Looking for the fire

I heard sirens last night, off in the distance, not close enough to cause and concern, until they got closer, and closer, and closer…

I actually got dressed, left my cozy little home and went searching. Never found the source of all the racket, but I guess I have officially become a Fire Buff.

I thought of this that I wrote for Fire Engineering a few years ago:


The Buffs across the street


“Who are those guys?” I asked one of the firefighters who was standing with me on the ramp at the Atwell’s Avenue fire station. “The Big Apple,” also known as Ladder Co. 6 was my assignment for the night; it was an overtime shift, and my first night in one of the busiest fire stations in the northeast.

“Dings,” was the answer, as if I knew what that meant.

“What’s a Ding?” I asked.

“Those guys,” somebody said, and pointed across the street where six cars were parked, and about a dozen guys stood around them, shooting the breeze, much like we were doing on our side of the street.

Turns out the “Dings” were the local fire buffs. I had no idea that people actually loved the fire service so much that they would wait outside the busy fire stations, listen to their scanners and respond to the same fire scenes as we did, only with cameras instead of axes and poles.

“Why don’t we invite them over?” I asked. The other firefighters either laughed or walked away. I couldn’t figure their response out then, and I still can’t figure it out. The way I saw it those people across the street were our supporters. For whatever reason they weren’t able to respond to the fires with us, but I’m sure they would have loved every second of it if they could. Maybe they were on a list somewhere, waiting for their chance. Maybe they had an injury or disability that prohibited them from doing the job that we took for granted. Maybe they were simply happy to be part of our world in whatever capacity they could. Whatever the reason, I thought that they were part of us, in some way. I still do.

From “Pictorial History of Firefighting” by Robert W. Masters

“Buffs have been variously defined as “sidewalk superintendents of fires,” as “fire-engine chasers who think they’re the guys for whom the bell tolls,” as “frustrated firemen,” and as “smoked hams who are never quite cured.” Irreverent as these definitions are, buffs have been called still nastier names by some firemen and chiefs. Traditionally, most professional fire-fighters look down on buffs, without good reason.”

Buffs, Dings, Uncured Hams- whatever people call them, I always liked having them around. At the risk of sounding condescending toward them, I thought it the ultimate compliment to us – the paid firefighters – to actually have what could be considered a fan club. As the years of my career went on, I got to know many of the people who “buffed fires,” and learned that they were passionate about the fire service, advocates for it, and many of them knew more about the history, workings, politics and characters that make up a fire department than we did.

Good thing I always respected them. Karma works, always. Being retired gives me ample opportunity to “ding.” If I had a dollar for every fire truck I followed I’d have a lot of bucks. When at home, my ears instantly tune in to sirens in the distance, and sometimes it’s all I can do to not get into my personal vehicle (the one with the fire department stickers) and find out what’s going on. I am the ultimate television Ding. Nary is a fire or other emergency displayed across my screen that I don’t have some criticism, advice or commentary for.

“That ain’t what it’s like!” I roar to the empty room as flames and no smoke fills the TV screen.

I’ll keep it going until the TV fire is out;

“Ya can’t see nuthin!” Where’s his pack! Ya call that proper apparatus placement! CPR my ass, they never start breathing!”

What can I say; I was born a Ding. Then I became a firefighter. But once the boots came off, and the turnout gear is displayed in the garage, back to my roots I went. I have yet to sit across the street from a busy firehouse, but don’t be surprised if some day you see a tall, grey and devilishly handsome old man outside your firehouse, watching and waiting, with his scanner tuned to your frequency.


  • Doug says:

    I am a life-long buff who was lucky enough to get hired by my home-town department. I consider buffs, such as I, to be cheerleaders for the fire service (just do yourself a favor and don’t imagine us in the cheerleader outfits.)

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