Is it Bull That Firefighters Might Die at Work on Any Day?

Over the course of my career and post retirement I have had more people than I can name ask me or imply that yes firefighting is a dangerous job, but you were never really at risk of death or that the idea a firefighter can die any day they go to work is kind of bull shit.

A part of me wants to agree with them. I know I only had a handful of times where I was in a close call. I had a hand gun shoved under my chin; I had a double barrel shotgun shoved in my guts by a drunk and crazed man in his underwear. I fell through a floor one time and was only saved by my airpack catching on a floor joist and a fellow firefighter that pulled me out of the hole.

My closest call was when a 15 foot tall stucco chimney fell over and crashed through the ceiling of a room I was working in. I had just enough time to push a junior firefighter out of the room and then was knocked unconscious by the falling debris.

I came to sitting on the tailboard of the ladder truck I was assigned to. I had no idea how I got there, but the driver informed me that I had emerged from the fire and he had talked me down a three story stair case. Three other brothers were also injured and we all got off pretty well intact.

I had my face piece knocked off by the impact and was unconscious for an unknown amount of time in the fire. I took a load of smoke and suffer from COPD today as a result (my smoking doesn’t help either).

So was I at risk every day? The simple answer is hell yes we are at risk every single time the bell goes off. So far this year 37 firefighters have died in the line of duty (LODD) and 83 died last year in the line of duty. I bet not one of them went to work on the day of their death thinking “Well today is the day I die”. They went to work just like every other day, probably loving that they got to go be a firefighter and thinking more about the fun they were going to have and hoping they were going to a good “Worker” that day.

Nothing better than a good working fire, a multiple alarm fire with all kinds of challenges and rescues, it doesn’t get better than that for us. I know it is sick that we call a fire “A good fire” when in fact there is no good fire for the people affected. But for us it is a good fire because we get to do “It”, we get to do what we train endlessly for, we get to fight fire.

The 37 deaths this year are varied in the many ways we die; from the 4 God bless them, their families, and their departments all, firefighters in Houston who burned to death in a collapse, 4 in West Texas blown up in an explosion and 2 more in Bryan Texas from collapse.

Firefighters have died from heart attacks while at work and the victims of this type of death range in age from 26 to 71. They have died in motor vehicle accidents, been hit by vehicles, and some just found dead in their beds from unknown causes. They range in age and experience from.

Probationary firefighter Anne M. Sullivan 24 years old and on the job for 4 months.

 

Captain George A. Turner, Jr.  60 with 30+ years on the job.

The last form of death and the one with very little coverage is at their own hands. Firefighters are killing themselves at alarming rates in America and no one really knows why.

Below is a list of the brave men and women who have died this year in service to their communities and to their fellow man. There is no doubt this list will grow not only for the rest of this year, but for as long as firefighters answer the bell.

God bless them all and thanks.

To date, 37 firefighter fatalities have been reported to USFA in 2013 as a result of incidents that occurred so far in 2013.

Name:   Robert Bebee                        

Rank: Engineer Operator

Age: 41                                                  Name:   Matthew Renaud

                                                              Rank: Captain

                                                              Age: 35

Name:   Robert H. Garner

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 29

                                                              Name:   Anne M. Sullivan

                                                              Rank:   Probationary Firefighter

                                                              Age: 24

Name: Stanley A. Wilson

Rank: Fire Rescue Officer

Age: 51

                                                              Name: Albert A. Nejmeh

                                                              Rank: Firefighter

                                                              Age: 59

Name: Brian Woehlke

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 29

                                                               Name: Daniel Davidson

                                                               Rank: Firefighter

                                                               Age: 26

Name: Stanley Martin Jr.

Rank: Assistant Fire Chief

Age: 71

                                                                Name: Gene Kirchner

                                                                Rank: Firefighter

                                                                Age: 24

Name: Dale Scott Queen

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 37

                                                                 Name: Morris Bridges

                                                                 Rank: Firefighter

                                                                 Age: 41

Name: Cody Dragoo

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 50

                                                                 Name: Joseph Pustejousky

                                                                 Rank: Firefighter

                                                                 Age: Pending

Name: Douglas Snokhous

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 50

                                                                Name: Robert Snokhous

                                                                Rank: Firefighter

                                                                Age: 48

Name: Lawrence “Lance” A. Stone

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 37

                                                                Name: James B. Clark

                                                                Rank: Lieutenant

                                                                Age: 56

Name: Harold Hollingsworth

Rank: Assistant Fire Chief

Age: 47

                                                                Michael R. Goodwin, Sr.

                                                                Captain

                                                                Age: 53

Name: John M. Janos

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 57

                                                                 Name: Michael L. Broz

                                                                 Rank: Firefighter

                                                                 Age: 58

Name: George A. Turner, Jr.

Rank: Captain

Age: 60

                                                                 Name: Lonnie Nutt

                                                                 Rank: Firefighter Engineer

                                                                 Age: 49

Name: Donald Mize

Rank: Firefighter Cadet

Age: 62

                                                                 Name: Christopher Brown

                                                                   Rank: Firefighter

                                                                   Age: 39

Name: Nate Fruin

Rank: Firefighter

Age: 22

                                                                   Name: David Schnepp

                                                                   Rank: Firefighter

                                                                   Age: 43

Name: Claudia Sokol

Rank: Fire Police Officer

Age: 55

                                                                   Name: Jonathan Wayne Burgess

                                                                   Rank: Firefighter

Age: 33

Firefighters Only Rent Firehouses.

More and more of my firemen friends are retiring, this is the result of hiring large recruit academies in the early 80’s. I have gone to a few retirement parties to wish my friends well in retirement land and to see other retirees.

 

Retirement parties serve many different purposes outside of the larger event the retirement itself. I wasn’t going to allow my crew to have a party on my behalf for a few reasons. First because of how I came to retire, retirement wasn’t actually in my plans, in fact I left 5 years ahead of my schedule due to my alcoholism.

 

I won’t retell that whole story but suffice it to say that I showed up to work hung over smelling of alcohol and was asked to retire rather than be fired. Because of that I didn’t have a lot of pride left in at the end of my career. In fact I suffered massive guilt and shame in the end.

 

So why would anyone want to come say good bye to me? I was a drunk and got caught at work, no honor in that I told myself. I didn’t want to suffer what I had seen others go through simply because of what others thought of them. I worked with one fireman that had put in his 25 years and was going. He didn’t want a party and so we honored his request and on his last day after all that time passed quietly.

 

So quietly that the only person that did show for the non-party was a Deputy Chief and he was the operations Chief as that. The Chief rolled in on his motorcycle on a hot summer day, we were all in the kitchen having just finished lunch when he walked in. He was in street clothes and very nonchalant about his visit.

 

I offered the Chief a drink of water and after a few minutes of light banter he reached in his pocket and carelessly pulled out a small leather billfold and flipped it across the table to “Blue” the fireman that was serving his last day after 25 years and said.

“There you go Blue, congratulations.”

 

Blue picked up the small billfold and opened it, it held a small gold badge and that was that. The Chief finished his water and was gone. I thought to myself is that it? After all those years, all that hard work, that is how he was shown the door.

 

The other style of party required a facility bigger than a firehouse, it required a hotel sometimes or maybe the Elks Club. Oh and it was a big deal, dignitaries of all sort showed for these, there was much speechifying, gift giving and drinking. This type of party was usually reserved for the gold badges. You would have to of been one hell of a lowly fireman to rank a party like that.

 

So I wasn’t going to expose myself to that kind of public ridicule. I wasn’t going to let anyone kick me on the way out the door, because I knew how many people I had let down and how many people were going to be glad to see me go. I felt so worthless at the end of my career that my actions had canceled out every bit of good I had ever done.

 

I was so selfish and full of self loathing at that point I just wanted to fade away like old Blue did. What a terrible feeling that was and I remember speaking about it in an AA meeting. Following the meeting I was pulled aside by a former Army Ranger.

 

“Tim can I tell you something?” He asked.

“Sure Dave, what?” I answered.

“Well I heard what you had to say today about your retirement party and I felt compelled to say something about that. That party isn’t for you Tim. It’s for them, it’s for the people you worked with to be able to come say good bye and to honor your service.” He said.

“It will be to embarrassing Dave, nobody will come.” I said.

“That is where you are wrong Tim. The ones that love you and respect you, they will come because they remember what you have done over the years. This thing is for them and if you don’t do it you will always regret it my friend. Just my two cents worth, but if I were you, I’d do it, for them not you.” He shook my hand, winked and walked away.

 

I respect Dave immensely and so I took his advice and had a party, not for me, for them. The day of my party came and my guys at station 7 “The Hero House” were really kind and had arranged an amazing celebration for me. I sat around nervously waiting for it, to happen.

 

At the appointed time the first guest to arrive was my very first Lieutenant, he walked in the kitchen and I wondered why this guy was there, I hadn’t seen him for probably 20 years and I was just a probie for him. Why would he be there?

“Hicks Bob what are you doing here?” I asked. We had always said his name backwards Hicks Bob, instead of Bob Hicks.

“Aren’t you retiring today TimO? He asked.

“Well ya I am.” I said.

“Well that’s why I’m here for your retirement.” He said.

He came over and shook my hand and we visited for a few moments, until more and more firemen began to fill the kitchen and the whole firehouse. There were too many of them to spend a great deal of time with each one.

 

I was stunned, I really was. In my head I had expected to endure a small gathering that would have to eat too much cake and ice cream to prevent it from going to waste.

 

As I moved around and visited with so many old faces I felt like I was in a Museum of Firefighting History. There were so many greats in the crowd, the men that had “boot strapped” me through my very difficult early years. The men that had given me so much and taught me enough to stay alive.

 

I was absolutely blown away, why would these guys come for me? Then I had to think, if the best I had ever known came to wish me well maybe I wasn’t the piece of shit I viewed myself to be. Maybe I had done some good, maybe I had made a contribution to the job I loved so well.

 

I was also reminded that we only rent the firehouses we occupy during our career. We are temporary inhabitants and we will soon be forgotten it is our destiny to make room for the next batch of heroes to come and take our place. To save the next life and fight the next fire.

 

I am so glad I did it.

Old Paramedics Don’t Fade Away.

So a few weeks ago I get a phone call from an old friend of mine, he is a Paramedic for the local ambulance provider in my city, American Medical Response. At the time of my retirement he had 32 years on the streets to my 31 years, needless to say we had seen and done a lot together, so it was nice to get a call out of the blue.

 

Casey, yeah same name as mine, asked me if I’d like to come to their annual awards banquet and if he sent me an invitation would I RSVP? I thought about it for a moment. Why in the world would the local ambulance service ask me to their awards ceremony? Especially since I had been retired for almost five years now.

 

“Why in the world would you guys want me to come to your awards?” I asked.

“Well, we miss you dude. A lot of people really enjoyed working with you over the years and I thought if anyone from the FD would come it would be you. It’s a free dinner if nothing else.” Casey answered.

“Free is good. Yeah sure I’ll come why not?” I said.

 

A few days later an invitation came in the mail. The awards were being held at a very swanky hotel in Colorado Springs so I knew the food would be good. Then the “and one” box was open. I could bring a date if I wanted. I quickly went through my mental Rolodex of potential dates. After burning all of three seconds I realized that there were no potential dates.

 

For two reasons the only women I really know well enough to ask are in AA and I wouldn’t want to put an alcoholic in a situation where the booze might be freely flowing. You might ask why I wasn’t worried about myself in that situation and the answer to that is this.

 

AA teaches us that if we are in fit spiritual conditions we can go anywhere without worry and I was in fit spiritual condition. I also can take a drug called Disulfram that cause a near death experience when mixed with alcohol. I am serious I tried it once years ago and I thought I was going to die.

 

Over the years I have also picked some methods for avoiding potential danger zones. One is to always arrive at the very end of happy hour. This avoids a lot of social interaction with active drinkers that want to buy you a drink. There are still a few people in the world that don’t know I’m an alcoholic and offer.

 

Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against normal drinkers, in fact I wish I were one but I’m not and I’m not at risk, and I’m not embarrassed to admit I don’t drink, it is just best to get there late and not have to deal with anything.

 

Back to the second reason I decided not to take a date, for anyone who has never been in the company of a bunch of EMS workers, especially EMS workers that are having fun and partying it can be quite shocking. I don’t mean to imply that my friends are dangerous or inappropriate, it’s not that. It’s just the topics of conversation right before a meal can be very off putting and appetite suppressing for the average person.

 

Any group of professionals regardless of the occupation when gathered together can’t help themselves; shop talk is bound to surface. This is okay if you are a cubical worker talking about your latest power point presentation or fabulous new computer program. But that isn’t what Paramedics and EMTs talk about.

 

We tend to talk about gruesome stuff, horrible stuff, we talk about our job it doesn’t bother us, it’s what we do. But for the innocent, the neophyte, the non-indoctrinated, it can be nauseating. So why risk it, besides I don’t really date anymore anyway.

 

So the day of the event I was talking to my mother about the upcoming dinner and told her I was a bit confused as to why I was invited. Now my mother is an intuit of the highest order there is no hiding anything from her or even trying to. So mom says.

“They are going to recognize for something my son.” She said.

“No way mom, why would they do that? I’ve been retired for almost five years, why would the local ambulance company recognize me for anything?” I said.

“I don’t know my son, but that’s what they are going to do.” She said.

I hung up and considered the possibility. I went back through my life. I worked off and on for the ambulance service for years as an easy way to make some extra cash but I hadn’t done that in many years. I always tried to be kind and understanding of the people I considered co-workers to some degree.

 

I mean after all weren’t we all in the same occupation of saving lives? So I think a lot of the Medics and EMTs for AMR respected me a little. There can be a lot of animosity between fire departments and ambulance workers I understand that. The fire service has its share of dud employees as does the ambulance service and some of us tend to judge entire organizations by the duds, I don’t.

 

For the life of me I couldn’t come up with a reason, but that didn’t stop me from going. I arrived late as my method demands and found Casey and his wife Tracy (she is a great Paramedic as well) and asked where I should I sit. He said that I should I probably sit at one of the reserved tables down in front. So mom was right she always is. I was deeply humbled and honored that a private enterprise would so many years following my retirement invite me and thank me for doing a good job for a long time.

 

Thanks for thinking of me of me Casey.

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My Oldest Daughter is 13 Years Old Today.

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My oldest daughter turns 13 year old today, I am so very proud of this young woman that I wrote her a poem.

What is a daughter? Sugar and spice and everything nice?

Of course they are that, but so much more. Daughters make men of fathers.

A man in the world by himself can take care of himself, take risks and more.

Because they are the only ones they care about and the only one to suffer from their actions.

But make a man a father of a daughter and all that changes. As men we teach our sons to be men.

But what of our daughters? What do we teach them, and more importantly what do they teach us?

For me I’ve learned that detangle hairspray makes a big difference when making ponytails.

I’ve learned I have no sense of fashion and that suggesting wardrobe combinations is best left to others.

I’ve learned that a single lazyboy recliner can accommodate not only myself, but also two sleepy girls, two pillows, two stuffed animals, two blankets, and the heat equivalent of a nuclear reactor, without breaking.

I know how to paint nails, hold a tea cup properly, find every dressup game on the internet, and found that the singing of a song doesn’t have to be done right, but rather to simply enjoy that someone wants so sing it to me. Over and over again.

I’ve learned that kissing a booboo really does help, that ten bandages are better than one, and that a single tear on the cheek of my daughter feels like a knife in my heart, no matter the source of the pain.

I’ve learned that what they see in me is what they will seek in the world. My daughter is not a princess, for I am not a king.

I’ve learned the warmth from one tiny pair of arms around my neck can melt away all of my fears.

I’ve learned a single I love you daddy, can cancel out the worst day I’ve ever had.

And I’ve learned to be a better man because all daughters deserve that. They deserve the best earthly father that our father in heaven can supply.

 

 

So are Firemen Good in Bed?

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I have been asked if Firefighters are good in bed and since I’ve only slept with one, my ex-wife, I have a very limited data base on the subject. I won’t discuss my ex-wife in this post as that is far too private for a blog. I will offer some stories about firefighters in bed that I do know all too well.

 

Most of the fire houses I worked in over my career featured dormitory style bedrooms with a dozen or so beds set up around the room. Most of the time the bed you used was also used by other firefighters on your days off.

 

Some bunk mates were good others not so much. See if you share a bed it is your obligation when going off duty to tear your bed down and leave it bare for the next guy. Just simple courtesy to keep harmony in the house. Now an occasional mishap was no big deal, maybe they were on an alarm and just forgot about it before leaving, that could be forgiven.

 

But the chronic offenders had to be dealt with. First with a few friendly reminders.

“Hey bro you forgot your bed again.”

“Dude take care of your bed or I will.”

“Look asshole strip your bed okay?”

Failure on the offender’s part to recognize that things were getting testy wasn’t good. Now some firefighters are just dim bulbs and can’t help themselves, they get distracted by morning coffee chit-chat or shift change banter or simply wander off.

 

If your bunk mate is just helpless and incapable of remembering, you do have options. If you like the simpleton you just strip the bed for them and put their bedding away. If you dislike the asshat then you wad their stuff up and throw it on the ground.

 

But if you are dealing with the intentional misfit things escalate. Some guys just seem to get a kick out of jacking with others and I have worn both hats.

 

The Jerk, many times is a bored firefighter with time to kill. Most of the time you are working at a slow station with a lite alarm load and thing just get boring and this is a great way to conjure up some action. For me I only took this route when my brother firefighter was one of the anal types.

 

These guys brought beautiful twin sheet sets from home or had actually gone to Beds Baths and Beyond to purchase a matching set with a comforter. They even had seasonal bedding, flannel for the winter and fall, Egyptian cotton with an 800 thread count for spring and summer.

 

I don’t know but that just seemed a bit too much for the fire house. Therefore I struggled with their choices, don’t get me wrong here, if the guy stripped his bed like he was supposed to I didn’t care if his linens were made out of bacon, just take care of your end of the bargain.

 

Repeated and unremorseful offences had to be addressed, my favorite was to soak the offending sheets in water and then stuff them into the freezer. That generally worked. But many times it lead to an escalation in hostilities inside the bedroom walls. Retaliation was required for an insult of this magnitude.

 

The good news for me was that most of the time this type of firefighter lacked the ability to come up with a better form of revenge, they lacked imagination and many times lacked team support from their crew. No one else was willing to proffer suggestions on how to retaliate or offered to help. This left the poor bastard to devise his own type of trickery.

 

Prior to the internet and the ability to search Youtube or Google for practical joke advice was of course unavailable. So these men created their own unimaginative yet diabolical plans. Mr. Fancy sheets plan went completely unnoticed by myself, which caused him even more frustration as he spent day after day waiting for me to comment or retaliate, I did neither.

 

Finally one morning over coffee he couldn’t contain himself any longer.

“So TimO, did you notice anything different about your bed?” He asked.

“Different about my bed? No can’t say I’ve noticed anything different about the bed. Why is there something different about the bed?” I asked.

“So the bed doesn’t smell differently to you?” He said.

“Not that I have noticed. What is it you’re after here Bucky?” I asked.

Now everybody at the table had become intrigued and stopped what they were doing to listen in.

“You’re serious you really haven’t noticed that your bedding smells like my ass and feet?” He said, becoming a bit agitated.

“It does?” I said.

“Yeah for like two weeks now.” He said.

“Well Bucky, I can’t say I know what your ass and feet smell like to be honest, I thought that would be your wife’s job not mine.” I said.

“You better take that back.” He said.

“Take what back?” I asked.

“Insulting my wife like that, you need to apologize.” He was getting visibly disturbed now.

“I didn’t insult your wife Bucky. She shares your bed at the same time as you, where as you and I share a bed independently of each other. So if our bed at the fire house smells like your ass and feet how would know?” I said.

“Because I put some dirty socks and underwear in with your sheets in your locker. That’s how.” He said.

“And you expect me to pick up on that odor in that bedroom? Bucky a well trained bloodhound couldn’t make sense out of the smells in there.” I said.

“Well you should’ve.” He said.

“Didn’t.” I said.

 

He stomped away blushing and mumbling. But that was the end of aggressions not in the least.

Oh If I Were The Chief!

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Becoming a firefighter is quite a process and always has been. The testing has taken many forms over the years. When I tested in the early 80s it was so grueling I vomited following the physical agility test and had to sit in my car for 10-15 minutes before I could drive.

 

The physical test wasn’t the first component I’m getting ahead of myself. The first portion of the entry process was a written exam that covered many areas of general knowledge that included basic skills such as reading comprehension, vocabulary, and math. Next came mechanical aptitude, could you figure out how stuff worked.

 

These were all timed tests completing on time and getting the highest number of correct answers allowed you to advance to the next round of testing, the physical agility portion. The year I was hired was the very first time a woman (Hey Annie!) managed to reach this level and continue on to the next component of the hiring method.

 

The third event for many is the most difficult; it is the face to face oral interview. I have written about this in detail before. The whole thing is set up as a means to measure intelligence, dynamic thinking, decision making and many other things, and to do it under intense pressure after all a job as a firefighter hangs in the balance.

 

This is such a critical phase of testing that many books, websites, videos, and in person enactments have been created to prepare the potential employee for the rigors of the oral interview. One question that is most assuredly asked of every candidate is this one. “How far do you want to go in your firefighting career?”

 

I am almost as sure that nearly every single person that is offered that question responds with the pretty much the same rejoinder “Someday I’d like to be the chief.” No shit! Really you want to be “the” chief, the big, you want to be large and in charge?

 

If you answered that way I pray that in fact that didn’t happen to you. I said it because I felt it was expected, I mean who goes in there and says “I’ll be happy to just stay a firefighter.” No one that’s who. The officers sitting on the other side of the table want to know you have drive that you will always be striving for more, for perfection maybe.

 

Me, I had some hopes of promoting, maybe to lieutenant or captain, that would have been good. My personal problems prevented that and I watched over the years many of my peers become my superior. I watched many achieve the rank of chief, district chief or battalion chief, deputy chief and then one actually became The Chief.

 

All of these men and one woman who made chief (bless her she has passed) that I watched move up the proverbial ladder that I had worked with over the years morphed once in the gold. I knew all of them as firefighters as the boots on the ground as the hose draggers they were and in some cases weren’t. I had a feel for all of them just as they knew me.

 

My destiny wasn’t to be a member of the gold badge club and that really was a good thing, my career would have ended way before it did if I had stepped any further in to the lime lights.

 

The guy I knew that made it to the pinnacle of my old department announced yesterday suddenly that he was going to retire. Good luck to him, he put in more than 30 years himself. He went from fireman to paramedic, to lieutenant, to captain, to district chief, to deputy chief and then finally The Chief. Quite a feat if you think about the odds in the modern fire service for rising through the ranks to be top dog.

 

My experiences under 6 chiefs were wide and varied, some came from within and some from the outside. The outside chiefs came in blind and suffered tremendously from that. They weren’t one of “us”, yeah maybe they were firefighters, but they were firefighters somewhere else. Man did they have a challenge in front of them. To this day I still count one as a friend and admire him greatly. He gave it a great go and made profound changes in the way the Colorado Springs fire department operates today.

 

He was followed by two internal promotions; I only worked for one of those as I retired before the latest took command, and take command he did. Every firefighter has their own private little bitches about the job and everyone fantasizes about how it would be if one day I were king.

 

I think of an old Woody Allen movie Bananas, in the movie Woody Allen becomes the leader of a small country and as the Ruler he announces his new rules for his citizens.

 

His character’s name is Esposito. “From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!”

 

The one thing that all the Chiefs had in common was a fascination with what our uniforms looked like, I have no idea why but changing the uniform or uniform policy was addressed early in every regime, Lord knows why.

 

What I do know is this, the fire department in my community is considered in official studies by the city, to be the best buy the citizens make with their tax dollars. They love us and they don’t care what we wear, what our shoes look like, or that we have a nap in the afternoon, they don’t care if buy groceries on duty, they don’t care if we work out and the list goes on and on. They care about this, when they need us we are there, that we help and save lives, and put out fires and give their kids badge stickers and are trustworthy and so on.

 

The people that care about all the petty shit are Woody Allen in my book. But I’m retired and none of their decisions actually effect me, but they do have an impact on morale and the new chief has nowhere to go but up form here.