Living Hell - Volume #2, Issue #4


April 8, 2002

Special Missing-in-Action Edition!


  o Fire Books
  o Fire Buffs
  o Airport Insecurity
  o Mike and Julie's Virginia Adventure
  o Holy Holy Week!

Fire Books

Wither Mikey?  Nyet.  Not yet.  Been busy, lo these last weeks,
traveling a bit and channeling energies more *collective* than
creative.  Such as a compulsive plunge into "fire books," first
cataloging and subsequently-- read: near immediately-- acquiring
all things-in-print relating to fire engines and firefighters.

The story so far:  http://www.legeros.com/fire/covers

Fire Buffs

Discovered this this week, the single-best description of what a
"fire buff" is.

From "Pictorial History of Firefighting" by Robert W. Masters

Revised edition published in 1967 by Castle Books, New York

Reprinted without permission


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.

The best behaved spectators at fires are usually the buffs. It is a
principle of good buff behavior never to interfere or offer unso-
licited suggestions, but to stand ready to perform any task re-
quested. As buffs watch fires they resemble baseball fans watching
home games. They cheer the direct hits and scoring plays, they
groan at mishaps, and sometimes they tell each other the trouble
started back when the second alarm was turned In too late. They may
even criticize the chief for not bringing up the water tower to
pinch hit for the deck pipe, but they'll say it quietly. Buffs are
great rooters for the home town fire team, and they only wish they
could be in there pitching.

Those fire chiefs who look down on buffs as nuisances might find on
looking deeper into the subject that these men formed the core of
auxiliary fire departments during World War II, when regular de-
partments suffered draft gaps. In New York City, various buff clubs
furnished most of the auxiliary personnel to man the fire alarm
telegraph bureau. Overseas, Army, Navy and Marine fire departments
were run by buffs, and a good many were cited for excellent duty.
Even in peacetime, the Kansas City (Mo.) department, for example,
has been forced to send out SOS calls for buff assistance, when
strained to the limit by multiple coincident alarms. In case of an-
other war, conflagrations may spread regular departments so thin,
the buff is likely to become "the man of the hour" for chiefs to
depend on.

A buff is not trained, but born. He's the boy who's always playing
fireman, looking at pictures of fire engines and getting his daddy
to take him to the fire house. Later, his childhood curiosity about
fires develops into a mature understanding of the art of fire-
fighting. He learns by watching and trading information with other
buffs. But the original excitement and intense interest never di-

Nothing can bring blood to the eye of a buff more quickly than be-
ing confused with the arsonist of the species... the fire-bug. The
socially destructive pyromaniac bears as little resemblance to the
intelligent buff as a fly does to a fly swatter. The bug's atten-
tion (if he's foolish enough to hang around) is centered on seeing
how much damage his "pretty" flames can create. The buff is inter-
ested in seeing how much damage can be avoided and how quickly the
flames can be controlled. A buff's hobby impresses him with the de-
structiveness of fire and keeps him alert to the dangers in his own
home and neighborhood, making him an extremely valuable asset to
any community.

The name "buff" originated in the hose-and-wagon days when enthusi-
asts with smoke-bleared eyes stood on icy street-corners for hours,
huddled together tightly under buffalo robes. Firemen humorously
named them "the buffaloes," which soon became "buff" for short. In
some cities, they are known as "fire-fans" and in a few as
"sparkies" but whatever they're called they're easily recognized.
They're the boys who attend each major blaze with almost religious

Buffing knows no social or class distinction. Doctors, lawyers,
bakers, factory workers, grocery clerks and Wall Street financiers
all answer the call of bell or siren. George Washington not only
chased a goodly number of fires in his day, but also donated a
hand-drawn hose cart to the volunteer department of Mount Vernon.
Benjamin Franklin was a familiar figure in early Philadelphia fire-
fighting. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is remembered as a buff in
Boston and Mayor Florello H. LaGuardia in New York City. The radio
comedian Peter Donald is a buff. Not to be outdone, the female "en-
gine chasers" are represented by no less than Mrs. [Harry] Truman.

It is impossible to say how many buffs there are in existence to-
day, and almost as difficult to find a community without one. There
is a little buff in everyone-- who doesn't rush to the windows to
see the fire engines whistling past?-- and many buffs hide their
lights in unorganized areas. In large cities, where firefighting is
a danger-filled occupation completely restricted to professional
highly-trained men, buffs have organized clubs.

Many buff clubs have permanent club rooms where members can gather
in off hours to pool their knowledge, discuss fire reports, examine
old documents, and enjoy photographs and relics. Some clubs are
fortunate enough to have a bell installed in their headquarters
with fire department sanction, even though buffs seldom receive of-
ficial civic recognition. At the clubhouse, the buffs listen to the
calls pouring in from all parts of the city. It's a sure bet that,
seconds after a second alarm comes in from a potentially hazardous
area, little will be left of a clubhouse gathering but jangling
hangers on an empty coat rack.

Buffs can reel off the locations of alarm boxes from their alarm
numbers, some even recalling an entire large city system strictly
from memory. In many cities, buffs carry their "bible" (the list of
alarm box locations) with them at all times. One buff in New York
City, Morris Heitowit, has even gone to the extent of printing a
"bible" with other information to make up a Firemen's Manual for
buffs to buy and enjoy.

True buffs seldom leave their radios. When they depart from the
side of their club radio, tuned in always to the station broadcast-
ing fire news, the members will go home listening to the same sta-
tion on their car radios, and then keep an all-night half-waking
vigil next to their bedroom radios. You'd be surprised how many
buffs manage to attend early morning fires. Lately, some of the
boys have converted their wives into buffs-- the ladies join their
husbands at club functions and chase the engines too, rather than
be left home alone.

New York City houses a number of buff clubs: The Fire Bell Club
(where it's harder to become a member than in millionaire lodges),
The Third Alarmers, and The "77" Club. To name a few, Philadelphia
has the 1776 Club and The Second Alarmers, it's the Box 12 Associa-
tion in Detroit and Toronto, the Box 52 Association in Boston, the
Friendship Fire Association in Washington (D.C.) and the Phoenix
Society in San Francisco. Buff utopia was reached recently by the
Box Thirteeners in Cincinnati who now actively assist their city's

Becoming a buff club member is generally by-invitation-only, but
since the fraternity is so closely knit the steady engine-chaser
has little difficulty striking up acquaintances while watching
fires. If there is an opening in the club membership, and the pros-
pect's interest is sufficiently backed up with some technical
knowledge of firefighting, he will be invited to apply for member-
ship. Firemen of paid departments are not eligible for club member-
ship. Occasionally, when a club member goes to join a paid depart-
ment his club places him in a special nonvoting class where he
still can participate in social functions and clubroom comradeship.

The pinnacle of success for a buff was achieved by Dr. Harry M.
Archer, when he was appointed 2nd deputy fire commissioner of New
York City, but refused to accept his salary in order to maintain
his amateur buff standing. Dr. Archer believes he has attended more
than 200,000 fires in his 60 years of buffing. When he began his
medical career as an intern in the 1890's at Bellevue Hospital,
there were no emergency stations at fires to take care of the
burned and injured. Dr. Archer, of his own accord and often at his
own expense, set up facilities at the scene of many disasters. No-
body called him at first, but he was always there... sometimes
ahead of the firemen, and usually ahead of any other doctors. To-
day, at the age of 83, Dr. Archer is still active.

Just as a medical career can lead to buffing, so can buffing lead
directly to a career: in news photography, as a fire insurance
agent, as a writer, or possibly as a salesman for an equipment
manufacturer. Many of the photographs in this book were taken by
buffs arriving with firemen at the scene of a blaze. One well-known
writer-buff for the past twenty years has gathered most of the ma-
terial for his articles and books from on-the-spot observations.
Some of the finest fire equipment salesmen have reached the top be-
cause they know their products from watching them in actual opera-
tion for years.

If you're not a buff you can't really know what a buff is. Those
not infected with the desire to "chase fires" can't understand the
buffs' deep inner urge to be on the spot when a blaze is in pro-
gress. One prominent buff explained his attitude this way, and it
corresponds so closely to the attitude of the fire chief, it's
worth noting: "I don't want anybody's house to burn down. But if
yours does, God forbid, I want to be there to see it."

Mike and Julie's Virginia Adventure

Raleigh to Richmond to Charlottesville to Lynchburg and plenty o'
parts in-between.

Coming Soon!

Airport Insecurity

Hey hey, the aforetitled funny from last issue-- Volume #2, Issue
#3 of Living Hell-- appeared in the March 20 edition of the "Inde-
pendent Weekly," a magazine-style news rag in Raleigh-Durham.  Same
saw print in the paper's Front Porch section, albeit with heavy ed-
its.  You tell me if reads better, worse, or about the same:


Holy Holy Week!

"Suppose we've chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church
 we're just making him madder and madder" - Homer Simpson

Matzo ball soup.  *Manischewitz* matzo ball soup.  The big jar--
one pound, eight ounces of carrots, celery, onion powder, cotton-
seed oil, salt, sugar, potato starch, monosodium glutamate (e.g.
MSG), water, "flavoring," and something called "FD&C Yellow No. 5."
Which, I guess, is to dye for.  Plus the matzos, of course-- wee
balls of wheat flour and water.  Six or seven of 'em, suspended in
broth and, alas, bearing a regrettable resemblance to pale, pre-
served cadavers.  (And don't even get me *started* on gefilte
fish...)  Taste good, though.  And, after adding a half-package of
Oodles of Noodles, only the sound of an approaching siren is neces-
sary to complete your Manhattan Carnegie Deli flashback.

Kosher food is hard enough to find in town-- I know because I once
dated a nice Jewish girl-- but locating same right before *Passov-
er* is a near-impossibility.  Tonight, a late Wednesday evening in
late March, I have a hankering for MB soup.  Not matzo balls in
*broth*.  Not matzo ball *mix*.  Nor matzo ball *soup* mix.  It's
late and Homey don't wanna blend, beat, or season a damn thing.
And I already had Hooter's wings this week.  Just gimme my balls.
And soup.  Three, four, five grocery stores are tried.  And, oy,
are the Kosher pickin's slim, typical for grocer shelves in the Old
North State.  (South of the Border ingredients excepted, Raleigh,
NC, 'taint exactly a mainstream Mecca for ethnic staples.) 'Course,
it *is* Passover in another day or two...

In-between the Krogers and Food Lions and Harris Teeters, I run in-
to Target and past its many shelves of Easter errata.  Eggs 'n'
baskets 'n' bunnies 'n' chocolates, numbering an infinite number of
shapes and sizes and those same, six, soft colors.  Yup, it's Holy
Week, the ritual collision of springtime rituals, one remembering
godly genocide and the other celebrating George A. Romeo's "Morning
of the Living Dead."  This being the South, however, the death and
times of Jesus H. Christ gets considerably more attention than Mar-
tha Stewart's 101 Households Uses For Lambs' Blood.  Easter domi-
nates the greeting-card racks 'round here; Passover is largely,
well, passed over.  And maybe that's true for *much* of the mass-
marketed nation.  (Heck if I know...)  This year, though, Judaism
weighs heavily on the Southern-living brain, as does that third Ma-
jor World Religion.

Wasn't always this way.  While central North Carolina may not qual-
ify as a geographic notch in the "Bible Belt," Raleigh, Cary, et al
certainly bear enough evidence of "That Old Tyme Religion."  Par-
ticularly on Sunday, where scratchy AM radio stations breath hell-
fire and gospel music before early-afternoon ballgames.  Where blue
laws abound, preventing store openings or alcohol sales before cer-
tain times on Sunday.  (Thank God such chains as Wal-Mart, Borders,
and Barnes and Noble have blown that tradition to Hell.)  And, last
but not least in inconvenience, the Day He Rested as a Day of Free
Parking, churchgoers can leave their vehicles anywhere they want
and with no fear of traffic tickets, even if blocking travel lanes.
Amen, brother.

This year-- this spring-- our monotheistic cup runneth over and
spilleth right into the crotch.  We're still smarting from Septem-
ber 11 and the events that violently thrust "jihad" into our col-
lective consciousness.  Then there's that other Middle East bid'-
ness involving sandy land and a centuries-old issue of real estate
entitlement.  (The single best comment I've heard on the subject of
negotiations went something like "imagine George W. and Osammie
sitting down and trying to talk peace.")  Plus some "church trou-
ble" that sees the Big C-- at least it's American wing-- about to
collapse under the financially settling weight of sexual activity
both repressed and suppressed.  (Seems a strange belief that bio-
logical impulses are sinful except in the context of particular
outcomes, no?)

Gads it's depressing to behold.  Such vehement, *violent* intoler-
ance.  There's gotta be a better way.  Maybe our Winter Olympic
hosts-- the quiet-keeping First, Second, and Third Wives Club-- are
onto something.  Or maybe the world needs an all-new Almighty.  (My
two cents:  incorporate chocolate into worship services or sacred
rituals.)  If nothing else, the day's unholy headlines make South-
ern Bible-thumpers seem positively tame by comparison.  Like the
misfit cousin who never really meant to hurt anyone.  'Cept maybe
"homer-sexuals."  And, I know, that's another serpent's lie.  Wit-
ness Andrea Yates who, along with her hubby, took a few too many
shots of 100-proof Jesus.  She had her *own* divine visions, but
with horribly terrible results.  But maybe that's the point.  Had
her hand been stayed, Ms. Yates might've been hailed a prophet.  A
Texas Abraham.  (He heard the "call" to kill his kid, too.)

So weighs the weight of Holy Week, Twenty Oh Two.  A ritual time of
ritual observance.  A celebration of life, death, rebirth, and col-
ored eggs.  And this year, perhaps an opportune opportunity to turn
off the tele, unplug the radio, and stop reading the news sites.

Myself, I just wanted some Matzo ball soup.

Copyright 2002 by Michael J. Legeros




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