Blowin’ Smoke with Greg Conlan

After getting such positive remarks about the first article in the Blowin’ Smoke series, Blowin’ Smoke with Brandon Roark, we are back with more. If you missed the first post, click the link above. This article features Greg Conlan, a veteran firefighter. In this Q & A session, Greg tells of his experience on the job during 9/11 and how hard it was to climb back on the rig. I appreciate Greg for taking the time to answer these questions, and I am honored to share his story.

Greg Conlan is a 25 year veteran Firefighter on Rescue 2 in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a Haz-Mat Technician, Technical Rescue Specialist, former EMT and Fire Instructor 1.

His career consists of over 21 years on some of New England’s busiest Ladder Companies.

He has held the following positions for Local 718- Boston Fire: Sgt at Arms, Local 718 Parade Committee Chairman, Commissioner of the Travel Softball Team and a Member of the Honor Guard.

During his career, he has received the following medals and commendations: The year 2000 “Massachusetts Firefighter of the Year” Commendation, which is handed out by the Governor. The Boston Fire Depts. “Roll of Merit” Medal and Local 718’s “Special Award” handed out to one member of Local 718 annually for their Untiring efforts on behalf of Firefighters and Families.

Boston Fire Department Rescue 2

Rescue 2 is a Heavy Rescue Company which responds to all Fires and Technical Rescues which includes High Angle, Collapse, Confined Space and Entrapments. Rescue 2 is located in the Division 2 side of the City of Boston. Boston has 2 Divisions and 2 Heavy Rescues with each available for special call in each division. They are also part of the Metro Boston UASI team and respond outside the City limits to Special Calls.

How many years have you served in the fire service? I am currently in my 26th year working for Boston Fire Dept.

Why did you join the fire service? I actually intended on becoming a Police Officer in Boston. I was told to report to the Boston Police Academy in September of 1987, but due to a snafu with my application, I was put on hold until the following class. That next class didn’t get assembled until March of 1988, 3 months after I already started the Boston Fire Academy. Getting back to the question, I joined the Fire Dept because I needed to have a job. I quickly fell in love with the Fire Service. I love the adrenaline rush and helping people in need. I needed a job with security, good pay and a good retirement plan. I had several opportunities to leave the Fire Dept after completing the Fire Academy. I turned all the offers down. I noticed a marked difference in the 2 jobs and the way the citizens react to each. In the fire service, the citizens are usually very grateful for you being at their side helping them, and the police officers on the other hand, is not looked upon so warmly by the same folks.

Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference? I have tried to make a difference by volunteering my time as an Advocate for our profession. Some examples are: Creating-Organizing Boston Firefighters involvement in the St. Patricks Day Parade, creating a Softball Team that would travel the East Coast playing in Tournaments and by hosting Softball Tournaments in Boston. These examples all raised money for charity and introduced Boston Firefighters to our Brothers from literally all over the world. The parade march alone had firefighters participate from not only most of the lower 48 states, but also Europe and Canada. In 2002, I raised nearly 1000 dollars and donated it to L164/ E313 in Queens. L164/ E313 used the money to build a Memorial to the 343 Brothers the FDNY lost on 9/11/01. This Memorial is placed on the exterior wall of their Firehouse for viewing.

Have you accomplished any specific personal goals during your career? Yes, completing 25 years in the Fire Profession and becoming a Member of Rescue 2. Rescue 2, to those unfamiliar with the Boston Fire Department, has long been regarded as one of the Best Fire Companies not only in Boston, but New England as well.

What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service? The biggest change I have witnessed is the decrease in Fire Duty and the increase in Medical Calls. A close second to that change is the gear we wear to a fire now and all the NFPA regulations that are being enforced. I am not a fan of either. I preferred wearing a long coat, rubber boots and my leather helmet. Now we are totally encapsulated with the exception of hoods and totally regulated.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today? I believe the biggest challenge facing the Fire Service today is maintaining a healthy Staffing Level on all Fire Companies. I am a believer in a minimum of 1 Officer and 4 Firefighters on all Companies. My department, like many, have downsized and set a minimum standard of 1 Officer and 3 Firefighters on the rigs. Boston Fire Companies are rarely staffed with 1 Officer and 4 Firefighters anymore, the exception being the 8 weeks from Christmas until mid-February when we are not assigned vacations.

During your many years on the job, how were you able to push through the darkest of times? In my first 25 years, I have lost 3 Firefighters from my Drill Class to Line of Duty Deaths. I lost 3 others to illness’ that weren’t deemed occupational. Additionally, a half dozen more FF’s that retired with a work related disability. My Drill School Class had 45 Firefighters in it, and there are less than 25 of us remaining on active duty. With that being said, there have been many dark times and many nights of self-reflection…..Somehow, someway, you get up in the morning and go to work. I believe the bond we share with our Brother and Sister firefighters in the firehouse is what gets us through the tough times. Taking pride in being there for your Brother and Sister is only second to your own personal family.

September 11th, 2001, personally was the hardest day for me as a Firefighter. I was working that day shift in the firehouse and like many of you, I remember exactly where I was, who was with me, the color of the sky, etc.

Conlon and his friend, Scott from Paterson Fire, NJ, in Hoboken waiting for the Coast Guard to give them a ride over to the WTC.

In 2001, I was the Organizer of Boston Fire Department’s role in South Boston’s Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, the 2nd Largest in the Country. I had become good friends and the main contact person for many FDNY Firefighters who attended our parade. I spent many a night down in NY at one of their firehouses and they did the same in Boston. I also organized Red Sox-Yankee trips to both Fenway Park and the Old Yankee Stadium; needless to say we had fun being in the Brotherhood. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I lost more than a few of those friends that I had bonded with over the years. That was a very difficult day… I actually questioned whether or not I wanted to be a firefighter after that. Was it worth it? “Life can be over in an instant,” were my thoughts. I had never felt that way. Prior to that day, I had always felt invincible. I did get through that day and the days and months after because of the Brothers and Sisters I work with. I was fortunate to have a great support group that was there for me if I needed someone to talk to.

I also recommend using your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if your department or City has one. All the information you provide them is completely confidential.

If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom,” what would they be? Your first year on the job as a firefighter should be focused on building your foundation as a firefighter. Never take anything for granted. My senior man told me these words to work by for the first year on the job: “Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut, except to ask a question.” Don’t become complacent once your probationary period is over, and try to learn something new every day. You follow that advice, and I guarantee you will have a long successful career.

What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career? One of the best pranks I’ve witnessed is the rolling of toilet paper around a sleeping firefighter. We are not taking about just one roll of toilet paper, but many rolls! When it’s all said and done, there’s no way for the firefighter to get out of bed. In order to pull this off, you need 2 people, one situated on each side of the bed. You roll the toilet paper under the bed to the other person, and then carefully over the bed handing it to the other person. You do this through many rolls of toilet paper until the firefighter looks mummified. The toilet paper is so light that it’s not felt as it passes over the bedding. Once this is completed, you hit the house gong and watch the firefighter wake up realizing he is stuck like a bug in a spider web…