“The Firehouse Kitchen Table”
By Mark Gregory
111 Truck, FDNY (The Nuthouse)
There is a very important tool in the fire service that’s purpose is greatly underestimated by many. This tool has more hours of use than any piece of equipment stored on our apparatus. It is not the halligan tool or the lead attack line on your first due engine. Quite simply, it is “the firehouse kitchen table”. Now, some of you are probably saying “what the heck is Urban Firefighter Magazine running a post about a piece of furniture for?” Well my friends read on.
Firehouse kitchen tables have been around for hundreds of years; they come in various shapes and sizes. Some are very plain and business-like. Others are masterpieces that have been built from scratch. They are decorated with the names of our fallen comrades and the artwork of our company logos. The table we had in Rescue 2 was built from a cable reel and roping covered by numerous coats of polyurethane. The ‘Nuthouse’ (Ladder 111) table is covered in gold leafing and supported by fire hydrants. No matter what type of table you have in your station, one thing that the table holds together for us all is tradition.
Think about what goes on at your kitchen table every day? It is the focal point of the firehouse. When we come into work at the change of tours, it is the kitchen we will normally report in to. The brothers from the on-duty tour are there waiting to see the members that are coming in for the next shift. Think of all the good advice you have heard around the kitchen table: financial planning, relationship resolutions, and many world crisis situations have been solved by fellow firefighters at the kitchen table!
Many “senior man beat-downs” also occur at the kitchen table. I will admit, I have received my fair share of beat-downs. As a young firefighter, I respected and feared the names of men such as Picconi, Loughlin, Galione and Lake (R.I.P. 9/11/01); these were the senior men; the masters of company discipline and position-oriented firefighters. When you walked into the kitchen and all was quiet, a lump appeared in your throat. You started to recall to yourself, “Did I screw up at a job or perform some sort of act that does not sit well with the senior men?” If you knew that something was wrong, and you completely avoided the kitchen, that was even worse.
Senior men and kitchen tables are not just about “beat-downs”. Rather, they are the teachers and classrooms for our trade. Think of how many fire stories you have heard over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. You can read thousands of fire service magazines and watch hour after hour of videos, but, you still will not receive the education you can get from listening to people who have been there and handled various types of fires or emergencies. Fire duty throughout this country is on a downward slide. Trading stories of how a certain lock was attacked-or why you took a certain way to get to your position as the outside vent-keeps us sharp in our trade. There is a vast amount of knowledge that is around that table; decade’s worth of actual duty that no training periodical can replace. Soak it up, because no fire service manual can store all of this information. The beauty of the kitchen table as a resource is that it is easy to get to; you can reward yourself with a nice hot cup of coffee while you are there, and your presence will encourage others to participate in your discussions.
Critiques are a very important part of our profession. Critiques should be constructive and not destructive. After a good job or rescue call is completed and all the equipment is in service, gather the troops around the kitchen table. Discuss the good and bad points of the operation. Discuss all of the positions and how they were handled. As a boss, I like to discuss my role also. There are members in my company that are on the promotion list to Lieutenant. Allowing members to understand the role of the company officer-and why certain decisions are made-will only produce a finer crop of future leaders. Informative points that come out of your critique can be written down in a “pass-along book”. This book becomes a wealth of knowledge for all members of the company. A member that was on vacation can come back and review this book to get an idea on what they missed. A company is judged on the actions of the whole group. Complacency is something that cannot be tolerated in the fire service. Sharing our knowledge and experiences amongst all the shifts is a great way to maintain a well-disciplined firefighting unit.
We have discussed the role of the kitchen table for the business part of the firehouse. Now, let’s discuss the social part of our team. The kitchen table is not only where we learn about fires but, it is where we learn about each other. Remember, we are a team. What separates the fire service from the rest of the world is the tight family bond we share. When you join the fire service, you gain a second family. Sometimes, it seems as if we spend more time with our firehouse family than we do our real family. Make sure you put in an effort to learn about your second family.
Cooking the meal is a great time to learn about your colleagues. We will spend hours at a clip preparing a meal only to shovel it down in mere minutes. Be involved in the meal prep. Listen to the stories and the bantering taking place. Be a part of it. This is your career!!! Ask any twenty year veteran and they’ll tell you how quick their career has gone. I worked overtime in a firehouse recently where all the members from officer to probie sat at the table and talked until all members were done eating. The conversations varied and an enjoyable time was had by all. This same practice is instilled in many households and just like parents learn about their kids and vice versa, we can learn about our fellow firefighters.
Lastly, the kitchen table has medicinal powers. Many of us have come into the firehouse feeling out of sorts. Home issues can put a strain on any one of us. Recently, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I never realized the healing power and strength that one can gain hanging around that firehouse table. The stress of the situation definitely has its toll on your mental health. The support of the brothers-combined with the well wishes and offers of assistance-can raise a man from the ashes. The table humor amongst the brothers also helps to make your problems go away. Even if it is for only a 24………