By Jim Kuiken
When I first got off of active duty with the Marines in 1977, I moved back to my family home in Boise Idaho, and like a lot of transitioning veterans, struggled finding some work. I’d fixed toilets at a local hotel, worked in a carwash, bussed tables at a restaurant, and even got a job stacking bricks coming out of the outdoor kiln at a brick-making company.
Luckily for me, my grandfather, who was an executive in the state government got word that there were some openings at the Idaho State Correctional Institution (prison), and I was able to get a job there as a Correctional Officer – my first law enforcement job. I did end up getting in with the Ada County Sheriff’s office later…but finally, I got word from my father Bob Rose, who was Deputy Chief of the Boise City Fire Department (not to be confused with my dad, Gerrit Kuiken), that the Department would be hiring.
After going through a long process, I finally did get hired into my dream job as a 3rd generation Boise City Firefighter/EMT, only to be laid off a year or so later when the city went through budget cuts. I was devastated, and ended up going back to my old job as a Correctional Officer for a while, before I finally got hired on with Whitney Fire Protection District (now a part of Boise Fire), which was the district surrounding Boise’s jurisdiction. I was a firefighter / EMT again!
While Whitney was similar to Boise FD in many ways, it was not a full-time fire department. It was a paid / volunteer department, which meant a skeleton crew were full-time paid firefighters who manned the two stations and drove the equipment to the fires or incidents, while the volunteers (including off-duty paid firefighters) got paged, and would respond in their own vehicles to the scene, get suited up, and go to work under the direction of the on-duty firefighters and leaders.
It was a much more rural setting than the city, so a lot of the incidents were vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, small structure (house) fires…and mutual aid call-outs for grass fires with the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies who oversaw large sections of public lands. Being a small department covering a large geographical area, we actually were much more busy than I had been on the Boise City FD, which handled a lot of similar incidents, plus the larger commercial buildings in the city.
Summers were always busy because of all the grass fires and people out on the roads after having partied up at the lake, and then trying to drive home. Lots of vehicle accidents.
One summer was particularly busy, especially on the 4th of July, where all the trucks were out for over 24 hours, going directly from one fire to the next…and sometimes having to let a fire burn for a while because we were already at one, or when we had to stop and get more water because the trucks were empty. I remember many days when I was on foot, sometimes for hours, with a five-gallon water sprayer on my back, pumping the little hand pump at the end of the hose / nozzle, squirting water on the small spot fires and trying to keep them from spreading. That was exhausting, dangerous, and very hot – with the summer heat and all the fire and soot all around.
However…on one fairly large brush fire, I was riding on top of our little Brush Truck (an older version of the one pictured above), standing just behind the cab, and my job was to take the high-pressure hose (like a large, inch and a half, heavy duty red rubber garden hose), and as the truck drove along the edge of the fire line (on the upwind side, as close as possible), I would spray the edge of the fire line. The hose didn’t put out enough water to drown the fire (the truck only carried 200 gallons, so we had to really conserve what water we had), but it came out with such high pressure that it literally blew the fire out, while wetting the area.
The reason we drove fairly quickly along the upwind side, as close to the edge of the fire line as possible, was so that we could knock down as much fire as possible as quickly as we could, and still stay upwind so the flames weren’t coming at us, or burning us…since we were right next to the fire (only a couple of feet away), which could be a small line of flames, or as in this case when the grasses were higher, a wall of flame. It was still pretty hot that close to the flames, so I was wearing a full turn-out firefighter suit, gloves, and helmet with the face shield pulled down to protect my face from the intense heat. Then things got interesting…
As happens a lot up in the Boise area out on the open BLM grasslands…there was a sudden gust of wind or small dust-devil / twister that blew through, reversing the direction the wind was blowing in a concentrated burst. It blew a huge wall of flame over the truck…with me standing up in the back, and the flames came in under the front of my face shield, up across my face and into the helmet. The heat was so intense, it was like standing in front of a blowtorch with the high-pressure flame pointed right at you.
I remember banging the top of the cab with my fist so hard, that I ended up having to explain the big dents in the roof to the Chief when I returned to work a couple of days later – but not that day. My partner who was driving immediately veered away from the fire line, helped me down off the truck, and poured cold water over my face and front of my head as we waited for the ambulance. It had burned the hair out of my nose, my eyebrows and eyelashes were gone or singed, the left side of the front of my hair was burned away…and my face and forehead were already starting to blister in several areas. All in all, it wasn’t one of the better days, but it wasn’t too bad…unlike a lot of other first-responders, I survived the incident, could still see and breath, and returned to work in just a few days.
Not only that, all my fellow firefighters, being the way firefighters are…were all so full of sympathy and understanding, as they complemented me on my new look – asking me about my makeover and fashion sense, with the lack of eyebrows, the new hairdo with no hair on the front of my head, the “botox” I’d had to get those puffy lips…what a real bunch of great guys…
By Jim Kuiken
Remember last week I told you about having one of those days (or weeks) when you have something to do, but just Don’t Wanna? Well this week, it’s about the exact opposite. When all the numerous hamsters in my head are awake, all running different directions, some on the insides of the spinning wheels, and some on the outsides…even those just along for the ride, enjoying spinning around while the other hamster in that wheel is running his little legs off…
The day after I posted that article about “Not Feelin’ It”, I had just come back from spending the day out on a boat during the 2017 Hearts for Heroes annual fishing trip, and after a great dinner, went to the hotel room and drifted off thinking about all the injured and wounded veterans having such a good time, and all the fish we caught.
The next morning, still tired from the previous day, I laid there in bed drinking coffee, and watched a “teen” movie – Chasing Mavericks – about a young surfer and all he went through – which, despite some negative reviews (which I normally ignore as elitist snobbery), I really enjoyed – before I got up and went to take my shower.
That’s when all the hamsters woke up and started running full speed in all different directions. All kinds of stuff just started happening in my head. I got so distracted thinking about everything that I didn’t even remember shampooing my hair, and didn’t realize it until I was re-shampooing and it foamed all up.
Now don’t try to tell me that never happens to you…
What I was thinking about was the movie. Well, not just the movie, but something happened that doesn’t normally happen to me. When I watch a movie, I suspend everything and just watch the movie, absorbing it as it is, and not thinking about all the plot action, nuances, and character development, etc. I just enjoy the movie.
I had done that while watching the movie, but now, with the movie over, it started playing in my head, and I started thinking about the characters and what they went through. The protagonist, the setbacks and suffering he went through (as a character development technique), the plot, sub-plots, supporting characters and minor side-plots, the antagonist (which was the sea), and the minor (human) side-antagonists – the whole thing just developed a storyline, plot map, character development techniques, making the hero suffer and overcome, etc., etc.
It was like writing or editing a book…all the elements were there, and for the first time, plainly visible to me.
While watching the movie, I wasn’t analyzing, I was just absorbing, watching, feeling…and it had the effect on me that I’m sure the writers intended. Although it was very closely based on the true story, the screenwriters, director, etc., had laid it all out in the plot that evoked the ups and downs, the emotion of the story.
But afterwards, my analytical mind took over, and from all my studies, observations, mentorship, presentations, etc., it allowed me to see the trails of the action development, the characters and plots, the intertwined storylines and themes, supporting action and theme lines…the complete story map…and they just opened up like flowers on a vine, so that I didn’t even remember the shower, drying off, getting dressed, or sitting there on the end of the bed.
My head had finally “let loose the hamsters”, and much like the Kraken, my thoughts had risen to the surface and overwhelmed the present, while my mind was absorbed within the story structure.
It was an awakening, and a realization that all the work I had put into becoming a good writer had actually been worthwhile. I’ve always been a good storyteller, but understanding the nuances of writing a good book are extremely important if you’re going to spend the rest of your life being a writer.
I know what I’m writing is reaching people. I see it in the reactions to several of my posts (blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, RallyPoint, etc.), but especially in some of the great comments and reviews from people who have read some of the chapters from my current book, The Making of a Warrior. They don’t talk about the plot, the character development, the storylines…they talk about how it makes them feel, that it feels like they’re actually there, what they see / hear / smell during the action sequences, etc.
That’s the point most writers seek. Although the writing has to have the required elements, they should come together in a compelling story that brings the reader in, and makes them experience the story, not just see it from the outside. It’s the writer that has to understand the process and elements of writing…so that the reader can live inside the story.
Sometimes you just have to let the hamsters loose…
Just Not Feelin’ It
By Jim Kuiken
Ever have one of those days when you have something to do, but just don’t wanna? Even if it’s something you like doing, you just can’t get the engine cranking?
That’s me for a week (or three) after Memorial Day. If you read last week’s post, I’m sure you understand – but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have to get up and get moving, take care of things, to “endeavor to persevere” (a little wry humor from Chief Dan George).
I’ve talked about writing in the past, and how difficult (or simple) it can be to actually sit down and write – which not only pertains to books, but also includes blog posts – and this week is one of those times.
In order to get over those humps (they’re not really blocks – they don’t stop you, they just slow you down – if you let them), many writers have a process. I know I do. For the books, I have the whole series outlined, with each individual book also outlined, and write to the outlines.
For the blog articles, it’s much simpler. I have a list of subjects I stick to, and even when I have guest bloggers (and we’ve had some great guest posts!), I share this list with them so we’re always focused on the purpose of the JamesKuiken.com blog, which is encapsulated in my signature line – “Writer | Speaker | Advocate”.
Here’s that list:
“The intent is to post about the subjects that I am writing about in my 10 book series (Bekker - the 5 book Warrior mini-series, and the 5 book Protector mini-series), as well as about various aspects of writing (the process and the business side). In general, these would include: