“Can probies go on this call?”, Quentin asks.   “Sure”, I reply, whilst scattering some of the non-fire flotsam attached to my jacket across the rear compartment of Engine 33.  It’s a car fire and Quentin is second in, so there’s no point in kicking him out.  Not that I would anyway.  A good young guy, Quentin joined the department a month or so ago, after serving another volunteer department for a couple years and recently moving to Poynette.  Lt. Jason and Cpt. Brandon hop in the smart seats up front, and away we go.  


Let me rephrase that.  All the seats have to be smart seats, but the back seats are the action seats.  The get us there and leadership seats are up front, the get er’ done seats are in back. 


Early on, heading back from a scene there was a discussion about recruiting challenges up front.  The word “Boomer” was not used, but that’s what they were talking about.  A generation moving from back seats to front seats and, increasingly, retirement.  It's a national volunteer firefighting problem.  Who is gonna fill the seats when the Boomers leave?   GenX actually volunteers at a higher rate (28.9%) than Boomers (25.7%), but there's just way fewer GenXers than Boomers.  Millennials and GenZ are the answer, but they have real lives and tend to be busy. 


Neither Lt. Jason nor Cpt. Brandon are Boomers, so we're in good shape.  Neither is Quentin.  I'm terrifyingly close, and some would argue in the cohort.  They'd be wrong, and I'd enter my music collection into evidence, if necessary.  Though my GenX ironic detachment and skepticism of authority are likely sufficient.  See also: music collection.   


Impressionable youngster that I am, when I got back from my first call, I told anyone who would listen that my life’s goal was to drive the big red truck.  Some of that had to do with the transfixing cinematography of that first call.  Dead of night.  Winter.  Snow falling.  Siren piercing the stillness of the forest as we thundered ahead.  Radio traffic crackling.  Red lights flashing into the darkness, bouncing off snowflakes as they swirled past us.  It was gorgeous, and I was hooked, as gorgeous things tend to do to me. 


But then I learned a little more and had one of those rare self-assessment moments, doing the calculus of mortality v. me, with generational affiliation and cardio efficiency being the independent variables.  Which is to say, I’m gonna stair climb religiously and GenX it in back as long as I can, before the Millennials push me forward into the driver’s seat. 


There’s a dry erase sorta board in the station with each apparatus on it and seat position labels.  When you’re at the station, you’re supposed to write your name on one of the seat positions, so it’s not a complete cluster when a number of us are there and the alarm sounds.  Everyone has their own perspective and preference but there is only one right answer – FF1 on Engine 33.  The inside joke was Dalton and I would elbow each other out of the way to get our name on Engine 31/33 FF1 first.  Then he went off to the Marines.  Marines.  First to fight, as the song goes.  Attaboy, Dalton.


Now, it’s me and Cpt. Lexin angling to write ourselves in for 33 FF1, first.  He’s both a Captain and he’s typically there before me.  So, he typically wins.


But not today.  First in 33 and probie Quentin behind me thirty seconds later.  Smart guys doing the smart guy stuff up front and Quentin and me gearing up in back in transit.   Arrive on scene packed and masked.  (“Ready?, Let’s Go” <--- some excellent Emperors tuneage)  Off the rig and one two second misstep (mine) before we’re pulling hose to the fire.  33 carries 1,250 gallons so let’s yank the the bumper line and knock this thing down (approach at a 45 degree angle, more or less) while a couple tenders are heading our way with another 6,000 gallons if we need it. 


It’s a Jeep having a Viking funeral and it is not going quietly.  Full tank of slowly leaking gas and lithium keeps the fire going through an entire bottle of air and thousands of gallons of water.  Low air alarm goes off and Nathan (Millennial) relieves me on nozzle (oh no ... it's happening).  I’m sent to mini-rehab (just invented that phrase) because it’s hot.  Get some water for myself and then go with Mike (Boomer) to refill Tender 35.  Fire is finally out when we get back. 


Heading back to the station, Quentin and I debrief in back.  It’s his first fire at PDFD and our first time together on a hose.  There is an entire future Sifting on the nuance of professional technique, personal preference, shared or offsetting physical capabilities and situational challenges and opportunities of two (or more) firefighters on a hose together.  For the smart guys up front, it’s orchestral in complexity and majesty at a multi-engine, multi-line event. 


But I’m a back seater, perfectly happy to rock and roll.  Post-punk specifically.  See also:  GenX.   


Can't hardly wait for the next call.