottom of the tub… mocking me!  OK, that one may have been my fault, but I had become so good at blaming my stupid new washing machine, it only seemed right to blame this mess on it as well. 

Once I calmed down and tried to rationalize the whole ordeal, my mood changed.  I realized that I am fortunate enough to have a full-size washing machine 30 feet from anywhere in my apartment.  I also appreciated that if it stopped working, it was someone else’s problem to fix or replace it.  In fact, it does, indeed get my clothing clean.  Whether it was black sprinkler pipe water that shot from a drum drip, rusty grease from a fire pump valve that was being stubborn, or dribbled Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate that I got on my white shirt (within 3 seconds of it being handed to me I might add), the machine always got it clean. 

It made me think about how we sometimes treat people; specifically within organizations such as the fire service.  Yes, I know, I am the Master of Metaphors, and the Professor of Personification, but allow me to explain…

I can think of several leaders, myself included, which were treated just like my old washing machine.  Years and years of faithful, quality service and performance only to be discarded to the dump as soon as they began to make a little noise or lose a little performance seems mighty harsh.  I realize that our society, and more specifically, our manufacturing of modern goods had shifted from a “fix-it” to a “”replace it” mentality.  Technological advances are so rapid that it is often more practical to upgrade the old model with the new one, rather than repair the existing model, but why do we do it with people?  People are upgradable, can be repaired, and re-programmed, and re-trained.  Also, the last time I checked, we don’t have a warehouse full of an extended supply of experienced, well-qualified contributors waiting to be plugged into an organization. 

And how about that “new” washing machine?  New does not always mean better.  As I stated, it does indeed wash the clothing, so it does as advertised.  Should the machine be blamed just because it does not look, sound, or perform like the last model that was in the laundry room?  Was I subconsciously expecting it to perform functions that it was not designed to do just because the old one did those things?  I don’t put eggs and cheese in the refrigerator and expect it to make an omelet.  Nor do I expect my stove to wash the dishes after it cooks my food.  Do we unconsciously make these assumptions with people?

One of my favorite sayings about marriage is, “Women marry men, expecting them to change; Men marry women expecting they never will”.  The divorce rate is testimony that such expectations are seldom met.  Changing one’s status or title does not change the person.  Also, two people with the same status or title are seldom the same.  Look at your current leadership.  I am correct, am I not?

When we look at fire service relationships, we see that we make the same mistakes there as well.  We all know at least one “certificate collector” who on paper should be stellar, but in practicality, is a cement head.   We have probably worked with the guy that scoffs at certification, but would be our first choice to be depended on in a crisis.  A great firefighter may be a great leader, but that is not always the case.  Conversely, some leaders may be super motivators and coordinators, but lack expertise in the ground level tasks.  It is in this judgment that we collectively fail. 

When we promote in the fire service, we do dis-service to the individual if we ask, or expect, them to perform duties for which they are incapable or unable to perform.  We set them up for failure by expecting them to change, particularly if they showed no signs of that ability in the past.  If someone tells you they are a good speller because they learned spelling in “collage”, trust their actions, not their words. 

I don’t expect my new washing machine to be like the last one.  I also don’t expect it to dry and fold my laundry.  I expect it to get my clothing clean.  If it decides that the best way to accomplish that task is to turn a few shirts inside-out, who am I to judge?  I simply need to plan a few extra seconds to turn the shirts right-side-out while I appreciate that I didn’t need to haul my basket of clothes to a rock by the river. 

As Colonel Nathan R. Jessup said in one of the most powerful movie lines ever,
“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it?  You?  … Deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall; you need me on that wall. …  I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said                                                           thank you, and went on your way …”                                                     
                Paraphrased from “A Few Good Men, 1992”

I only wish we could see people the same way.  We should appreciate all the contributions of people without banishing them for their shortcomings.  If our expectations are not met, perhaps it is our expectations to blame, not our “appliances”.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Teaching an Old Dog...

As a line officer and incident commander, I often try to view our ongoing operations from our customers’ point of view.  After all, it is probably one of the worst moments of their lives, and any little thing we can do to help make these moments seem brighter will help their adjustment and recovery from their misfortune.  The other evening, I was speaking with a friend and was reminded of an incident where I tried to do just that.  

It was a reported kitchen fire in a little one-block deep cul-de-sac just a few blocks from the station.  I happened to arrive first and assume command of the incident.  The fire was a fairly insignificant, stove top job with a little cabinet scarring, but nothing a PW couldn’t take down.  The first in engine stretched a line to the front door, but it was never charged.  The light gray wisp of smoke out the front door and window prompted the crews to grab a fan while others isolated energy to the cook top and checked for any extension.  

The foot traffic of responders up and down the driveway toward the front steps kicked up a big, fancy black strap with small, but expensive-looking electronic device on it and figured it was something important that the tenants dropped during their hasty evacuation.  I picked it up so our jakes in boots wouldn’t stomp it up and wreck it.  I was all about property conservation from fire, but particularly from firemen!  My pride picked up even more when I discovered another one along the other side of the driveway, so I snatched that one as well. 

It only took about 5 minutes to secure the building, during which time I was systematically dismissing units from the call.  When only the first engine remained and was packing up the hose bed, I decided it was time to speak with the homeowners.  A quick peek inside the kitchen gave me a good idea of the damage, as well as the origin.  I learned long ago that the first thing people ask is, “how bad is it?”  I wanted to be able to prepare them mentally before they saw for themselves.  I asked the police officer (who arrived on the scene ahead of me and was now parked in by the apparatus) where the homeowners had gone, and he pointed me across the street to the neighbor’s porch. 

I made eye contact with them and turned to start walking their way to gather information for my report.  So many things began to race through my mind in the next few seconds.  This incident seemed like a typical household accident or moment of forgetfulness that invited the fire gods to come pay them a visit.  However, the look of fear on their faces immediately concerned me.  Were they thinking they would be arrested?  Should they be arrested?  Am I missing something?  These folks were petrified with a fear whose source I still did not know.  Perhaps I should have reassured them sooner.  I usually make contact with a distressed homeowner as soon as I am able, but this event was literally over in minutes, and this was my first opportunity to check in with them.  Were they mad at me for ignoring them?  Did we do something wrong?
I stopped in the driveway briefly to answer a quick question from one of the fellas, but then began my stride down the driveway toward the neighbor’s porch.  The homeowners held up their hand as if to tell me to stop, and that they didn’t want to speak with me.  What was their problem?  They have no idea how nice a guy I am.  Just shut up and let me come talk about your fire so we can go home and resume watching Monday Night Football.  Besides, I am the fire chief and if I want to come speak …        BZZZZZACK-        HOLYMOTHEROFGODWHATDAHELLWASTHAT!   
As the homeowners cringed and covered their eyes in horror, I was struck.  I saw a blurry white flash, and yelped out some unintelligible expletive with any air I had in my lungs.  I felt the hairs in my nose curl up, and I am pretty sure I peed myself a little inside my bunker pants.  The pain was instant and unbearable and I vibrated violently as I staggered into the street.
As my head cleared, I realized that those homeowners didn’t fear me… they feared FOR me!  As it turned out, I was the only one among us who was ignorant to the existence of their invisible fence.  I had completely forgotten that I was still clutching not one, but two shock collars.  They had been lying dangerously in the driveway because the responsible pet owners knew enough to take them off their dogs before walking them across the street to get away from the fire.  Apparently, the jolt required to train Great Danes is rather significant.  Twice that jolt was certainly enough to train a dumb fire chief.

As you may imagine, our conversation began with a mixture of humility and apology.  Once my fist relaxed enough to release my grip on these buggers, I dropped them in the street and never touched them again.  I couldn’t hold my pen worth a damn, and I could barely remember what street we were on.  I wasn’t about to rely on my memory, so I was not even asking them the standard report informational questions.  I simply invited them back into their house for a review of what we had done for them, and explained that I would call them in the morning to gather their pertinent info. 

I have run some challenging calls during my career, but this one was RUFF! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Parts is Parts

When I was a teen, very few kids had their own car.  I had to share a Chevy Malibu with my mom and sister.  I can remember logging mileage and pro-rating the gas money based on miles driven per driver.  Oh, how I wish it was based on time behind the wheel, because I am sure I drove faster than both of them.  Despite what they think, speed had nothing to do with the tree that jumped out in front of me and punched “Bu” in the teeth.  It took some low budget garage-time and multi-colored junk yard parts, but Bu eventually made it back on the streets.  After I saved enough for some Crager wheels, a sweet paint job and some air shocks, that little muscle car hung with the big dawgs in the bowling alley parking lot. 

My oldest daughter, Ashley was able to score a decently sporty (despite its age) red Grand Am that helped her be one of the “lucky” kids.  Well, that luck ran out in the dreadful parking lot of the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center.  Anyone familiar with that contraption, who just nodded their head in agreement, understands (unless they are still sitting in traffic trying to escape the lot’s grasp).  Because of the damage (she was T-boned) we had to rely on the professionals at West Lawn Auto Body (you owe me one for the free endorsement, Dennis) to put her car, “Gwen” back together.  I am happy to say that Gwen still prowls the roads today. 

My youngest daughter, Stephanie has her own car now, too.  She caught a hand-me-down from her great-grandmother.  Now, I know what you are thinking… it is a “grandma car”!  Yes, it is an olive green, four-door, four-cylinder, funny-smelling, unimpressive piece of Mr. Iacocca’s former inventory, but it gets her where she wants to go, and she has it all to herself.  Besides, the odor has been masked by the half-dozen strawberry air fresheners that dangle inside, and the kissy lip magnet and a few dollars’ worth of plastic AutoZone bling jazzed it up quite nicely.  “Ivy”, named simply for her color, gives Steph the freedom and independence she has earned. 

Steph complained to me about an annoying squeak Ivy was making.  I took the typical dad stance at first, and told her to “live with it.”  One day, as I watched her leave for work, I heard the awful noise she was telling me about.  This was no squeak, this was a metallic bark.  No wonder she was embarrassed by it!  Later that week, I decided to investigate the cause; I know enough about cars to impress an 18 year-old girl with little to no mechanical skills.  I shimmied (OK, I flopped) under the car to take a peak while she pushed lightly on the fender to recreate the squeal.  Before long, I had the cause identified.  Seventeen years of PennDOT road salt has eaten away the left rear sway bar bushing strap bracket.  Don’t be too impressed, it took me over a week to identify the part’s name with the aid of the track mechanic I work with and a few crafty Pictionary-grade sketches.  For the first few days it was called the “thinga-ma-jig”. 

I started shopping for the new thinga-ma-jig, and planned to make my final internet selection on a weekend, but I was asked to help teach Basic Vehicle Rescue to a rather large class that Sunday.  This last minute schedule change crammed up my Saturday plans, and I never had the chance to order the part.  As it turned out, procrastination paid off for me once again! 

That Sunday, I awoke at an ungodly early hour for the class, and I was still half asleep when the class got started.  I made a mental note to avoid late night lager the night before the alarm clock gets set for o-dark thirty.  I didn’t even realize that the one car we had to work on for the class was the exact year, make, and model car as Ivy.  Halfway through the morning session of stabilizing cars, someone forced a door open, and the squeaking grind it made immediately reminded me of my need for a new thinga-ma-jig for Steph’s car.  Jeeminy Moses, there sat “her” car, right in front of me!

During our snack break, I had the backhoe operator flip the junker on its side, the class helped stabilize it, and I quickly cannibalized BOTH rear sway bar bushing strap brackets!  I have been teaching auto extrication for almost 20 years, and have scored some awesome treasures, but this one was a real treat!  It wasn’t the value of the part that was a big deal, it was the timing circumstance under which I found it that was amazing.  What were the odds?  I figured I would be a hero for finding a FREE part to make my daughter smile.  I was too pooped to fix it that night, but promised to play mechanic the following weekend.  That whole week, I was bragging about my good-fortunes, and was looking forward to my weekend driveway mechanic opportunity; that is, until Friday afternoon…

A parent knows after one sentence when their kid is in trouble.  My first line to my mom when I hit the big maple tree was, “Mom, can you bring me my wallet?”  Ashley’s call to me started with, “Um, can you come give me a ride?”  Steph’s report led off with, “First of all, everyone is OK…”  This show of maturity was likely due to the hour delay in contacting me about the crash.  It was pretty clever of her to think through the call to dad BEFORE actually dialing the digits.  Smart girl, huh?  Anyway, this is not about the inevitable fact that she had her first, and hopefully last, crash.  This is about the repair process.

After making a few calls and pricing out both new and used replacement parts, I decided to take Stephanie with me to a junk yard.  Making her go along was supposed to be a punishment for her distracted driving, but it turned into a great daddy-daughter experience.  I was so proud of the way she was digging through cars looking for lost treasures to repurpose and clues to potential “crimes” that had been committed inside these cars, and having someone along to tote the tool bucket and car parts was a real treat as well.  After a bit of searching, we found three olive green 1996 Chrysler Cirrus sedans that offered all the parts we needed.   

I have been teaching crash rescue for 20 years, and know hundreds of methods that can be used to remove a wrinkled car from around a patient.  Many of those tasks involve very powerful hydraulic tools, that snip and bust their way through the components of a car in seconds.  In rescue, however, we are never concerned about saving parts in an undamaged state.  We use tool to perform the following functions (in decreasing order of awesomeness): Severing – Distortion – Displacement – Disassembly.  I found myself struggling with sockets and wrenches to carefully remove parts that could have been forcibly “disconnected” with the push of a button using a rescue tool.  This was all very foreign to me, but going “old school” with hand tools was a great experience.  Within a couple of hours, we were at the gate, paying for a hood, hinges, grille, license plate holder, upper radiator mount, radiator support arms, and a cowl cover.
I spent the afternoon in the driveway, revitalizing Ivy’s front end.  Thankfully, the labor consisted mostly of simple parts replacement, and just a little bit of hammering like a baboon.  By the end of the day, I had her looking almost as good as new.  The junk yard hood is a shade darker than Ivy’s, and there is a tiny sag to the plastic bumper cover that I couldn’t straighten, but for a total cost of $80, she was back to looking decent for a grandma car with 140,000 miles on her.  After I finished her up and started cleaning up my tools, I hopped in to turn her around when I heard the dreaded SQUEAK! 

Oh yeah, I forgot all about THAT little bugger.  No problem.  I was feeling like Mr. Goodwrench, and already had my tools splayed around the driveway.  Even with the setting sun, I was confident that I could swap this last part and finish the job before it got too dark to see.  You know that little saying, “Haste makes waste”?  Well, it sometimes makes blood as well.  The thinga-ma-jig would have to wait for another day. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Obsession

If you are looking for a good fire house story you may be disappointed today.  This one is just a peek into my other-than-the-firehouse world.  As a kid, collecting fascinated me.  I started a candy wrapper collection, a patch collection, a sticker collection, a bottle cap collection, and a matchbook collection, just to name a few.  In my preteen years beer can collections were big.  It seemed like everyone had a beer can collection, and I admit, I thought they were really cool.  Who could forget the Old Frothingslosh ladies, or the coveted Sunshine Beer can?  The problem was that I got a late start.  My friends had established collections, I couldn’t BUY beer, and my dad was not much of a drinker.  How would I be able to catch up?  Then one day, it hit me…  I decided to collect soda cans.  A friend of mine, Brian Schubel, was the only other person in the WORLD that collected soda cans.  I have since found out that there are hundreds of kooks just like me and  Brian 

I used to collect soda bottles by knocking on neighbors doors.  Back then, you could get anywhere from $.02 to a nickel for a returnable glass bottle that would be returned to the bottler, washed and reused (Now, kiddies, THAT was recycling!) I would haul my loot, as well as my grass cutting money to Mays’ Sandwich Shop in West Lawn and start buying cans of soda.  My delivery system was mighty efficient, with my wagon hitched to the back of my bike.  Supermarkets were a virtual smorgasbord of colorful cans and flavors as well.  You didn’t have to buy whole cases then either, and two or three dollars could score you one of every Shasta flavor on the shelves.   How I managed to survive that first summer without getting diabetes, I will never know.  
I began to stack my umpty cans in a pyramid in my parents’ basement, and then took up shelf space where the games and puzzles used to be stored.  One of my junior high wood shop projects was a pair of shelves designed specifically to hold 324 cans (counting the collection occurred weekly!)  I can still remember carrying those buggers home, and to this day, I still have them in use!  Thank you, Mr. Witman, for teaching me the finer skills of woodworking.   

The passion became an obsession when my family went down the shore for vacation.  Armed with a few empty trash bags, I declared to my mom that I was going to “check the nearby trashcans” for soda cans I needed for my collection.  I think she was ready to alert the lifeguards, because I became so wrapped up in my hunt that I lost track of time. The beach is really long, and the rows of trash recepticles kept calling my name. Several hours after my departure, I slunk back to the family blanket area dragging three FULL garbage cans full of cans.   

There was a bit of a fight whether this “garbage” was going in the car or not.  I had to dig through food wrappers, dirty diapers, yellow-jackets, and half-eaten hotdogs to snag some of these beauties; I was not leaving the beach without them!  As promised during my begging compromise, I sat outside at our vacation trailer with a garden hose and a sponge rinsing away the lipstick, sand, suntan oil, sticky residue, wadded up napkins and cigarette butts that infested my loot.  Once I washed and dried them all, even my embarrassed family had to admit, some of these cans were really awesome.  I found brands that I never heard of before, and a whole load of 10 ounce cans from Canada, written in French as well as English!  I had an international soda can collection going! I can still recall how they sounded as they rattled in the back of the family station wagon on the way home

I have been collecting non-alcoholic beverage cans for over 37 years now and have upwards of 5000 different cans and counting.  I store them in crates that state "USE BY OTHER THAN REGISTERED OWNER PUNISHABLE BY LAW". I know, I am such a rebel, right?  Road trips always include random stops at mini-markets and grocery stores.  I have learned to ignore the strange looks from cashiers over the years.  I have had friends who travel send me cans from foreign countries, and I have made more than a few stops at post offices to ship myself cans.  It saves the scrutiny I get from the TSA agents at the airport screening stations.  

I can’t imagine NOT collecting cans.  It has become part of me.  One day I will pass my collection on to my daughters.  I don’t think they share my passion, but they do keep an eye on the metal recycling rates. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

All this food and nothing to eat

Anyone who knows me understands that I am a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  I like things simple, especially my food.  Every now and then, however, I enjoy a trip to the Chinese buffet for a change of pace.  I still stay away from the dishes that have a mixture of more than three items.  I don’t like my foods to TOUCH, let alone combine.  I usually go for some plain rice and one of the many varieties of chicken they offer.  Hmm, that reminds me of a good joke, but telling it now may get “meowt” of my train of thought.

While I sat quietly, taking in the sights of the place, as well as way too many calories, I was thinking about my blog.  I think the last time I posted was probably around the time I was last at the Chinese buffet.  I was thinking about my blog because I was recently given a deadline to post a new entry by a new friend and writing coach.  I had not written in a while.  It wasn’t for the lack of topics; my mind is constantly pondering life, and metaphorically analyzing the things I observe in life.  Lately, I have felt filtered, and have been hesitant to post my thoughts.  Perhaps it is because recently, there have been a few wonderful opportunities to scald some of my past nemeses, and I am trying to take the high road. I have been hearing the approaching whistle of the karma train; could I be waiting to see who gets waffled this time before I sing about it?  Maybe I only get inspired when I eat Chinese food?

Whatever the reason, here I sit, tapping away on the keyboard, with no particular place to go.  I wanted to do a piece about “accountability” and its many meanings.  Having missed my recent deadline, I don’t think this is the best time to post that.  Hypocrisy lost out to honesty this time around.  I also have been working up a catchy metaphor between fire stations and Chinese restaurants.  Some of my thought include: “Does anyone really come here for THAT?”, “Chopsticks and other silly tools of the trade”, “You don’t belong here, let the Italians make the pizza”, and “Pffft, a salad bar?”  Of course, there are the stories that often light people up; the funny ones as well as the ones that make you shake your head in disbelief.  

I sat in that restaurant for quite some time, pondering life, wondering what’s next for me as well as all the others dining with me.  I kept waiting for my brain to click as I sat, trying desperately to come up with the perfect topic for my next blog post.  I suppose you figured out by now that it never happened.  I had a mind full of thoughts, but nothing lit me on fire.  

Anyone in the fire service understands a dry spell like this; and we all know what happens next.  So, brace yourselves and keep your boots by the bedside.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Class A Retaliation

During a recent series of fire extinguisher training classes I was conducting, I recalled an incident from about 10 years ago that I shared with my class.  This story perfectly  demonstrated the simplicity of operating a fire extinguisher. 

There was this real bratty kid named Rebecca that lived down the street.  She was a feisty little know it all 12-year old, with, as you may imagine, very few friends.  It was hard to imagine considering her diminutive size, but this tiny little punk had a real mean, bully streak in her. 

My daughters Ashley and Stephanie were 7 and 11 at the time, and enjoying the early days of their summer break.  One of their favorite activities was sidewalk chalk artwork.  On this particular sunny afternoon, the two of them were in front of the house toiling away at their most recent Technicolor masterpieces of hearts, rainbows and stars when Rebecca the Wrecker paid them a visit. 

It seems that her parents, clearly oblivious to their offspring’s complete lack of respect of others, purchased her the latest version of the “Super-soaker” water pistol and sent her out to play.  If real life were like TV, my daughters would have heard the doomsday music that usually accompanies the villain’s prowling.  Sadly, real life has no soundtrack.  Most of the other kids on the block spotted her in time and decided a bike ride around the block was their best defense.  My girls were caught off-guard; unarmed and defenseless against the Rebecca’s ambush.  The assault was over fairly quickly, and the sneak attack provoked some shrieking and dodging skills (that they sure didn’t get from me), but still left them both peppered with streaks of water before Rebecca’s “clip” ran dry and she needed to retreat to reload at her dad’s garden spigot.  

The Hostetter girls had lost the battle, and their water wounds were extensive.  Even the precious sidewalk art received some damage in the unprovoked attack.  I had caught a glimpse of the battle and anticipated that my girls would be inside in the next few minutes.  I was wrong.  I peered outside about 5 minutes later and there they were, happily drawing on the sidewalk again.
That’s when I noticed the two pressurized water extinguishers strategically positioned in the driveway by the side of my truck.  My excitement mounted when I realized what they had up their sleeve.  Part of me was upset that they retrieved the fire extinguishers from my garage where I stored all my training aides without seeking permission, but part of me was thrilled at their spirit and pride.  I relocated to the second floor window with a glass of iced tea and waited to see history unfold before me.  Before long, here came the brat, boldly strolling up the sidewalk with her weapon reloaded and ready for the second wave of assault.  I knew they had a plan.  I could see them watching Rebecca out of the corner of their eye and whispering to each other quietly.  They acted as if they didn’t see the intruder and calmly wandered over to the driveway and assumed their positions, one at the front tire, one at the back tire.  I shook with anticipation as I watched them each break the seal and pull the pin on their extinguishers.  Seconds seemed like hours.  They waited patiently while Rebecca cautiously crept closer. 
Finally, they unleashed a wave of retaliation never before witnessed on Whitfield Blvd.  With pinpoint accuracy and synchronized precision they unloaded those cans on their intruder; one around the front of my truck, one around the back of my truck.  Poor little Rebecca never knew what hit her.  Her feeble attempt to fight back with her dribbling stream was no match for the tandem attack from my little firefighters and their 30 foot aquatic range.  She dropped her squirt gun and started running home.  Without hesitation, my girls took off after her, draining every last wheeze of liquid on the back of her obnoxious curly head of hair as she screamed and cried her way home.  Even Mrs. Murray from across the street was laughing at the spectacle, as she saw the entire event unfold from her Adirondack rocker on her front porch. 

Now I wasn’t sure what to do.  I thought about taking them for ice cream to celebrate their bravery and acknowledge them for standing up for themselves, but the story didn’t end there…

Although I expected them to come running into the house pumped with adrenaline, the house remained eerily quiet (never a good sign when you have kids).  Peering out the window, I saw lots of buzzing activity from my two little warriors.  In the garage, into the shed, back to the garage…then silence…  I had to investigate!  Cracking open the door to the garage, I could hear what sounded like Santa’s elves; busy, focused, tapping, clanking of tools, whispered directions…what were they up to? 

Suddenly, the back door opened up and in bounced Stephanie.  She wanted to know if they could get the hose bib turned on so they could use the hose.  A leaky valve prompted me to shut off the feed to the garage faucet a few months ago.  I made a mental note to myself to fix the valve and asked, “Why do you need the hose?”  I must admit, I felt a little guilty deceiving my little girl like that; but I knew they were planning for the next wave of Rebecca Brattypants, and I did not want them to know I saw them with my extinguishers.   “We want to wash up the mess from our chalk!” her little angelic face never cracking from the outright fiberoni she was feeding me.  I played along and turned on the water feed to the garage. 

It was probably 30 minutes later, when the two of them strolled in, as innocent looking as new born babies.  Not a word was spoken of the confrontation that had taken place out front.  Perhaps they were afraid I would be mad that they “fought back”.  Maybe they were afraid they would be angry that they tampered with my extinguishers.  I let them stew over what they had done, and waited for the confession to gurgle out, but it never did.  I soon found out why. 

I went into the garage to check on the extinguishers they had used, knowing that I would find that they had been tampering with them.  That’s when I was stunned with what I saw.  Both extinguishers had been refilled and were back in place on the shelf in the garage.  It took some careful investigation work to realize that they used a milk jug from the recycling can to carefully measure 2 ½ gallons of water to fill them, and the bike pump under the work bench had fresh wet handprints in the dust that covered everything else on the shelf.  They weighed exactly what a full PW should weigh and the pressure gauges were dead on.  The pins were back in place, and they even attempted to reattach the tamper seals! The electrical tape was the giveaway.  

Needless to say, I was a proud poppa.  Not only could they operate a fire extinguisher with the swift accuracy of a seasoned firefighter, they knew (or somehow figured out) how to restore them to service condition.  I had a tear of pride in my eye as I dug out two new seals and completed their field service work.  I never spoke of the incident with them, and they never fessed up to me.  I looked up the statute of limitations on a crime like this, and it is 10 years.  I figure they have about 5 more weeks to keep their secret before there is nothing I can do about it.  I suppose I will finally find out if they ever read my blog.